Normal 150 YearsNORMAL – Over the course of the past six months, the Town of Normal has looked back, through numerous events, at its history and the events and individuals responsible for making that history. In the last of six events that celebrated the Town’s 150th Anniversary, current Town and business leaders were part of a panel discussion, held in the 4th Floor Town Council Chambers at Uptown Station, recalling events in the last quarter-century that have made Normal the place it is today.

The panel for this discussion, titled, “Normal Blossoms: Growth, Redevelopment, And Planning For Sustainability 1993-2015” were: Mayor Chris Koos; Dottie Bushnell, co-owner of The Garlic Press; Wayne Aldrich, Public Works Director for the Town, who, in the past has also served as Normal’s Uptown Development Director, and City Engineer; and Dr. Alan Chapman, former Unit 5 School District Superintendent, and former Principal of Normal Community High School.

If it weren’t for the food processor known as a Cuisinart, Dottie Bushnell might have had another sort of business rather than being one of the team of owners of The Garlic Press, which began in 1981. She said she feels her store serves ”as a bridge between Downtown Normal and Uptown Normal.” She gave a nod to businesses now just a memory to shoppers who frequented Downtown, such as Watkins Jewelers.

Bushnell remembered when Town officials proposed an update to Downtown in the late 1990s. “It wasn’t going to be just street lights – it was going to be a whole new renovation. We were very excited about the Children’s Discovery Museum, and then the hotel, and then the roundabout.”

The Garlic Press had something to look forward to, too, in 2005, after having earlier purchased the adjacent former Stadium Restaurant, and opening a café in that location. Bushnell explained the opening of the College Ave. Parking Deck turned out to benefit her ownership group’s growing business.

Aldrich, who came to work for the Town in 1997 following being employed by Illinois Department of Transportation for a number of years, said, at the time of his joining the Town, Interstate 39 North had opened, and he was drawn to what he saw as Normal’s continuing expansion and the opportunities that presented. “Normal gained a reputation for how the Town has developed,” he said.

Chapman, who has spent 46 years in the community and Unit 5, called that time “a blessing to be part of the community.” He lauded the district’s ability to manage finances and do it, at times, despite concerns over State funding. “We created budgets that allowed us to live within our means while providing a quality staff.”

Koos, who also is a business owner, of Vitesse Cycle Shop, in addition to being Mayor since 2003, recalled Vitesse was “in a good location despite being in an area of Town with no public parking.” He said there were businesses in Downtown Normal but not many patrons at that time there because “people thought Downtown was full of students. But the truth was, students didn’t go downtown.”

Among some of the Town’s more controversial touchpoints over the last quarter-century, according to Koos: Camelback Bridge Restoration and College Hills Mall’s renovation.

Aldrich reminded Town officials sought ways to look for government funding programs which would help finance restoration of facades of older businesses in Uptown. He also said hiring an Uptown Liaison to work with business owners was an important resource to introduce. “These were investments we made to help Uptown,” Aldrich said.

On the subject of communications with the Uptown liaison, Bushnell joked, “They probably got tired of hearing from our store,” then added, “In all seriousness though, I would have to give the liaison in the Uptown Development Office a grade of A Minus.”

For years, there were people in town who’d never been Downtown,” Koos said. “We had the monumental task” of getting people to come there to see it. He said a marketing strategy for the central part of Town has been a staple for the community since 2005.

Koos said by changing the central part of town’s moniker from Downtown Normal to Uptown Normal, “making us distinctly different would help bring change.” That change also brought Normal recognition, having won national awards, as well.

Transforming Downtown Normal into the Uptown we know today included reaching out for monetary assistance for certain projects. Town officials became very skilled a researching and applying for – and getting – Federal dollars for building projects such as Uptown Station.

“We needed Federal dollars to cover them,” Koos said of such projects. “We were in Washington constantly for that.” Among the grants awarded to the Town was money from the Federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Grant Program. Koos added that potential projects seeking the TIGER Grant funds totaled $50 billion. Of those, the Feds gave out $1 billion to worthy projects, including Uptown Station.

