Meet me at the Bird
There’s a new gathering place on campus: Redbird Plaza. Ten years in the making, the landmark has quickly become a popular space for conversation and events.
President Larry Dietz dedicated the outdoor space between DeGarmo and Fell halls on May 11. The bricked plaza, located where Rambo House once stood, became a reality through the Student Government Association and a gift from the estate of Judith “Jude” Boyer, M.A. ’68. She was a leader in Student Affairs for many years, retiring as vice president of the Division in 2000. Boyer died in 2012 at age 74.
“This is definitely the beginning of a new tradition,” Dietz said. “There will be times in the future when having a space like Redbird Plaza will be important, allowing us to gather for celebrations or major events. Yet I am drawn to the idea of the seemingly small moments, when members of our community feel supported and appreciated, and discover a sense of belonging.”
Carved in stone in the semicircle with built-in benches are words from the University’s fight song: “To this emblem we’ll be true.”
The key feature of the plaza is a bronze statue of the Redbird mascot. Sculpted by local artist Rick Harney ’86, the bust is approximately 54 inches tall. Assistant Professor Randy Reid, ’87, MFA ’96, fabricated the 350-pound base from sheet bronze, as students watched the progress. The height was chosen for accessibility to anyone who’d like to rub the beak for luck—which is a common Redbird tradition.
Student trustee Ryan Powers ’17 recalled the first time he heard student leaders wanted to bring a statue to the Quad. “I was thrilled but thought, ‘How in the world am I going to convince the administration to build a statue on the Quad?’ But as always, the administration opened its arms and accepted the idea because at Illinois State University, students have a voice.”
He acknowledged the student leaders in 2006 who first came up with the idea. “Those students a decade ago gave us the foundation to build this. Without their hard work, we would not be here today.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson acknowledged the vision of the Redbirds who created the unique plaza space “where memories will be made, friendships strengthened, and traditions built. The vision of creating Redbird Plaza is fulfilled.”
Making it possible
Jude Boyer advocated for students for 32 years, giving them a voice and encouraging them to use their own. She was known for arriving at work before dawn and leaving long after the parking lot was empty.
Her influence was wide and deep, said long-time friend and campus colleague Mike Schermer ’73, M.S. ’78, who worked with Boyer for nearly three decades. “If you were here, she influenced you, but you may not have known it.”
Boyer served as associate vice president for Student Affairs from 1973 to 1999, then vice president until her retirement in 2000. She was lost too soon, dying unexpectedly of a heart attack on Dec. 23, 2012, while traveling to her family’s home in Iowa. In her estate plan, she left her home to Illinois State. Memorials were made to the Division of Student Affairs’ Student Enrichment Fund, which helped make the new Redbird Plaza possible.
One of her many legacies is how she changed commencement. Boyer moved it from a single ceremony in Horton Field House, where graduates were recognized by departments, to Redbird Arena with separate ceremonies for each college. The change allowed every student to cross the stage, which is still the practice today. She was also instrumental in initiating winter commencement ceremonies in 1995.
Boyer was Illinois State’s first affirmative action officer for women, a strong proponent of student leadership programs and an advisor for numerous student organizations. “She was a fervent supporter of student leadership opportunities,” said President Larry Dietz, “and her passion for elevating the student voice in shared governance is legendary.”
Calling her a force of nature, Schermer chuckled when he recalled how some feared her, but they also respected her. He remembers her favorite phrase was “People, work with me.” And they did.
“She got things done. If anyone wanted a thorough examination of an issue and a thoughtful resolution, they would call Jude,” he said. “She had a brilliant way of bringing people together.”
Boyer called her career at ISU a “fortuitous accident.” The former high school chemistry teacher came to campus in 1968 to get her master’s in the College of Education, which she did. She also started working in University Housing, helped open Watterson Towers, and eventually moved into Student Affairs. Besides student advocacy, another one of her passions was Redbird Athletics.
“She truly loved ISU,” Schermer said. “Everything she did was based on making ISU better. Students loved her because she respected them. She inspired us to achieve, to make this a better and special place for all of us.”
Would she like the idea of a gathering space being dedicated to her?
“Yes and no,” Schermer said. “She would be overwhelmed with emotion, and she would say, ‘Why me? There are a million other people who deserve it more.’”
Her former students and colleagues would disagree.
Kate Arthur can be reached at kaarthu@IllinoisState.edu.