My family lived in Chicago. My first two college years were at the U of I Chicago Undergraduate Division(Navy Pier) where I first enrolled in 1957. Tuition and fees were less than $200 a semester. Given the quality of instruction this was a real bargain. After several changes to my initial course of study in LAS, I decided to transfer to the U-C campus as a junior and pursue a degree in business. Campus enrollment then was about 22,000.
When I transferred to the U-C campus I lived in Armory House, an Independent facility at 1010 So. Second St. in Champaign. If you were under 21, you had to live in University approved housing. Most of my classes were in David KInley Hall, which was the only College of Commerce building. In 1959 there was no campus bus service. Bicycle paths were just being installed. Most students did not have cars and there were few parking lots. People traveled from Chicago or St. Louis to Champaign by train. The Illinois Central Railroad had special weekend fares to Chicago...less than $5 round trip.
I purchased a student Football/Basketball pass for the 1959/60 and 60/61 seasons and sat in Block I which was in the East Main stands. Huff Gym, the home of Illini basketball, had a capacity of only about 5,000, so students received tickets for every third home game. However, it was easy to buy tickets from other students so I got to see most home games.
Four things I remember most about my undergrad years:
(1) Tree stumps. Dutch Elm Disease had ravaged the tree population of Champaign and Urbana including campus. The diseased trees had been cut down but not replaced, leaving thousands of stumps where beautiful large elms had been.
(2) Homecoming. Every organized house, both Greek and Independent, decorated their front lawns during Homecoming week. In 1959, Ray Eliot's final season as Head Coach, Minnesota was our football opponent for Homecoming. We won 14-6. At Armory House we constructed a large facsimile of a gopher trap and purchased a truckload of dirt which we used to simulate a burrow leading to the trap. Many of the Homecoming exhibits were very elaborate, combining lighting, music, and art work. It seemed like everyone...students and towns people...walked the streets of Campus at night to see these amazing displays. In 1960 the U of I celebrated the 50th anniversary of Homecoming. After starting the season with two wins and many returning starters, the Illini were losers to Ohio State 34-7.
(3) The Illini vs Army. Our first home game in 1959 was against the U S Military Academy. The corps of cadets traveled by train from West Point, NY to Champaign, arriving the day before the game. Their train was parked along Neil Street near the Power Plant. They even brought their Army mule mascot. The cadets marched through campus to Memorial Stadium and a large crowd turned out to watch them. The Illini upset the Army 20-14.
(4) Campus bars. On Daniel St. between 6th and Wright there were three drinking establishments...beer only...Kam's (just west of the current location), Stan Wallace's Gridiron, and the Thunderbird, which was across the street. Other Champaign campus drinking establishments included Bidwell's Campus Spot at 619 S. Wright and Magna Decem at 6th & Green. Urbana had Prehn's and Treno's around the corner from each other at Oregon & Goodwin. The interesting thing about all of these places is that no one ever asked to see an ID.
My wife and I get to Campus frequently and the changes that have occurred during the past 20 years are amazing. So many new buildings on campus, especially north of Green St. And Campustown in Champaign has undergone a real transformation, but not so much in Urbana. All of the old wooden rooming houses which dotted the campus area have disappeared. I lived in one during a semester of grad school (Spring 1964) which was near 2nd & John Streets. It was an interesting experience.
The University's 150 year celebration has offered us an opportunity to look back on it's history and to look forward to the future. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent at the U of I and I am grateful for the education, the experience and the people I met.