You don’t get to be 150 years old without having an impact on the world around you and creating some wonderful memories. As Southern Illinois University Carbondale celebrates its 150th anniversary, the 2019 Homecoming celebration is a time to reflect on the iconic past, celebrate the present and look forward to the future.
“One Team, Saluki Dream: Celebrating 150 Years Strong” is the theme of homecoming during SIU’s 150th anniversary year and the festivities are going on all week long.
“I love Homecoming because everyone comes out to celebrate shared experiences and keep SIU traditions going strong,” Dezsharay Wilkins, a sophomore health care management major who serves as Student Programming Council marketing director, said.
A tradition years in the making
As the university celebrates this special year, it recognizes Saluki Tradition, Saluki Pride and Saluki Promise – the past, present and future of the Saluki nation.
“Universities are like families in that the strongest ones have histories, family narratives and traditions that they value and take time to celebrate. SIU certainly has all of that – a family history and traditions to be proud of,” said John S. Jackson, political science professor emeritus, editor of “Southern Illinois University at 150 Years: Growth, Accomplishments and Challenges” and 2019 grand marshal.
Southern Illinois Normal University, as SIU was then known, held its first homecoming in the very early 1920s. Since the nation’s first university homecoming was just held about a decade before, the Carbondale event was dubbed “experimental” but quickly determined to be a smashing success. At that time the place founded as a teacher’s college in 1869 enrolled just over 1,000 students in a town of about 6,000 people.
That first year included a parade, a dance, a football game and other elements that are still intrinsic to Homecoming nearly a century later.
Maroons played the field
There were a few different activities that inaugural year though, including a snake dance, a tea party, a tug of war, team fights and a “funeral” march for the opposing Cape Girardeau team. Then as now, there was a pep rally. But nearly 100 years ago, the band wore uniforms that featured odd bell-shaped pants and skull caps.
The athletic teams were then the “Maroons,” and the football squad did go on to beat, not bury, the Cape team by a score of 12 to 7.
William McAndrew was SINU’s first football coach, serving from 1913 to 1916 and again from 1921 to 1938. He came to the university to develop a physical education department “for boys” according to old records. He created an organized athletics program, whereas before there were only club teams, and became the first athletic director in 1915.
In the early years, the team played on an open field near the old, long-gone power plant. At first, McAndrew had his “boys,” as he liked to call the players, wear striped socks. He later switched their uniforms to striped jerseys.
The reason for the stripes was quite simple. McAndrew was color-blind and wanted to make sure he could pick out his players on the field. Oddly enough, the team’s first victory was against a local high school team.
McAndrew compiled a winning record before being called to serve in World War I, where he rose to the rank of brigadier general in the United States Army. He returned to SIU and coached football as well as basketball and baseball, compiling impressive winning records across the board. McAndrew Stadium, built with funds he raised and later named in his honor, served as the home of the university’s football team from 1938 until 2010.
More bygone era events
During the early years of Homecoming, there were guest speakers at Shryock Auditorium before the games. Dramas or plays were added a few years later. Dorothy Benner, a sophomore, was elected football queen in 1928, establishing the annual homecoming queen tradition. Formal attire was essential for the big dances for decades.
As far back as at least the 1930’s, the campus houses were all decorated for Homecoming and activities were happening in the Greek houses throughout the weekend. The house decorating continued at least until the 1980’s, with some of the décor being quite elaborate.
For many years a big bonfire was a big part of Homecoming. Incoming freshmen at different times had to wear green ribbons or beanies to signify their new status, but they got to toss those “newbie” symbols into the bonfire Homecoming signifying they were officially part of the student body. Bonfires were still held well into the 1980s.
During World War II, enrollment suffered as many students took on new roles fighting for their country, so in 1943 Carbondale and Pinckneyville High Schools played a game at SINU because there wasn’t a Maroon team.
The gridiron group didn’t take on the name Salukis until 1951, when the student body overwhelmingly voted to make the Egyptian hunting dog the official mascot. Just a few years before, in 1948, the Illinois General Assembly had voted to change the name from SINU to Southern Illinois University, prompting Homecoming organizers to choose as that year’s theme “We Ain’t Normal Anymore.”
The Saluki name was actually the suggestion of Leland “Doc” Lingle, student, teacher, coach and later namesake for Lingle Hall. With the region’s “Little Egypt” connection, it seemed only natural that the dog favored by ancient pharaohs of Egypt should be the mascot for the team from “Little Egypt.” The Lingles travelled several hours to bring the first Saluki, “King Tut,” to campus after the I Club raised funds to purchase the beautiful animal.
The students agreed with Lingle; by an overwhelming majority, they voted to become Salukis. Tut passed away a few years later but his memorial pyramid, located outside of Saluki Stadium is still considered a “good luck charm” touched by many a Saluki on the way into the stadium on game days.
