Friday, December 15, 2017

Some CMU Holiday Traditions

By Frank Boles

In its 125 year history Central Michigan University has celebrated the end of year holidays and the winter months that followed in a variety of ways. No one celebration has spanned the entire history of the University but many were long lived, and important themes remained unchanged.

Perhaps the earliest, and the most long-lived tradition, was a semi-formal dance held in December. The first documented dance was held in 1926. Proceeds from the dance were given to charity, a tradition that continued specifically with the dance for many years, and would be reflected in many other traditions that would develop over the years.

The first dances were campus-wide events. In the 1950s fraternities and sororities began to sponsor the event, and in the 1960s and 1970s various residence halls held dances. In the 1980s the tradition disappeared, with the last residence hall dances held in Barnard and Beddow Halls, as well as a few events sponsored by different fraternities.

As dances began to fade in popularity other events came to the fore. One of the most long-lived was the winter carnival. Held in February, the carnival featured a variety of games, floats, dances and other events. Snow sculptures were an integral part of the festival, as were “sort of” outdoor sports, such as broom hockey. The carnival was first held in 1939 and eventually ended in the early 1980s. 

One part of the carnival, however, survives to this day.  In 1979 the event featured a “polar plunge”, a fundraiser for Special Olympics where particularly brave (or foolish, depending on your point of view) individuals jumped into the ponds in front of Rose Arena. The polar plunge is still with us, including the idea of recruiting sponsors whose contributions will go to charity, assuming the person who they sponsor really does the deed!

A bit less exhilarating, but far more practical, was the Christmas Coffee sponsored by the Association for Women Students during the 1950s and 1960s, where everyone was invited to come an enjoy a bit of holiday cheer (at least as much cheer as can be derived from a cup of coffee).

A more satisfying feast was the Madrigal dinner. A madrigal is a music composition of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. The annual holiday tradition took songs from this era and combined them with a “feast.” First held in 1977, the event featured costumed entertainment, as well as a themed meal. The event was last held in 1994, when ticket sales failed to generate sufficient revenue to fund the event.

Beginning in 1902 and continuing into the 1960’s CMU was home to a Training School, a facility where future teachers could hone their skills on real students. As did almost every elementary school of the era, the students put on a holiday entertainment for their parents. First graders dressed up as elves delighted their parents, pretty much regardless of what actually happened on stage.

Members of the campus community first began to collect items for the community charity Christmas Outreach in the 1980. The Wesley Foundation and St. Mary’s Church took leading roles in gathering clothing items on campus to be subsequently distributed throughout the community. The University’s involvement in the program grew over the years. In 2005 Finch Fieldhouse became the center for distributing the many items to members of the community. Finch continues to serve in this role each holiday season.

Fun, fellowship, and giving are all part of the CMU’s holiday traditions.

Happy holidays to all from the staff of the Clarke Historical Library.

Spring 2018 Speakers

By Frank Boles

This coming spring the Clarke Historical Library speaker series will sponsor several speakers related to the spring exhibit, as well a discussion of one of Michigan’s most influential United States senators and two days with Harry Potter.

The spring exhibit, (dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability and ability, which is hosted by the Clarke Library, will open on February 8th with a presentation by Heidi McKenzie.  Founder of Alter Ur Ego, McKenzie asks a simple question, “Have you ever tried to put on a pair of pants sitting down without moving your legs? Try it! It's not easy, but it's how I live every day.” In 2007 McKenzie was in a traumatic car accident that left her without the ability to feel from the chest down. After her accident she founded Alter Ur Ego, to design fashionable clothing for herself and her “wheelie” friends. This presentation is made possible by Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
Following Ms. McKenzie, on February 19 KT Maviglia will speak. Ms. Maviglia was diagnosed with Sensorineural Hearing Loss in the fourth grade. She has two hearing aids. She is also an accomplished young woman who was chosen Miss Michigan in 2014. She will share her story and speak about her journey with hearing loss.
On February 20 & 21 the library will discuss one of the best-selling books of our times in two days of events discussing “The International Appeal of Harry Potter.” The program includes a panel of CMU professors February 21 discussing why the Potter series resonates with people across generations and cultures as well a marathon reading of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on February 20 with CMU students, faculty, and staff reading the book in over a dozen languages. This presentation is made possible by John and Audrey Cumming Endowment.
March 15 Jane Hash, who is Michigan-based spokesperson and model for Classy Little Fashions will speak. The mission of the Classy Little Fashions Foundation is to support individuals with physical disabilities who have non-standard body types by developing and supporting venues that make age appropriate, fashionable clothing accessible.
The library’s speaker’s series will close on March 19 with Hank Meijer discussing his recently published book: Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century. Longtime NPR correspondent Cokie Roberts writes of Meijer’s work, “every member of Congress should read this book.”  United States Senator Arthur Vandenberg was a pre-World War II Isolationist who, faced with the realities of a changing world, changed his views and played a critical role in shaping America’s post World War II foreign policy. His story is that of a politician who held deep beliefs, but beliefs he would be forced to examine and change as a result of changing circumstances.
All of these presentations will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Park Library Auditorium, with a reception following each. The sole exception will be the Harry Potter marathon book reading, which will be held February 20 in the Library’s Baber Room. All of the events are free and open to the public. We hope you will join us.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Story Behind the CMU Seal

