DeKALB – The Mayer family almost couldn't believe how easy it was.
Barbara and Charlie Mayer and their son Ted Mayer left their home in Oak Park, just west of Chicago, early Thursday morning, so that Ted Mayer move into his dorm room at Northern Illinois University's New Hall. They ran into little traffic, short wait times and plenty of help.
"We've never seen anything like this before," Barbara Mayer said. "The signage, the people, there was never a way that you might not find where you're going."
When NIU Acting Police Chief Darren Mitchell said that the school had move-in day down to a science earlier in the week, he wasn't just boasting.
An army of faculty, staff, students and volunteers coordinated to keep DeKalb's streets clear and make the move-in process fast and easy for the some 3,000 dorm-housed NIU students Thursday.
The rain canceled the A Taste of Northern event planned for Thursday evening, but welcome events for students continue through Sunday.
A total of 4,278 students are settling into campus housing this week, but many arrived earlier in the week. Untold thousands more are moving into off-campus housing through the weekend as fall classes start Monday.
The university's new president, Douglas Baker, was on hand visiting with students and volunteers and offering move-in assistance at remodeled Gilbert Hall.
"One of the great things is having all the students that have been out here working with the incoming students, welcoming them, showing them the hospitality of the Huskies," Baker told reporters at Gilbert Hall. "I think it's a great way to build culture and community."
Gilbert Hall is one of two residence halls that underwent complete renovations before this school year. Its 75,000-square-foot renovation cost $22.3 million, and Thursday it welcomed its first residents in 18 years.
"Boy, it is state of the art," Baker said." ... Oddly enough one of the most popular items are the washers and dryers, which will text you when they're done with your clothes. All of us need one of those I think."
Community leaders from DeKalb and Sycamore also were on hand to lend a hand to incoming students. For DeKalb 2nd Ward Alderman Bill Finucane, who spent 22 years as a co-coordinator for move-in day at NIU before retiring recently, Thursday offered a change of pace in his new role.
"Today's a lot different," Finucane said. "I'm more relaxed, not worried ... We had some rain this morning, but we've experienced so many different things over the years on move-in days that a little bit of rain this morning was no big deal."
Before their arrival, NIU provided students with staggered arrival times, and on Thursday police and volunteers led them down a route away from main roads. Packed vehicles were unloaded using 75 golf carts, a horde of volunteers from students groups and plenty of signage.
Gordy Pokorney arrived from Elgin just before 9 a.m. to move his daughter Zoie into New Hall.
"I was the second car in line, so we got unloaded right away," Pokorney said. "The [volunteers] were really helpful, got everything up to the room and unloaded it for us. We were in and out in 15 minutes."
The students bring much more than luggage to DeKalb, though. Finucane eagerly listed the economic and social benefits that return with the students.
"This gives us a new energy, and helps bring some new tax dollars into the city," Finucane said. "... For a lot of the local merchants too, it's such a boost. They need this. This is almost Christmas season for them."
Baker shared what he had been hearing from the incoming students.
"Well, they're all excited to get going with the school year and excited to be Huskies," he said. "I think what you're seeing today is the spirit of the school and the welcoming culture that we have here for everybody."
By the numbers
Here's the number of students who moved into NIU dorms this week
951: Stevenson Towers
619: Grant Towers
645: Douglas Hall
878: Neptune Hall
200: Gilbert Hall
985: New Residence Hall
Source: NIU spokesman Paul Palian