Lingle’s daughter, Dede Ittner, attended her first SIU homecoming parade as an infant and has been to countless more since. She remains active on the Alumni Association board and around campus and of course, is helping with the 2019 Alumni Association activities for the alma mater that is so near and dear to her heart.
She and her late husband Bill are both members of the class of 1961 and Homecoming is a very special time for her.
“Homecoming reestablishes connections in lots and lots of ways, from the parade to the game to the traditions like dances and house decorations,” Ittner said. She notes that it’s a time to remember fun times shared on campus and “everything reconnects us to our colleges, the university, our friends and our fellow alums!”
Traditions old and new
At various times through the years, SIU hosted an alumni banquet after the football game and at other times during the weekend. The university has had different versions of a homecoming court and other events such as plays, luncheons, open houses, and women’s hockey game during homecoming celebrations. At times, local high school teams faced off in six-man football games during halftime.
On homecoming weekend in the mid-1900s, as throughout the year, you’d find students at Carter’s Café, a diner across the street from the university. They often called it the “jelly joint,” because jelly was a term for dancing and this was a fun, happening place.
Some traditions have continued through the years unchanged. Others have come and gone, passing like the seasons. Of course, the parade, grand marshal and football game have remained homecoming staples since the earliest days.
Homecoming themes have run the gamut, from celebrating Broadway to westerns to honoring different decades. We’ve cruised the Nile Saluki-style, hosted Mardi Gras and dance parties, been “Wild with Pride” and had a case of “Maroon Fever.” Fairytales, royalty, beach and Egyptian themes have been seen and we’ve focused on “The Saluki Odyssey: Heroes, Myths and Traditions.”
Some very special people have also served as grand marshals for past celebrations, including astronaut Joan Higginbotham, Dippin’ Dots founder Curt Jones, Mary and Jim (pro football) Hart and NBA star Walt Frazier. Molly and Bill Norwood (SIU’s first African-American quarterback and United Airline’s first African American pilot) and Jason Seaman (an Indiana teacher and former Saluki football player who stopped a school shooting in his classroom with no loss of life) have done so as well.
Likewise, four-time Olympian and former SIU track star Connie Price-Smith has marshaled as did Steve Finley, Major League Baseball All-Star, World Series champion and five-time Gold Glove Award winner and former Saluki. And that’s just a few of the all-star SIU alumni who have returned to serve as grand marshal for their SIU.
Some years there have been big concerts during the Homecoming celebration week. For instance, Matchbox 20 played Homecoming 2000 during the band’s “Mad Season Tour.”
Festivities throughout the week this year and recent years include a comedy show, the Alpha Phi Alpha Step Show, the University Press book sale, a good old-fashioned pep rally – everyone’s invited – and of course the parade, tailgating, Saluki football against the Youngstown State Penguins and much more.
The popular free 150 Block Party makes a return appearance after a very successful premiere last year. Alumni and community members are welcome to join students, faculty and staff for an evening of games, novelties, entertainment, music, and more on Thursday evening.
“One thing I love about Homecoming is it gives the students a chance to come together as one. Putting aside the daily stresses of college, we have a chance to show our love and pride for our home team, the Salukis!” Laina Chatmon, a senior psychology major and SPC Homecoming director, said.
New and evolving
For the first time this year, people can buy commemorative IDs featuring current or retro pictures. It’s a fun way to relive those college years, get a cool keepsake from Homecoming, and, as an added bonus, claim discounts from numerous local merchants. Alumni and other guests can even relive their college days by spending the weekend at University Hall, too.
Numerous campus groups are having their own reunions within the reunion that is homecoming. Among them are the newest inductees “Half-Century Club,” the Class of 1969, which is having its 50th reunion. The Alumni Association has photos and records dating back several decades for those special half-century reunions.
Social media launched a reunion and scholarship
This year marks the inaugural reunion and tailgate for the “Carbondale in the ‘80s and ‘90s” Facebook group, also known as the group that established the B.E.E.R. (Balancing Education, Experience and Reality) Scholarships.
This group, which launched on Facebook and quickly grew to more than 15,000 members, is comprised largely of SIU alumni. In short order, its members donated more than $50,000 to endow two SIU scholarships thanks to a grassroots effort in conjunction with the annual SIU Day of Giving this year. The group’s first official SIU tailgate this year quickly became a sellout.
Jim Hagarty, a 1983 radio/television graduate, is among those returning to campus for Homecoming this year because of the group.
“SIU was four of the most wonderful years of my life,” Hagarty said. Currently a field process adviser for Auto Data Solutions, working with Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM dealers in the New Jersey, Pennsylvania/West Virginia region on their internet processes, it will be his first trip back to campus since 1985.
Hagarty is excited to be coming to campus and is among those staying in University Hall for the weekend. He transferred to SIU because of the radio/television department’s reputation and quickly got involved on campus. He was a student resident assistant at Boomer Hall 1980-81 and Neely Hall from 1981 to 1982.
