Legacy graduates reflect on changes in campus


Photo Courtesy of Illio

Frank Sommers; top row, far right; poses with his Sigma Alpha Mu brothers. Sommers graduated in 1956 but has seen many changes at the University while visiting his children and grandchildren.

By Megan Bradley, Contributing writer

Frank Sommers was the first of three generations in his family to attend the University. He’s seen plenty of changes in the 61 years since his graduation in 1956, especially since both of his sons and his granddaughter have attended the University.

Changes in the campus appearance, student body dynamic, popular activities and hangouts for students have been a focus of the adapting University during the last 150 years.

Sommers knows the University has changed since his time attending, but recognizes the ongoing presence of Greek life as a Sigma Alpha Mu alum.

“Probably one of my favorite things was doing stuff with the fraternity. When we had to plan homecoming they would have different sororities and fraternities and we would put on a play, that was a great memory,” Sommers said.

Barbara Zubler, who graduated in 1982, was not involved in a social sorority, but devoted much of her time on campus to the marching band and the Sigma Alpha Iota professional music fraternity.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

“We would get together with the alumni women and would play musical evenings hosted by the president of the University and his wife,” Zubler said. “It was always such an honor to go in there and play.”

Zubler said she would be invited to eat with a large group of professors in the staff dining room at the Union at least once or twice a month.

Zubler described Green Street as having a “very small-town feel” while she attended the university. She said there were mainly locally owned restaurants, a few boutiques, an insurance agency and a salon. There were none of the chains students are used to today.

“We used to have Garcia’s Pizza in a Pan right off of Green Street by Altgeld Hall. They just closed a couple years back,” Zubler said.

Green Street’s amenities are not the only new and improved luxury on campus, as the bus system has also expanded considerably. Students of past generations walked to class no matter what the weather was because there were only four bus lines.

Zubler said that she used to cut through the Armory on her way to class because she was able to warm up for a few minutes during the harsh winters before having to go back outside and continue on to class.

Ann Vidovic, who graduated in 1985, served as a Residential Advisor for two years. She said that while many dorm buildings are still mostly the same, it used to be more common for floors to do activities together.

“We used to go eat as a floor, so the dining halls would have really long tables and so you’d sit with your floor and socialize while you ate. They didn’t have smaller tables back then,” Vidovic said.

There were also more women-only dorms than just Busey-Evans. Zubler’s dorm was across from the ARC, which used to be called the IMPE.

“It was a women’s only dorm, and that was a hoot whenever there was a man on the floor,” Zubler said.

Vidovic said that the buildings on campus were much more modest and everything looked a lot simpler when she attended. She said that campus looked nicer while her son attended than it did when she was a student.

Another activity that was more popular during Vidovic’s time on campus was attending football or basketball games and sitting with Block I. Vidovic said that she was attending the University when the football team went to the Rose Bowl.

“Homecoming was big, and I was the tail end of streaking,” Zubler said. “So, an occasional streaker would go through a football game. That was popular back then.”

The student body itself was also much less diverse when Sommers, Zubler and Vidovic attended. They each said that the University hosts far more international students than when they were students. Zubler recalls that the teaching staff seemed diverse during her time on campus, though, and said she particularly remembers having a teaching assistant from Norway.

“The cultural makeup of the campus seems to have changed a lot. There are more international students then there were in our day, there were more grad students at the time,” Vidovic said.

Each graduating class has its unique traits, and the University’s past 150 years have seen a wide variety of students, traditions and campus hotspots. Sommers, Zubler and Vidovic encouraged current students to make the most of their four years and to enjoy the university fully above all.

[email protected]