Unlike a number of the community projects that applied for TIGER Grant funding, Koos explained, “We had construction plans when we applied.”

“I want to say we were lucky,” Koos said. “We had a great project which was ready.”

Unit 5 School District, Chapman said, saw an increase of more than 2 percent in the period between 2000-2005 after seeing less than 3 percent growth prior to that period. The district’s peak growth year, he reported, came in 2012.

Chapman also cited, during the period between 1994 and 2011 that the district opened Normal Community West High School, renovated NCHS, and built and opened nine new schools. “There was a concern at the time Normal West opened we would diminish the district in terms of academics and athletics,” Chapman said regarding public concerns, at the time Normal Community West High opened.

The result of adding the new high school, Chapman said, showed the concerns were unfounded. “What the Town now has is a wonderful collection of buildings to serve the community.”

After 150 years and numerous changes – whether they’ve been in business, in economics, or societal — the Town of Normal has shown flexibility to change as the times have demanded. Some communities, like Normal, are able to do that. Others, needing to learn that lesson could learn from Normal’s example.

Normal 150 YearsNORMAL – Changing times meant a changing community in some ways for the land once settled by Jesse W. Fell. A panel discussion titled, “Normal’s Boom Years: 1967-1993” highlighted some of what residents experienced as the Town’s businesses started, evolved, changed, or in some cases, exited.

The panelists for the discussion had seen plenty of change: Former Mayor Paul Harmon; Dr. Susan Kern, a former vice president at Illinois State University; David Anderson, the Town’s first City Manager, from 1970 until his retirement in 1998; and Randy Wood, owner of The Music Shoppe. The session was moderated by Dan Irvin.

The period between 1967 and 1973 “were exciting times at ISU and the University enhanced, changed, and refocused its mission,” Kern explained. That period, she said, “Included having a diversified faculty and staff. We made critical decisions. We went over College Avenue with an overpass and under Main Street with an underpass. We saved the Lab Schools from being closed, and computerized the campus.”

Kern said ISU also accomplished something in 1993 that the institution had failed at in 1978 – obtaining the addition of Mennonite College of Nursing.

Kern said when ISU made such changes, some people questioned what had become of the University once overseen by its president at the early part of the era, Robert G. Bone. Kern’s response: “It became what its founder, Jesse W. Fell, envisioned.”

Anderson told the gathering of 25 people in Normal Town Council Chambers he went to work for the Town’s Parks and Recreation Department in 1965. He became City Manager, appointed by then-Mayor Carol Reitan after the League of Women Voters pushed for a change to a City Manager form of government in the late 1960s. Prior to that time, the Town used a Mayor-Council model form of government. A referendum for the Council-City Manager form of government was passed by voters on March 3, 1970. Reitan appointed Anderson to the post six days later. He stayed until retiring in 1998, when his deputy, Mark Peterson, succeeded him. Peterson continues today as City Manager.

Among the triumphs Anderson said he had on the job wee settling the 1977 Normal Fire Fighters strike and putting funding together for a new City Hall, located on Phoenix Ave.

Former Mayor Paul Harmon told audience members having a first long-range report for the Town known as the “2015 Report”; having additions to City Hall and Normal Public Library; being able to pay for projects with funds available; the creation of Constitution Trail; and continuing a “pay-as-you-go” philosophy for the Town were what he was most proud of during his tenure as Mayor from 1985-93. Harmon told attendees it was the City Manager referendum that got him involved in local politics.

Anderson said his toughest days on the job came while he was serving as Metro Manager for both Normal and Bloomington. Then-Mayor Richard Godfrey didn’t care for that situation, Anderson recalled. Both communities weren’t happy Anderson was spending time working for the other, he added. Anderson also faced a challenging assignment when the Town allowed the sale of alcohol and Reitan asked him to author Normal’s first liquor ordinance.

Kern said she also faced difficulty during the years Normal and the University weren’t interested in communicating in order to get various projects completed. She said the Town received its “blackest eye” as a result of the 1984 Beer Riot. The one thing that didn’t help the situation was the Illinois Legislature increasing the legal drinking age from 19 to 21.

