Many young Midwestern women came to earn their college degrees at Illinois State Normal University in 1957. The class was the centennial freshman class and was welcomed to campus by the new president, Robert Bone, and his wife, Karyn.
When the Bones welcomed students to campus, they called each person by name. The Bones greatly influenced everyone’s lives, and he put “his stamp of excellence on the education at ISNU.” The women, the majority of whom lived in Fell Residence Hall, which was the sophomore women’s dormitory, became friends—friends who to this day some 50 years later keep in contact and return for frequent visits to their alma mater.
Brenda Varnold Dilts and Marlene Hack Rohlfing tell the story of young women from the Chicago suburbs and Midwest towns eating together in the Fell dining room under the watchful eyes of Mrs. LeCroix. Mrs. LeCroix expected them to dress up for Sunday dinner and generally “kept them on their toes.” The tables sat eight to 10 women, allowing for easy discourse and a sense of kinship with each other.
“We lived in one of the smallest residence halls on campus compared to the size of residence halls today,” Dilts said. “One of the major events was the Spring Stunt Show sponsored by the University Club. The residents of Fell Hall really got to know one another as we worked together to make our original stunt show, “The Gingko Tree,” special. In fact, Fell Hall won first place. We all just clicked, and we still click.”
Through illnesses, deaths, child bearing and rearing and professional challenges, the “Fell Hall Girls” have supported one another. Much of their communication is in writing now, with letters, Christmas cards and e-mail keeping them in touch. But the Fell Hall Girls continue to get together in cities and at the University as often as possible.
“Many of us were teachers as well as our spouses, and now have children teaching,” said Rohlfing and Dilts. “Most of us are retired. Not all stayed in the teaching field as our group includes an artist, travel agent, Peace Corp/Mission worker, minister and mortgage banker. All of us volunteer in various civic organizations, schools, hospitals and churches. Several women still live in the Bloomington-Normal community.”
During their last visit to campus, the Fell Hall Girls enjoyed seeing the new and renovated buildings. Everyone was impressed by the futuristic College of Business Building and the great renovation of Schroeder Hall. “We were sad to hear of the pending demolition of Walker and Dunn-Barton Residence Halls because most of us lived in those halls,” Rohlfing and Dilts said. Many of the girls are keeping their fingers crossed that McCormick will be included in the plans for the new Student Fitness Center and Kinesiology and Recreation building.
Sharing memories of their times at Illinois State, particularly in Fell Hall, has been a common theme of the Fell Hall Girls. If someone doesn’t get the invitation for the next get-together sent out in a timely fashion, the e-mails, calls and letters start to roll in. In today’s busy world, keeping in contact with a college roommate is sometimes problematic, much less keeping in contact with more than 50 residence hall mates. Dilts said their time at Illinois State created one of the most incredible and enduring bonds of friendship among the Fell Hall Girls.
During an address, Rohlfing summed up their time at ISNU. She said, “Remember the tunnel from Dunn-Barton to the Walker Hall cafeteria. Remember how we loved stopping at the Cage after studying at Milner. With no cars, most of us walked to Bloomington, McDonald’s, Stanley’s or the Polar Lounge. We girls had hours, and Saturday morning was white glove inspection. There were no microwaves, televisions or phones in the residence hall rooms. Oh, how we all loved Fell Hall, with its beautiful lounge, lighted tower and flower garden on the Quad. We all wore red as we squeezed into McCormick Gym to watch our basketball team, with our goal of beating Illinois Wesleyan and Southern Illinois University. So many memories—the beautiful Quad, singing in the Messiah, the new Centennial Building, Madrigal dinners, Big 4 dances, Gamma Phi Circus, Black Friars, the creepy basement in Cook Hall, the ginko tree, the barracks, walking to the farm, building floats for Homecoming and John Kennedy visiting campus.”
“We are proud to be graduates of ISNU,” Rohlfing and Dilts said. “Being a graduate of ISNU opened many doors to an excellent and rewarding life.”