Marian Dean graduated from Illinois State Normal University in 1929. At homecoming 1979, she recalled ISNU being “a smaller school,” where she “could be a bigger duck in a little puddle.” This allowed her to take part in a number of extracurricular activities she felt she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the chance to try, including Intercollegiate Debate, Hieronymus Club (an organization for students “interested in the problems of small community life), and a dramatic troupe called The Jesters. 

A crowd of students crosses the Quad during Orientation Week in August 1982.

Matthew Rillie matriculated from Illinois State University 86 years later in 2015. In addition to serving as president of the Registered Student Organization (RSO) Pride, Rillie also participated in the Leaders of Social Change program and worked part-time for Event Services at the Bone Student Center. They remembered that ISU “felt like such a big school” that they would occasionally find themself realizing they hadn’t “left campus in three weeks!” 

Separated in time by almost a century, Matthew and Marian led vastly different lives as students of the same university. However, both recalled their days at IS(N)U as a formative experience which greatly influenced their careers in the field of education. Their memories of their time on campus have been captured in their own words through electronically recorded interviews known as oral histories and now serve to inform future generations of Redbirds of the struggles and achievements of students just like them in decades past. 

A student holds a sign announcing the ISU Homecoming Parade in November 1962.

Alumni Engagement first began recording the reminisces of Half Century Club inductees during the fall of 1979. Over the next five years, ISU staff and Student Alumni Council members conducted 32 interviews with 50 alumni. Decades later, staff at Milner Library and the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives digitized the cassette tapes housing these recordings, transcribed the interviews, and made them available for online listening and download through Milner Library’s institutional repository ISU ReD. Milner, Alumni Engagement, and the Student Alumni Council then joined forces to begin taking new oral histories from those who had graduated in the 38 years since the last recording was made.  

Now, due to an infusion of new funds from generous alumni and community donors, the team is seeking ISU alumni from all decades to participate in an ongoing oral history program designed to preserve Redbirds’ diverse voices and experiences far into the future. Prospective interviewees can expect to take part in a short group on-boarding session this spring, followed by a more in-depth meeting with a trained student interviewer. The resulting interviews will become part of Illinois State University’s permanent archives and will be accessible online via ISU ReD. 

Those who are interested in contributing their memories of IS(N)U to the alumni oral histories project are invited to fill out an online form.