Harmon said Town Council members did vote to change its liquor ordinance to comply with State law but did so while ISU students were still out for the summer. Harmon said he felt students should be part of the conversation concerning the change, and because they weren’t around for the discussion, he voted against the change but found himself in the minority when the vote took place.

Parking was another issue that pitted Normal against students until a parking garage on University St. opened. Harmon said he remembered congratulating then-ISU President Thomas Wallace for getting the garage opened.

“The challenges kept coming,” said Wood. He cited the Normal Fire Fighters’ strike against the Town in 1977 as being among those most challenging times for his family’s business. The strike lasted 56 days.

“Things have changed and times are pretty calm today,” Harmon reflected.

Wood took audience members on a mental tour of businesses – mostly long gone — from then-Downtown Normal as a means of showing the changes since his youth. He recalled a time when his family patronized many of the then-Downtown Normal businesses of that era: Warrick’s Shoe Repair; Shorty’s Barber Shop; Model Paris Dry Cleaners; Klein’s Coffee Shop; Eisner grocery; Velvet Freeze; Don Smith’s Paintin’ Place; Apple Tree Records; Fowler’s Phillips 66; a few doctorss’ offices, and the Normal Theater. Of this list currently, only Shorty’s and the Normal Theater still remain.

Mitsubishi Motors was able to locate here because the Town provided water to the plant while the City of Bloomington provided the sewer work, Anderson said.

Wood’s family business started in what was Downtown Normal and stayed until 1999, when it was moved to Landmark Mall. The move, he said, came down to the business needing two-to-three times the space it had had at its original location. “I sometimes felt like a traitor leaving the Downtown,” Wood said. “I do miss being in Uptown.”

That’s an understandable feeling. After so many years and businesses gone by, and a formal name change to the Town’s central business district, and seeing many other businesses and improvements revive it, many others probably miss the Downtown, too.

Normal 150 YearsNORMAL – Race relations in the years of Normal’s early formation was the subject of the fourth lecture sponsored by the Town as part of Normal’s 150th Anniversary. Dr. Mark Wyman, professor emeritus of History at Illinois State University painted a picture of how this community saw the subject, first through the mind of Town founder Jesse W. Fell through to nearly present day.

An objection to slavery and an answered prayer for Fell are tied together to answer, partially, the question of how race relations here were dealt with during the Town’s early years, according to Wyman. Fell support for Abraham Lincoln aided in Lincoln’s run for the Presidency, Wyman explained. Wyman added a letter from Fell to his brother explained Fell’s desire that God would answer their prayer for “this great nation to come out of its present troubles redeemed and purified by this great sin.” Wyman said Fell, however, did not spell out what “great sin” he was referring to.

“I do believe that our communities of Normal and Bloomington – and I must include Bloomington although it was a few miles away then – did not see rigid patterns of racial segregation setting in right after the Civil War,” Wyman explained to an audience of roughly 75 people who gathered for the fourth in a series of presentations giving perspective to a specific aspect of Normal history held in Normal Town Council Chambers at Uptown Station. “Blacks were voting; One was even elected to Countywide office. The local hotel accepted blacks, and there was even evidence they were eating in restaurants.” Wyman said he believed such a situation could be attributed to two parties: Fell, and the area newspaper at the time, the Bloomington Leader.

But all was not as routine for black children in the community, who were not permitted to attend public schools, including the “Model School,” the grade school operated by Illinois State Normal University. Wyman said local farmer Edwin Bakewell was a leader who condoned this practice, explaining Bakewell’s belief as “that colored children should not have all things in common with white.” Wyman said Bakewell told an audience of supporters once that to let black children into the local schools. “Bakewell said he would be sorry to have Normal pattern after Chicago, the very hotbed of superlative radicalism.”

When a vote was taken within the community to decide the matter of whether to let black children attend school in Normal in 1867, it passed by a 65-1 vote, Wyman said. In May that same year, a special election was held which finally decided the matter, again passing by a 92-2 count. Seven votes favored a special school for blacks, Wyman added.

