Earlier this summer Helen (Moser) Petersen ’70 reunited on the Illinois State University campus with two friends she met while living on the third floor of Atkin Hall in the late 1960s. Her friends Linda (Lundeen) Johnson ’70 and Kathlene “Kass” Odom ’71 also attended Illinois State to pursue degrees in education, and their connection developed into a friendship spanning over half a century. They spent an afternoon sharing stories and taking in the changes to campus over the last 50 years.
Petersen grew up in Mackinaw, 30 miles west of Illinois State. She graduated from Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School in 1966 and saw her only career options as nurse, teacher, or secretary. With a love for reading she decided on teaching and enrolled as an English major. Illinois State holds a special place in her heart because of the friendships she made here, because of meeting Jim, her husband, and for all the the experiences that prepared her for life after college.
One of the experiences that led to her success was working in University Housing Services. She was the first person to hold the position of resident assistant (RA) in Haney Hall, a job she said was described as an “experimental position.” At that time there was one RA per residence hall, and the University was transitioning to coed living spaces. She learned about working with people, upholding rules, and creating connections.
Odom grew up in Steger, a south suburb of Chicago. As she traveled back to Illinois State for the reunion, she reminisced about taking those same roads 50 years ago.
“After being gone for so many years, I was surprised to feel such a connection to ISU,” she said.
For Johnson, attending Illinois State was more a rite of passage than an expectation as she was one of five kids in her family to go to school here. She felt excited to see everything that’s changed since she was a student but also found herself missing some of the landmarks around campus that are gone.
“It was interesting to see new buildings and a little sad to know that many old buildings no longer exist,” she said. “But progress is important to keep up in this changing world.”
As the three friends strolled through campus, they were impressed as much today by the beauty and architecture of the Quad as when they first attended Illinois State.
“The Quad looks more like a park than it did 50 years ago,” Petersen said. “The trees are just so large and mature now.”
As they made their way toward where Atkin-Colby Hall once stood, they took note of the state-of-the-art Rec Center that opened its doors in 2011. They also walked by the new Multicultural Center, which Petersen was excited to see. They were impressed by the number of dining options available now compared to their era. Petersen recalled grabbing a bite to eat between classes at the student diner called The Cage in Fell Hall. Otherwise, students ate in residence hall dining areas while adhering to a dress code of skirts/dresses for female students.
Some of the buildings, trees, rules, and opportunities have changed over the years, but the values of learning, friendship, and growth familiar to Petersen and her friends during their time at Illinois State remain and made them feel at home as Redbirds, she said. She added that she was proud to see a continued focus on students.
“ISU values student input and listens and invites students to participate,” she said.