The University Residence is more than just the house where Illinois State University presidents live. It is also the site for myriad events involving approximately 2,000 guests annually.
Keeping a balance between making a home and being the location for special university activities is a challenge for President Larry Dietz and his wife, Marlene. The University’s “First Lady,” Marlene knew when the two arrived at 1000 Gregory Street in 2014 that the house would need their personal touch.
“It takes getting used to, but you have to add your own art and mementoes from travels to make it into your home,” Marlene said.
President Dietz concurs, and praises Marlene for making the residence in Normal “feel like our home.” That’s not easy to accomplish given the litany of visitors that range from stellar students, faculty and staff, to legislators, trustees, donors, graduates, international dignitaries, and notable campus speakers.
Among those recently invited to the home were Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, actress and alumna Jane Lynch, Robert Kennedy Jr., actor and alum Sean Hayes, actress Patricia Arquette, historian David McCullough, and fashion guru Tim Gunn.
The list is extensive when going back decades to when the home was built in 1972. The Board of Regents approved construction, with the understanding every president would live in the residence as a condition of employment. The intent has always been that the property would also be used for official university business and entertainment. The second floor remains the family’s private residence.
The board authorized the 4,000 square-foot residence be built on five acres that were then part of the University Farm northwest of campus. The house, which sits adjacent to the Weibring Golf Club, was designed as a “farmhouse type of residence.” The cost was not to exceed $150,000.
The Dietzes love the home, and each has a favorite spot.
For Marlene, it’s the enclosed sunporch equipped with both heating and cooling options. It was added on after the original construction.
Larry enjoys the private den on the first floor, where the two relax during rare moments of down time.
The home is comfortable but not opulent, which suits them both just fine. Like the presidential couple, the space is open, welcoming and warm. There is an abundance of natural light throughout the home, which has 133 windows.
A total of 50 are on the porch alone, according to Fran Kaufmann. Employed by ISU as the housekeeper, she has served four presidents and their families for nearly 19 years. University Facilities Management employees maintain the property and its landscaping.
Student work and piano
Much of the artwork displayed throughout the main floor was created by artists who are College of Fine Arts students or faculty. The work of local artists and University Gallery pieces are also featured. This is just one way the Dietzes make the home a showcase of ISU’s excellence.
The focal point of the upper living room is a Kawai grand piano purchased by the Dietzes in memory of Marlene’s mother.
Faculty and students are invited to perform at events, which creates another opportunity to appreciate Redbird talent.
A tradition in recent years is to make use of a set of Gorham sterling silver flatware deeded to the University by Central Illinois socialite Doris Strange upon her death in 2013.
By design, the home is a great venue for welcoming guests, which is an experience both Larry and Marlene enjoy.
“When this public space is filled with people, I love it,” Larry said, gesturing toward the open first floor. For a shorter event with appetizers and drinks, the guest list is between 70 and 100 people. A sit-down dinner is usually capped at 50 individuals.
The social calendar is fairly crowded throughout the year, with an event or two often scheduled each week. April is the busiest. This year there were six events in seven days during the month. Homecoming week is another heavy season for guests, who are guaranteed a delightful interaction with the Dietzes and other loyal Redbirds.
“I’m honored that people see this house as a special place to come to,” President Dietz said. “We’re delighted that people feel comfortable here.”