Normal’s population in 1900 was reported was just under 4,000 with 253 blacks, roughly 6.7 percent of the population, while Bloomington had 23,000 residents, 600 of whom were black, or 2.6 percent of the population, Wyman said.

But it was not all tranquil for blacks in the 1920s, Wyman reported, as the Ku Klux Klan did operate in the area, their presence most heavily felt between 1922-1924. Other communities in the area reported Klan meetings, Wyman said, through the group’s state newspaper. Towanda, Lexington, East Peoria, and Urbana also had a noticeable Klan presence.

In terms of public accommodation, blacks found themselves restricted in a number of ways, Wyman said. Hotels were off limits to blacks by the end of the 1920s, Wyman said. Movie houses required blacks to sit in the back, Wyman said. Cafés did not allow blacks to sit and dine, forcing to take their purchases in a bag and leave, or if blacks insisted on staying, were required to sit in the back of the dining area.

In 1920s, Black students at ISNU, having been prohibited from attending school-sponsored functions, asked the University’s Student Activity Fund for aid in holding their own dance functions, Wyman said. Fell Hall, built on the ISNU campus in 1918, started out as a women’s dorm, which included one wing for blacks, Wyman explained. When the University leased a house on University St., it converted it into a male dormitory, Smith House, where 33 white students resided while black men had to rent rooms in private homes in town.

The “Chat-N-Chew” café was opened by a black proprietor in the 1930s Wyman added, the Chat-N-Chew’s aim was to give black students “somewhere to go hang out, as well as carrying grocery items.” By the 1950s, Normal found itself at what was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Wyman said, starting with a segregated eatery called The Pilgrim Café. It was located behind where today stands The Alamo II Bookstore. After a letter to the University student newspaper, The Vidette, was published in 1947 complained The Pilgrim Café did not serve blacks, picketing by both black and white students took place. Wyman said the owners of The Pilgrim Café responded saying they were just abiding by policies of restaurants in town at the time, and besides, the restaurant’s owners contended, ISNU operated a cafeteria open to all students,

Following WW II, many industries in the community hired both blacks and whites, Wyman said. It was an era that saw Jackie Robinson enter Major League Baseball and President Harry S. Truman end segregation in the military, after all, Wyman recounted. In 1950, the City of Bloomington formed a Human Relations Council, devoting much of its time to restaurant segregation, he added.

ISNU became Illinois State University formally in 1964 and “began to grow rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing in a sharp growth in the number of African American students and the hiring of black faculty,” Wyman said. It was change of a sort that caught Normal residents off-guard, Wyman said.

One of the few genuine failures for the community occurred during the era around World War I, Wyman said, when the notion of establishing an orphanage for black children who lost parents during battle failed to gain public support. Opposition to the idea including citizens presenting a petition opposing the idea to Normal Town Council members,

Barbershops in the community had been segregated before the Civil War, Wyman relayed. White barbers, he explained, did not accept black patrons for fear of losing their white clientele. In 1961, Charles Barton, then-vice president of the University NAACP chapter, decided to see what would happen if he walked in to get a cut. At one shop, Wyman said, Barton got a cut with no problem. But at a second shop, the proprietor told Barton he didn’t have the tools to do the job.

This news was relayed to then ISU President Robert Bone, Wyman said. According to Wyman, Burton reportedly explained, “President Bone and the Deans said if the merchants of the town didn’t cut all the students’ hair, then they weren’t going to get their hair cut either.” After that, Burton relayed Normal’s barber shops were no longer off limits to blacks.

Normal 150 YearsNORMAL – These days, getting around from place to place in town is fairly simple: Normal is serviced by a public bus service; four Cab companies, two operating under one owner. Getting out of town for interstate travel if one doesn’t want to do the driving can be handled by two interstate bus lines, or Amtrak, both modes handled at Uptown Station, or by air through visiting Central Illinois Regional Airport.

But once the Town of Normal was formed, modern methods of transportation became available. “It said something about the community,” explained Mike Matejka, governmental affairs director for Great Plains Laborers’ District Council and vice president of Illinois Labor History Society.

