2017 marks the 96th year Illinois State will welcome thousands of alumni back to campus for the University’s annual Homecoming celebration. Second only to commencement, Homecoming is Illinois State’s longest standing tradition that has continued to build its legacy throughout the years. This year Homecoming 2017: Building a Legacy will be held October 16-22. To honor its legacy, lets take a look at the then and now of some memorable Homecoming events.
So where did the legacy start? Well, following his trip to schools in the east during the winter of 1920-1921, University President David Felmley was impressed with the “homecoming trends” and celebrations he observed. Wanting to change the popular belief that Illinois State Normal University (ISNU), as the school was originally called, was not progressing, President Felmley approved the first Homecoming, appointed a committee, and allotted $75 for expenses.
ISNU’s first official Homecoming kicked off with a jester play and an Auld Lang Syne party. Homecoming attendees also enjoyed a waffle brunch, a library open house held by Miss Milner, the traditional Homecoming parade and football game, and a dance held in the gymnasium. Over 700 alumni returned to Normal to celebrate in the festivities. The event was so successful it became a yearly tradition and began building the legacy of today’s Homecoming celebration.
While Illinois State has come a long way since 1921, the legacy that began with that first Homecoming is still celebrated almost 100 years later. Although some aspects of past Homecomings have faded away and new traditions have emerged, three key elements of Illinois State’s Homecoming celebration are part of its lasting legacy—the parade, marching band, and football game.
Since the first Homecoming, students, alumni, and the community have celebrated the kickoff of Homecoming Saturday with the annual parade. Initially dubbed the “hobo parade” in 1923, campus clubs once competed for the honorary title of “dingiest group.” Today, registered student organizations and community businesses and groups compete for title of best float. Members of the Board of Trustees, ISU’s president and first lady and selected Homecoming royalty ride in the parade as well. Throughout the years, the legacy of the Homecoming parade continues to grow as it attracts thousands of viewers and even dignitaries, such as Ronald Reagan who rode in the 1980 parade just weeks before he won the presidency.
No Homecoming parade would be complete without the Big Red Marching Machine, ISU’s student marching band. Comprised of 252 musicians in 2016, this group of talented students set the jovial mood for the parade, playing ISU’s fight song as well as popular contemporary hits. The band also plays throughout the Homecoming football game, with its most anticipated performance during halftime.
Then you can’t have halftime without the game! The legacy of the Homecoming football game has drawn thousands of students and alumni back to Hancock Stadium, where fans show their Redbird pride as they cheer on Illinois State. Even those who cannot return to Bloomington-Normal for the football game are still connected in spirit to Illinois State and tune into the big game from afar.
Prior to the start of the football game, the parking lots outside of the stadium fill up with vehicles, lawn chairs, and grills as people tailgate in preparation for Redbird win. Before the expansion of west campus, the Homecoming football game was played in an open field on the south end of the Quad, near McCormick Hall. The first Homecoming football game was played on Hancock Field in 1963, and ISU fans have continued to gather in the stadium for the last 54 years, continuing the legacy of Homecoming.
Redbird families have been celebrating the legacy of Illinois State University’s Homecoming for nearly a century by building memories that will last a lifetime. As the University continues to grow in the future, the legacy will live on in future Redbirds. For more information on Homecoming 2017: Building a Legacy, visit the Homecoming website or download the Illinois State University app.