Indiana University Bloomington

IU campus holds reminders of effort to honor World War I veterans

Mike Leonard

Published in the Bloomington Herald-Times, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day means different things to different people, obviously, from attention to the Indianapolis 500, “the Memorial Day Classic,” to the beginning of the summer season to reverence for those who fought and died in service to their country.

Often overlooked, and to many, unknown, is the considerable attention paid to World War I veterans on the Indiana University campus.

Memorial Stadium. Memorial Hall. The Indiana Memorial Union. All owe their names, if not their very existence, to the Memorial Fund Campaign launched by IU shortly after the end of “the war to end all wars.”

The subject came to mind most recently in reading James Capshew’s exhaustive biography, “Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University.”

Wells was involved with the fund as a student contributor, an administrator who made use of some of the funds, as well as one who used the fundraising campaign as a template for future campaigns.

IU Archives materials indicate that students, faculty and alumni launched the campaign to simultaneously honor veterans and raise money for facilities identified as essential for the growing campus. President William Lowe Bryan tied the campaign into the university’s centennial celebration of 1920, and in 1921, the alumni council authorized a campaign to raise $1 million (later upped to $1.6 million) to fund construction of three specific facilities.

As Capshew observed last week, “The actual buildings — the first women’s dorm, the stadium, and the union — were highly significant for the entire student body. Memorial Hall served as a symbol for IU’s institutional commitment to co-education as well as an early example of university efforts to house the students.”

He noted that silly as it seems now, the women’s residence hall was placed at the southern border of campus on Third Street to put it as far as possible from the men’s dorm, Smith Hall (now the Collins Living-Learning Center), just south of 10th.

“The IMU and the stadium brought the academic community together to build school spirit, among other things,” Capshew said. “It was also a way for this university, relatively penurious, to keep up with other universities during a period of expansion.”

Old Memorial Stadium is gone now, replaced by an arboretum. But the current football stadium retains the memorial designation — as well as the mainmast from the World War II battleship, the USS Indiana.

Memorial Hall still serves as a small and dated residence hall but could well be refurbished as the university moves to “repurpose” several old buildings in the core campus from office buildings to centers of student activity.

The IMU remains one of the greatest and grandest student unions in the country. And it retains a remarkable link to the heritage of the Memorial Fund. Inside the Memorial Room in the student union is the Golden Book — a massive repository of university history that lists the names of military veterans associated with IU (and fund contributors) from the War of 1812 through World War II.

In November 2011, IU unveiled an impressive digitization of the book that allows visitors to scroll through the 20,000-25,000 names listed — something impossible to do when the invaluable book was preserved under glass. Efforts are under way to add IU-related veterans since World War II.

Wells rededicated the Memorial Room in 1961, a year before he stepped down as IU president. And as Capshew noted in his biography, the revered IU leader reflected poetically on the power and purpose of memorialization.

“What man in his inner self does not have a small room of memory, where, if he stops to look, are stored reminders of the things in his life which have made it full of wonder in the having of them, and of sorrow at their loss?” Wells asked.