Matejka and local historian and author Terri Ryburn chronicled Normal’s transportation history from being a small railway town to the present in a presentation, “Growing From The Junction: The Evolution Of Transportation In Normal” in Normal Town Council Chambers on Sunday, Sept. 20. Their talk was part of a series of lectures on the Town’s history commemorating its 150th anniversary.

“Transportation really changes who we are,” Matejka told the gathering of between 20-25 people present. “And, of course, Normal wouldn’t exist if it weren’t at a transportation crossroads. It brings new people in. It brings commercial opportunity. It kind of mixes things up and connects people to a faster, broader world and a broader way of life.”

When people first settled in this area, the section of the Town now known as Towanda Barnes was originally used as a stagecoach stop, Matejka said. He said the Town was built up around transportation infrastructure of other communities. If it weren’t for that, Matejka said, the Town likely wouldn’t exist. “That infrastructure is very critical to the development of this community.”

Two railways – Illinois Central Railroad and the Chicago & Mississippi, later known as the Chicago & Alton Railroad – “intersected in a very novel situation” at Normal, Matejka said. Illinois Central Railroad built lines from Galena south to downstate Cairo, with branches from Chicago to Centralia, he explained, taking 4,000 immigrant workers’ labor to construct all those miles of railroad. Workers building the rail line lived in shanties on land that was at the time open prairie.

During the first decade of railroad construction in the 1850s, the Town’s population nearly tripled, Matejka explained, going from 10,000 in 1850 to 28,772 in 1860. It was possible to go from Chicago to St. Louis, at that time, in 15 ¼ hours. But that’s because the trip involved using three separate railroad companies and a steamboat which ferried people into St. Louis from East St. Louis.

“With locating a junction where the two railroads cross each other, the Town of Normal becomes an attractive place for Town Founder Jesse Fell to convince the State Legislature to locate a school here because people coming to school here would all be within a day’s train journey from their home,” Matejka explained.

The railroads didn’t just build railways to use Normal and later Bloomington as a stop, as one railroad, the Chicago and Alton, build their 31-building primary repair facility here, giving another huge economic boon to the area,” Matejka said. The shop was placed here in 1854, and by the 1940s, roughly 1,800 people worked there. Their jobs included being machinists, boilermakers, and carpenters. Rail service was based in Bloomington for many years until 1990 when Normal opened its rail station at the south end of the tracks in then-Downtown, now Uptown Normal.

Currently, Matejka said, Uptown Station is the fourth-busiest Amtrak stop in the Midwest. Only three others – in Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee – are busier. “I’d like to see what will happen in the next 10 to 15 years if the proposed high speed rail train starts running from here to Chicago,” Matejka said.

Normal was first to have an airport, at the north end of town from 1924-32, serviced by Century Airlines, which later became American Airlines,” Matejka said. “Our airline service was spotty and didn’t last very long, but we have the claim to the first airport,” he said. The airport closed in 1934.

In terms of ground transportation, the Twin Cities “were linked together by what was known as ‘Bloomington-Normal Horse Railway Company’ starting in 1867,” Matejka said. It was a set of 15-20 seat carriages pulled by mules. An electric trolley system succeeded it in 1890, existing until December of 1937. From there, a company called National City Line purchased the trolleys as they had been doing nationwide. National City Line was owned by General Motors, Firestone Tire Co., Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum. By 1972, Bloomington-Normal Public Transportation Service (BNPTS), now known as Connect Transit, began providing bus service which is still operating today.

Matejka said the three major highway tentacles leading into and out of Normal – Route 51, Route 66, and Route 9 – were known at their early use as Route 2, Route 4, and Route 9 in the 1920s. At that time, a movement in Springfield took hold to see to it those roads became paved. Only Route 9 kept its original designated name, Matejka said.

Ryburn took guests on a journey between 1926-1940 along the part of the community known as Route 66 – the 2,448 mile road that stretches from Lake Michigan to California’s Santa Monica Pier. Along the way, the road weaves through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, and three time zones. Ryburn said laborers earned 40 cents an hour in 1922 to bring Route 66 through Normal.