He also got practical experience in the field he was majoring in by working at WIDB, the student-run radio station. He worked his way up from news and promotions to general manager at a time when the station was heavily in debt and facing closure. He recalls becoming a politician and lobbyist, working with faculty, student volunteers and campus organizations to secure the funding to keep the station in operation and move it to the student center.
Bob Roos, who was promotions director for the station in 1982, got the idea to turn Hagarty’s 1966 pickup truck into a float for the parade. The truck wasn’t even running at the time but thanks to the good mechanical skills of Paul Heyer, who was roommates with their friend, Gary O’Halloran, it was soon operational. The station’s staff worked for hours Friday and Saturday morning decorating it.
“At half-time of the game, to our surprise, it was announced WIDB’s float won first prize for best float and first prize for most creative float,” Hagarty recalls. They proudly hung the awards on the wall of the studios, then in the basement of Boomer Hall, he said.
Those are just a few of the memories that make SIU so special to Hagarty and other alumni.
“SIU afforded me opportunities to grow as a student and a person. I believe I made the most of them and enjoyed my whole academic, social and work experience there,” Hagarty said. “It helped shape me into the person I am today. I was able to meet students from all over the world and learn and grown from them.”
He’s looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends this week on campus.
Special time for alumni
There is also the Alumni Band Reunion, the Saluki Veterans Alumni Group social and tailgate and other reunions happening at Homecoming.
“For alumni, Homecoming is a celebration of Saluki pride,” Kathy Dillard, Alumni Association director, said. “It’s an opportunity to come together, back where they met, and catch up with old friends and make new ones. Alumni come back to connect with other alumni and take advantage of the time to network, Homecoming gives them a chance to go back where it all started and appreciate how far they have come.”
The chance for current and former Salukis to connect makes the week special for all involved.
“I enjoy Homecoming because it allows students to connect with alumni when they travel back to campus to support our Salukis,” Leroy Jones, a senior management major who serves as Student Programming Council executive director, said.
It’s likewise exciting for alumni to return to campus to reminisce and meet today’s students.
“It’s important that we pause periodically on campus and set aside this special weekend and take time to welcome our graduates back to campus and reflect on our shared values and the compelling story of what makes SIU such a special place and experience. Homecoming is especially timely this year because of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of our founding,” Jackson said. “These family traditions are important for remembering the past and also important to help ensure a bright future for the university as we now head toward our bicentennial in 2069.”
Be sure and look around SIU’s scenic campus when you’re in town and get a taste of the pride the Saluki family has. Check out the dozens of doors decorated throughout in recognition of Homecoming. The 150 door challenge is just one of the 150th anniversary challenges underway all across the campus.
The celebration is very much about the future as well.
Also looking ahead, a special groundbreaking Thursday morning will mark the start of a very special new campus landmark, the Saluki Alumni Plaza. Located between Pulliam and Woody Halls, it will feature three beautiful Saluki statues, representing the past, present and future students who make SIU the special place it is.
In addition, the Alumni Center grand opening will take place after the game Saturday night, showcasing the beautiful new facilities in C-Wing of Woody Hall that have been especially designed to give Salukis a “home” any time they come to campus. Visitors will enjoy live music, food, drinks and giveaways along with tours of the Alumni Association’s new headquarters, featuring business center which visiting alumni can use, an alumni library and much more. Jackson will also be signing his book that evening, and the University Press will have copies available for purchase.
“This is my fifth Homecoming on campus and every year it gets bigger and better, with more involvement from students, staff, alumni and the community,” Carly Holtkamp, Student Center Programs assistant director, said. “The Saluki spirit is contagious and this is always an exciting time on campus!”
Town joins in fun
Everybody loves a parade and the city of Carbondale and surrounding community turn out in droves for the ever-popular homecoming parade. Featuring floats, bands, the Homecoming Court, Grand Marshal John Jackson and much more, it’s fun for all ages.
The Southern Illinois High School Saluki Spirit Squad, a group of outstanding high school students from throughout the region, will be honored Saturday during homecoming festivities. These students and others like them represent the future of SIU, officials say.
The 2019 Saluki Hall of Fame inductees are joining in the festivities, riding in the parade Saturday. They include: Jake Alley (baseball), Karlton Carpenter (football), Craig Coffin (football), Deke Edwards (wrestling), Deb Hayne Gross (volleyball), Kelly Gerlach Hovland (women’s golf), Tim Kratochvil (baseball) and Chris Lowery (men’s basketball).
DeAnna Price, who recently became the first American woman to win an international medal in hammer throw, taking the World Championships gold to add to her Olympic medals and numerous accolades as a Saluki track and field all-star.
Following the parade, there are a host of tailgates throughout Saluki Way, inviting one and all to socialize, get acquainted or reacquainted, and have a good time. And there’s always hopes of a sellout at Saluki Stadium as the men in maroon take on Youngstown State at 2 p.m.
For all of the details about Homecoming 2019, including the complete schedule, visit www.homecoming.siu.edu.