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NIU to commemorate 125th milestone

NIU President Lisa C. Freeman
NIU President Lisa C. Freeman

While many are focused on the start of a new decade, the campus of Northern Illinois University will be kicking off of a yearlong celebration commemorating the 125th anniversary of the founding of what is today Northern Illinois University.

This nostalgic journey will provide insights into the past while also informing the future says NIU President Lisa C. Freeman.

“You cannot chart a course for the future without understanding the past,” Freeman said. “So, we are going to use this anniversary as an opportunity to not only look back and reflect but also to embrace our present and to inform our path forward.”

The festivities will kick off with an all-university celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, on the lower level of the Holmes Student Center. The event will feature brief remarks and historical displays.

The remainder of the year will be filled with celebrations, performances, lectures and other events. Highlights will include:

• In March, a dramatized lecture, “Women at Northern: The First 25 Years,” will examine the contributions of some of the female pioneers at the Northern Illinois State Normal School.

• In May, an exhibit at the Ellwood House Museum, “Crimson Days,” and a companion lecture “Constructing the Castle,” will highlight the individuals behind the founding of the Northern Illinois State Normal School.

• An environmental art installation, “River Weaving,” will illuminate the role of the Kishwaukee River in the selection of DeKalb as home to the Normal School.

• The Avalon Quartet will debut “Seven Ages of Man,” a piece commissioned for the anniversary celebration.

In addition, there will be proclamations, receptions at the university conference centers around the region and a week of events in Chicago. A complete list of the planned events can be found on the all-university calendar.

“We tried to create an itinerary that includes something for everyone,” said Matt Streb, chief of staff to President Freeman. Streb, along with Reggie Bustinza, executive director of the NIU Alumni Association, co-chairs the committee that put together the anniversary commemoration.

The university also will publish a chronological list of the 125 Key Moments in NIU history. A new list of highlights will be released each month on a website, which will debut in mid-January. The site will provide the stories describing the significance of each moment and will use illustrations, photos and videos to help illuminate their importance.

“The committee tried to select events that inarguably shaped our history,” said Melanie Magara, who led the project. “The final list features events that are both institutionally significant and which reflect personal accomplishments. I think people will find it interesting, and they will learn things they probably never knew about NIU.”

An oral history featuring insights from 27 people – alumni, administrators, faculty and others – also has been compiled. The project was part of a class dedicated to teaching students how to compile an oral history, taught by Associate Professor of History Amanda Littauer. “Everyone interviewed had something interesting and important to contribute to our understanding of NIU and our history,” she said.

The results of those efforts will be posted online early this spring and will be searchable by topic and keywords, allowing individuals to explore both the recordings and their transcripts in depth.

Students in the department of geography, working under the direction of Professor Phil Carpenter, are also working to create an interactive map that will illustrate how the university footprint has grown and changed over the past century and a quarter. The map will be shared online this spring.

“We are excited about those projects that incorporate current students into helping us commemorate this anniversary,” Streb said. “As an institution founded to educate the next generation of leaders, it only seems fitting to utilize their skills in the commemoration of this milestone.”

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