To the Editor:
Homecoming at NIU. What does it mean to you? Is it a day of planned reunions, tailgate parties and a flurry of activities? Or do you stay as far away from all the commotion as possible? Is there a dividing line between the university and the local community? And has it always been there?
When I first attended Northern Illinois State Teachers College, that delineating line was flexible, breaking easily to integrate students and “townies,” the name students had given to local residents. A short walk from our John Street rooming house took us to Lincoln Highway where we mingled easily with the “townies.” We attended their churches, had picnics in their parks and ate at local restaurants.
The corner drug store was our favorite off-campus hangout, and for three blocks there was a bustling activity in the varied markets available. But on Homecoming day, the sidewalks would be lined with both students and local families, joining together to applaud the grand spectacle of bands and floats on parade. It was a warm and welcoming reunion.
I remember as evening neared, we would gather at a bonfire by the lagoon where chain snake-dances formed, threading and weaving in and out of local theaters and other places of business. Though disruptive, this noisy action was overlooked and no one was admonished or arrested. No litter, no damage, no conflicts, just a short disturbance and youthful energy to be felt as we passed by.
Square dancing was an elective phyical education course. With instruction to practice, we went to dances at Haish Gym where we mingled with young people of the community, forming bonds of friendship. It was there I met Mr. Right. Soon I became a “townie.” Or did I?
Now during Homecoming weekend, I will sit at a family restaurant on West Lincoln Highway having breakfast. I will watch the sea of red and black shirts pass by and feel the energy and excitement of the day. The college has long been a university. Immense growth has caused numerous changes. But after 60 years, many things remain the same: Youth, energy, and hope for a better future.
Where is that differentiating line today? No line for me; however I stay away from as much traffic as possible, and I do wonder: Am I truly a “townie?” After all, I was not born here.