U honors long, rich history

by Jess Thompson

A festival Sunday in southern Minnesota launched the yearlong celebration of the University’s 150th anniversary.
The sesquicentennial celebration, in part, is intended to serve as a sign of gratitude to Minnesotans for their support throughout the University’s history, said Sue Eastman, the sesquicentennial celebration coordinator.
“The state of Minnesota has sacrificed significantly to support a fine University, and we want to take this opportunity to show our appreciation,” Eastman said.
Founded in 1851 — seven years before Minnesota became a state — the University has grown from a small plot of land with 20 students to one of the largest campuses in the country, with more than 40,000 students.
Throughout its history, the school has educated both well-known people — such as statesmen Hubert H. Humphrey and Walter Mondale — and students out of the public eye but equally important, said Ann Pflaum, a University historian.
Key figures
Pflaum is co-authoring a book with history professor Stanford Lehmberg about important University events in the last 50 years.
The University’s historical legacy has been marked by notable personalities, ranging from athletes to politicians, Pflaum said.
Sandy Stevens, for example, was one of the first African-American quarterbacks to play for a Big Ten school. Stevens led the Gophers from the bottom of the Big Ten in 1958, to the Rose Bowl in 1961 and 1962.
Also, current University faculty member Arvon Frasier is credited in Pflaum and Lehmberg’s book with being “one of the most nationally respected major leaders of the women’s movement,” Pflaum said.
Former University Dean D.G. Williamson is recognized in the book for helping create the profession of student development.
Williamson is “known nationally for leading the interest in student psychology and for taking student activities and the student experience seriously,” Pflaum said.
War ties
Besides the rich tradition passed on by national leaders and famous athletes, the University’s involvement in American war efforts has been a key part of the institution’s history, said University archivist Penelope Krosch.
During World War II, the University hosted the largest number of cadet nurses of any school in the country, Pflaum said.
After the war ended, the GI bill — which subsidized education for soldiers — created a huge influx of male students, “many of whom may never have gone to school otherwise,” Krosch said.
“It was during the 1960s and 1970s that sentiments grew increasingly angry,” Krosch said.
In May 1972, University students barricaded Washington Avenue with furniture from nearby buildings to protest the Vietnam War.
“Students were much more confrontational and really felt that the world needed betterment,” said Krosch.
Although confrontations have arisen throughout the University’s history, Pflaum suggested that administrators, students and state lawmakers have found ways to compromise.
“Generally, when students have shown opposition to something, the administration has responded,” Pflaum said.
She cited the creation of the African-American studies program in 1969, which administrators established mainly in response to a Morrill Hall sit-in.
Birthday bash
The yearlong sesquicentennial celebration will celebrate the University’s heritage with a variety of themed events, said Joel Wessman, a sesquicentennial program assistant.
Key yearlong events will include seven outstate performances of “Opera on the Farm,” a partnership between University students, faculty members and local performers.
The University will host a large State Fair exhibit in August, a special anniversary Homecoming week fall semester, a celebratory birthday week in February and a grand finale in July of 2001. The final event will feature a fireworks display on the banks of the Mississippi River, Wessman said.
Krosch said the sesquicentennial celebration will not only celebrate past achievements but also look toward the future.
“This is a time for the University to reflect on where it’s been, where it is now and where it would like to be in the future,” Krosch said. “That should be the purpose of this landmark event.”