A brief history of the 75-year-old Veishea

Sara Purvis and Tracy Deutmeyer

Veishea is a time-honored celebration thousands of Iowa State students have and will participate in — but the year-to-year history of the 75-year-old event is often forgotten.

It’s a history that includes everything from former President Ronald Reagan to threats of abolishment of the festivities.

The story begins in 1922, back in the days when ISU wasn’t really ISU, but was called the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. The first Veishea took the stage that year. The institution’s enrollment was 4,008, about one-fifth of the student population at ISU today.

Newspaper articles from the time described the event as “risky and innovative.” According to the 1924 Bomb, the former ISU yearbook, members of the Engineering Council suggested the then five colleges combine their individual celebrations that took place five different weekends during the school year.

The Veishea name originated from the first five colleges —Veterinary, Engineering, Industrial Science, Home Economics and Agriculture.

Veishea was organized into a celebration to “develop the spirit of unity between the colleges and the people of Iowa.”

The first year, there were 40 floats and 33 open houses. The celebration continued to grow.

In 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and so was Veishea. The Veishea committee voted to abolish the celebration, due to student apathy and the tendency of students to go home for the weekends. The campus newspaper read: “VEISHEA ABOLISHED, STUDENTS TO BLAME.”

Committee members felt the celebration took up too much time. In the “aftermath” of the controversy, University President Charles Friley was upset. He wrote an editorial in support of continuing Veishea and students camped out on the lawn of the Knoll in protest.

Less than a week later, the committee withdrew its motion to abolish Veishea.

Although the celebration was reinstated, a student poll was taken in 1944, which showed that 70 percent of the students wanted a restricted 23rd Veishea. Alumni supported the notion, and Veishea was restricted to one day, with no open houses, parades or Stars Over Veishea performances, like the year before.

This one-day event was organized to maintain the tradition of Veishea, but avoid a display that would be inappropriate for wartime. The 1944 committee had other goals as well, including raising money to buy a jeep that would be used against the Nazi and Japanese forces.

The parade, open houses and Stars over Veishea performances were canceled for a third year in 1945.

In the following years, Veishea had its share of American celebrities take the stage.

In 1950, President Harry Truman lighted the first Veishea torch of “Higher Education” in Ottumwa.

In 1958, Reagan was the featured speaker and parade marshall. In his speech, “The future of America depends on our vision,” he talked about his experiences of fighting communism in Hollywood. Nancy Reagan wasn’t able to attend because she was pregnant, so Reagan called home frequently to check on her.

In 1963, famous composer and writer Meredith Wilson was in attendance for the Stars Over Veishea presentation, “The Music Man.” That same year, Vice President Lyndon Johnson lighted the Veishea torch.

In 1976, students lined the roof and dome of Beardshear Hall to watch the parade.

Moving into the 1980s, Veishea continued to grow. But in 1988, the first of three Veishea riots rocked the campus. Another riot in 1992, threatened the future of Veishea in the eyes of alumni and parents.

In an effort to control crowds and provide more entertainment for Veishea-goers, a Taste of Veishea was established in 1993. Taste of Veishea, a celebration of food vendors and games, has been a success since.

But to no avail, a riot involving more than 1,000 people on South Franklin Avenue caused police to take out tear gas and other reinforcements on rioters in 1994. Rioters overturned a car and threw rocks at police.

In an effort to create a liaison between Veishea-goers and the police and to insure a safer Veishea for years to come, Veishea peer security officers were created in recent years. Many students participate in the program, sharing the responsibility to keep Veishea safe and sound and “around for another 75 years.”

Now in 1997, Veishea is expected to attract more than 100,000 people to help celebrate its 75th anniversary on campus.