For most of the CMU community, the university seal and the Latin motto, “Sapientia, Virtus, Amicitia,” seem like they have been around forever. But that’s not the case. This year, amidst the celebrations of the University’s 125th anniversary, CMU reporters caught up with Pete Ketzler, the designer of the seal, to talk about the beginnings of the idea in the early 1950s and timelessness of the seal today. Read the story and watch the video on the CMU News site.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Clarke Director Shares the Stories of Beloved Campus Buildings

As CMU’s official YouTube channel notes, “everyone has a favorite building or two on campus.” Recently, Frank Boles, the Director of the Clarke, was interviewed about the history of two buildings that have been central to the memories made by thousands of CMU alumni – Grawn Hall and Barnard Hall. Have a look at this video and be sure to check out the Clarke’s historical timeline of the CMU built environment for more about your favorite building ... or two.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Exactly When Was CMU Founded

by Frank Boles

Through the kindness of a donor the Clarke Library recently received an early Central class ring, proudly emblazoned with the School’s founding year – 1891. Considering we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of Central’s founding this year, in 1892, the ring is something of an inconvenient artifact. It was hard to imagine, however, that someone would get something like the date the school was founded wrong in bronze.

As it turns out Central has used a variety of dates regarding when the school was founded. Among the earliest documents in the CMU Archives it states clearly and repeatedly that the institution was founded in 1891. However in 1949 the State Board of Education, which at the time had administrative control of the School, decided that the institution was actually founded in 1892.

The argument for the change was likely quite straightforward. Central had claimed it was founded in the fall of 1891 when a group of four of Mt. Pleasant’s leading citizens met informally and agreed in principle to a scheme to create a private teaching school in Mt. Pleasant. The State Board likely pointed out that it is one thing to sit around in an office and decide something should be done, and quite another to actually go out and do it. And in point of fact these leading citizens, along with other community leaders, did not get around to legally organizing an entity to undertake the project until the spring of 1892. On May 24, 1892 sixteen people organized the Mt. Pleasant Improvement Association, with the purpose of creating a “Normal University.”

But in solving one puzzle a new one is created: why does Central celebrate its birthday on September 13, rather than May 24?

Although the Improvement Association’s stated goal was to found a University, the mechanism was not straightforward. It was, instead, a speculative real estate scheme. The Association bought a farm near the south end of Mt. Pleasant, set aside a portion of the farm to be the site of the new University, and divided the rest of the farm into 210 lots which it intended to sell. The founding of the University, or more properly the construction of a building to house the University on the land set aside for this purpose, was dependent on income received from the sale of the lots. If the real estate scheme didn’t work, there would be no building, and without the building “Normal University” would largely be an imaginary creature.

The lots did, however, sell, and during the spring and early summer several milestones were met. One important milestone was signing a contract in June 1892 with Charles Bellows, who agreed to become principal of the new University and also recruit both faculty and students. However, much like selling lots to fund a University, hiring someone who agrees to find faculty and students is not exactly the same thing as having either of those essential components of any school. There was clearly a good deal of work to do during the summer months, and a lot that might go wrong.

Bellows, however, was good to his word. September 13, 1892 was the first day of classes. The faculty had been assembled, as least a few students showed up on a rainy morning, and the business of education was begun. The choice of September 13 as CMU’s birthday is a bit arbitrary, but also very logical.

And for the record, the Association held the groundbreaking ceremony for the promised building on September 19, 1892. Classes, which had begun a week earlier, had been convened in rented space located in downtown Mt. Pleasant. Groundbreaking was the capstone of the Association's work. It had raised the money needed to fund the school, recruited Charles Bellows to find faculty and students and run the new institution, and made good on the promise to construct a building for the school’s use. Classes moved to the new building when it was completed in 1893.