What is now known as Veterans Parkway took two calendar years to construct in 1940 and 1941, winding on the east side of both Bloomington and Normal. In the 1990s, Route 66 saw a resurgence, Ryburn said. In the period between 1926 and 1940, in a six block area of Normal, businesses flourished. Drivers found within that area at that time many goods and services being offered including 6 gas stations; 3 Garages; 4 diners; 2 tourist camps; 2 markets; and a grocery.

“The road brought many people to Normal,” Ryburn said of the historic highway.

Among some of the more notable businesses along that famed route through town during that early era were:

• Anson’s Lunch Counter at the corner of Willow St. and Fell Ave. It was owned by a black entrepreneur and became the Town’s first lunch counter available to blacks during that era.

• The Shell Inn, located at 1219 S. Main Street. Owned by Gus Belt in 1933, it served a 25-cent fish fry along with, once Prohibition had been eliminated with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution that year, a glass of Meister Brau Beer. Even though Normal was a “dry” town at the time, Ryburn said, some business owners assumed they were covered by the then-newly passed amendment and began serving beer. Belt opened Steak-N-Shake at that same location in 1934. That building remained a Steak-N-Shake until 1990, when the company’s corporate owners at the time moved to a location on Raab Rd. on Normal’s north end.

• 208 Pine and 310 Pine were the locations, respectfully, of Alvin Notestine’s Garage; and Snedaker & Sons Gas Station. The station opened in 1926.

• Sprague’s Super Service Gas, located at 305 Pine St., which originally sold City Service brand Gasoline before becoming a Gulf gas station. The location also had a café inside.

• Pinky’s Lunch Counter, located at 312 W. Willow St., operated by husband & wife Warren and Margaret Kreitzer.

Normal 150 YearsNORMAL – Audience members at the Normal Theater on Sunday got an inkling into the thinking of the Town’s more well-known history makers on Sunday.

In “Voices From The Past: Historic Portrayals,” audience members were introduced to Town Founder Jesse Fell; Local businessman Edwin Bakewell; Julia Duff, a black woman who trained at Illinois State Normal University to be a teacher but was unable to find work in segregated Illinois, but taught in Oklahoma; and Ellis and Martha Dillon, firm abolitionists and renowned horse breeders.

Voices from the Past is presented by the Illinois Voices Theater, which also does the Cemetery Walk for the McLean County Museum of History every year.

Fell, portrayed by Todd Wineburner, and Bakewell, portrayed by Don Shandrow, seem to disagree regarding the donation of property by Bakewell for the new University, now known as Illinois State University, in the 1850s. Bakewell seemed irked that he would not be able to get his land back if he didn’t like the deal he’d agreed to with Fell.

The Dillons — portrayed by Charlie Harris and Terri Ryburn – a horse breeder and his wife, raised five children and 15 foster children. They also helped many blacks avoid slavery through the Underground Railroad. “Slavery is the worst notion in the history of mankind,” Martha Dillon proclaimed to an audience of 50 people during one of four performances given on the afternoon.

The one horse the pair proudly pointed to in the years they spent in that profession was one named Louis Napoleon, who sired 400 folds and died at age 23. He weighed 1,650 pounds and was 16 hands high.

Guests were next introduced to Julia Duff, a black teacher who was educated for the profession at ISNU. The daughter of a carpenter, Duff, portrayed by Claron Sherrieff, told audience members, “Doing an honest day’s work would better us to please God regardless of the type of work.”

Duff explained that although whites and blacks in the area got along “just fine” in the 1890’s, and blacks worked serving as “washer women, domestic workers and managers of households.” But Duff said, as segregation in the area increased, job opportunities for blacks decreased. “Open prejudice against us contributed to making a living here very difficult,” Duff explained. Encounters with Ku Klux Klan members were common, she added. It was a climate that made getting a teaching job in the area problematic.

