Thursday, April 14, 2016

Northern Memories

And life goes on. Last week’s aerial shots of the N.I.U. campus [February 14, 2008], ambulances clustered around a classroom building, had a surreal quality for me, trying to peer through the haze of fifty years and link what I was seeing on the TV to what I remember of Northern when I first enrolled there as a freshman in 1952. Oh, Lord, what a different world!

I’m sure I’ve talked about some of this in earlier blogs, but if you’ll indulge me again: When I arrived at Northern in September of 1952, it was one of a group of State Teachers Colleges, and its name was, indeed, Northern Illinois State Teachers College. The total enrollment was around 2,500 if that. Women outnumbered men several-fold. I moved into the just-completed men’s dormitory building, Gilbert Hall…which was so new they had not yet finished laying the sod for the spacious lawns in front of the building.

The campus very much resembled a park. In the center of a large pond in the middle of the campus was a small island on which graduations were held.

There were probably 10 buildings on campus: the brand new dorms, Gilbert Hall and Neptune Hall, Adams Hall, Glidden, the beautiful Swen Parson Library [pictured], the Science Building (both made of yellow limestone), the Administration building, and McMurray school in which student teachers got to practice what would become their life’s work. Reavis Hall was built in the previously empty spaces west of the main campus while I was in service and opened when I returned.

Across the street to the north side of Gilbert Hall were half a dozen long army-barracks type buildings which housed married students and a few offices, including that of the Northern Star, the campus paper for which I wrote several articles movie reviews and, after returning from the Navy, had a weekly column.

The Administration Building, with its mediaeval tower which still serves as the campus “logo” contained offices, a few classrooms, the school auditorium and, in the floor of the entry, the school seal, which was, by tradition, never to be walked on.

There was also a small building just on the edge of campus closest to the town of DeKalb which served as the Student Union.

It was an insular world: small, warm, familiar, and comfortable, filled with friends and laughter and, most important of all, an innocence which, for the rest of the world and now for Northern, has been destroyed forever.

Today, there is a 14-story tower which houses the Student Union and a hotel for campus visitors.

The campus has spread out to the west into what was, when I was there, farmland. There’s a stadium now and more buildings than I could count. The aerial shots of the campus, showing the Cole Hall, mainly focused on this new part of the campus, showing places that simply did not exist when I was a student. And on the part of the campus with which I was most familiar, the lawns are largely gone. New buildings stand cheek-to-jowl. I have no idea if the pond and the island are still there, but I might tend to doubt it.

Gilbert hall is now an office building, the rooms in which I and my friends lived and gathered and laughed and studied and dreamed are now cubicles for the campus bureaucracy.

It’s odd to see Northern now. It’s still my school, and I am part of its past. But I am not part of its present. And I know that those attending Northern now…more than ten times the number of when I enrolled…have their own friends, their own places to gather, to talk, to laugh, and, I hope, to build wonderful memories which will last them for the rest of their lives.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

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