At 91 years old, Illinois State University’s Homecoming history runs pretty deep.
To get ready for Homecoming, I traveled to Milner Library, where the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives staff has set up an exhibit highlighting the various Homecoming themes since 1921. Showcasing photographs, yearbooks and memorabilia, it highlights some of the most popular celebrations in Redbird history.
Here are my Top 5 takeaways:
One of the first things you’ll see at the Milner exhibit is a pamphlet from the first-ever Illinois State Homecoming, held Nov. 4-5, 1921. The University’s then-president, David Felmley, recently returned from a trip out east and “he brought with him the idea of Homecoming,” which was being done elsewhere. (Actually, Homecoming was already being done just down the road at the University of Illinois as early as 1910.) The 1921 “Home Coming” pamphlet lays out a schedule not too different from today’s festivities, including a performance of the play “$1,200 A Year,” by the Jesters, and a Saturday football game against Charleston. But there was something on the 1921 schedule that wouldn’t really work today: an all-school party at Fell Hall. These days, that might be a little cramped.
This year, students and alumni will see President Al Bowman waving at them during the Homecoming parade through campus and Uptown Normal. But back in 1980, it was then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, headlining the Homecoming parade during the thick of the campaign against President Jimmy Carter. And as you’ll see in the photo on display at Milner, the former California governor’s security detail was dressed in some very snazzy suits and aviator sunglasses. The theme of the 1980 Homecoming, by the way, was “Reflections.”
LOOKING FOR MORE
Exhibit creator Sarah Harris, a student assistant at the Archives, says that the few materials now on display from the 1980s Homecomings are just about all the University has saved from that period. So if you’re going through your old stuff in the coming months and see any old Illinois State Homecoming pamphlets, photos, pins or other materials that you were just going to throw away, give the Archives a call and see if they want it. They’d love to build up more materials from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and think this exhibit can help, said University Archivist April Anderson. “That’s part and parcel of what we’re trying to do with this exhibit,” Anderson said. “It’s part education, part marketing.”
Illinois State’s Homecoming themes over the years have been all over the place, but one word – Disney – seems to come up repeatedly, says Harris. The 1969 theme was “Delightful Dreams of Disney,” reflecting on the enthusiasm and imaginations of Illinois State students. The dorm-decorating winner that year was Walker Hall, whose students created the “Enchanted Forest Castle” display. It was a scene where Mickey and Donald have a brief skirmish with a ferocious dragon from Eastern Illinois University, the football team’s Homecoming opponent that year. The Redbird knight in Walker’s display defeated the evil dragon. The Redbird football team did the same thing, taking down the real-life EIU, 37-0.
FINDING A THEME
We won’t be celebrating Illinois State’s 100th anniversary Homecoming until 2021. But the 50th celebration carried the theme “Halloween Hey-Day,” over the Oct. 30-31 weekend in 1971. Some of the marquee events were a pumpkin-carving contest and a performance of the macabre play “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The big musical act was a rock concert by Mark Lindsay and the Raiders at Horton Field House. But as the exhibit shows, the Homecoming themes have bounced around pretty wildly over the years. We’ve seen “Good Vibrations” (1976), “Conquest” (1977), “Yesterday Once More” (1979) and “American Folklore” (1967), just to name a few from that era.
Ryan Denham can be reached at email@example.com.