Duff moved to Oklahoma in hopes of a new opportunity. However, she said, “What I found there was infinitely worse.” She relayed an incident that occurred on June 1, 1921 when white guards ordered her and other blacks to leave where she was living in Tulsa.

She did continue to teach at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa. She said she worked “to give black girls a desire to make them able to go from the school into the community as wage earners.”

Duff did return to Illinois years later and died on July 18, 1989.

Guests next heard from Mary Potter, as portrayed by Peg Kirk. Potter, who grew up at the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ School (ISSCS), the result of her father leaving her there after her mother had died. Potter said she cried at the home when she was left there by her father at age five. “My father found it hard to raise a little girl on his own,” Potter said.

Potter said she became part of ISSCS when it was known as Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home, after the Home’s operators opened the facility’s doors to orphans of the Civil War, then to other needy children. It was on that last basis “that I qualified,” Potter said.

“Nobody sang me to sleep,” Potter recalled. She said her housemother in the cottage she lived in took her under her wing, teaching her all the things at that time girls should know. She went to college and was educated to teach school. “They made me grow up,” Potter said of the ISSCS teachers and staff.

Storytellers John Kirk and John Walsh relayed the story of ISU President Robert G. Bone. Changing the University’s name from Illinois State Normal University to Illinois State University “signaled an evolution” that would make the University something more than a teachers’ college,” Walsh said.

“The change helped fuel an explosion in enrollment, and indeed, its impact on our community,” Kirk said.

Walsh explained that shortly after being hired for the President’s job here, Bone sat down and wrote out his goals for the University, placing that piece of paper in an envelope, sealing it, and writing that the contents be opened by him upon retiring from the University or by others once he had passed away. He then placed the envelope in a bank vault.

Walsh added that the predecessor of the current ISU Board of Trustees, known as the Board of Regents, had asked previous University Presidents prior to Bone’s arrival to resist moving the University beyond being that of a teachers’ college. “Board Of Regents members urged Dr. Bone to follow their good example,” Walsh said. There were two sides battling for an answer to this decision: Female University professors wanting the school to keep its then-current goal of educating teachers. They were opposed by Ph.D. candidates – men and women – who wanted the University to expand the number of majors it offered to future students.

Bone wrote he favored teaching Liberal Arts in addition to continuing the University’s known role of educating teachers, Walsh said. Although saying he was neutral on the issue, Bone encouraged public debate about it, Walsh explained. Bone lobbied quietly behind the scenes for the change, Walsh added.

In April 1963, legislation passed in Springfield by a vote of 159-1 for the change of name for the University. In January 1964, ISNU formally gave way to becoming Illinois State University. By Fall 1964, enrollment jumped by 40 percent, Walsh said.

Kirk concluded the session by telling audience members about what has become known as the “Near Riot of 1970.” This incident began after the head of the Chicago branch of the Black Panthers militant group was gunned down in a police raid. Leaders of two ISU student groups – Black Student Association and Students For A Democratic Society – demanded some form of recognition be given to the fallen Black Panther and to a black leader of the time, Malcolm X, who had been assassinated a few years before.

Shootings at Ohio’s Kent State University in April 1970 “added a tragic dimension to the situation ISU faced,” Kirk said. Samuel Braden, ISU’s President at the time, agreed to put campus flags at half-staff to honor the two slain black men, but that gesture didn’t sit well with construction workers assigned to continue building a new campus library. The flags were to be lowered on Malcolm X’s birthday, May 19.

Angered by the timing of the flag-lowering, the construction workers set foot on campus and raised the flag at the center of campus to full staff. Normal Police was alerted to the situation that would take place but were informed their presence on campus might increase tensions.

Black students were poised on the south end of the quad for some form of violent confrontation while the construction workers in their white hats took the same stance at the north end of the quad – that is until a series of trucks, one after the other, pulled up on campus and their drivers circled the flag pole.

“We never did find out who ordered the trucks,” Kirk said, himself a young faculty member at the time. He added there was speculation on campus Braden had given the order for the trucks’ presence. “Whoever it was, there is no doubt the history of ISU and the history of Normal would be quite different” as a result.