DeKALB – Bob Heimerdinger remembers his four years from 1948 to 1952 as a student at Northern Illinois University fondly, including making countless friends and falling in love with his wife of 66 years, Barb.
When reminiscing about the past, he jokes that a lot of his NIU memories involve football: he played halfback and quarterback on the football team, his wife Barb was a cheerleader, his first date with Barb was to a high school football game and he was named 1951 homecoming king.
After graduation, Heimerdinger taught at NIU for nearly 40 years before retiring. Through the years, he also was the football coach at DeKalb High School, coach of freshman football at NIU and the Huskies’ equipment manager.
Heimerdinger, 90, and his wife Barb, 87, live in DeKalb and have returned to NIU for homecoming every year.
“Of course I remember homecoming, the football game, dance and parade,” Heimerdinger said. “Everyone was involved, and the parade looped through the entire downtown. I spent four very pleasant years at NIU and it was a very comfortable place to be. We return every year for homecoming because we have memories of NIU that will never disappear.”
Mike Korcek, who attended NIU from 1966 to 1970, remembers going to the homecoming football game and heading to Pizza Villa after for pizza and beers with friends.
“It was tradition, and there was a huge social aspect of homecoming,” Korcek said. “Homecoming was – and still is – a big deal in DeKalb. We had concerts, bonfires, a dance and a parade. NIU was one of the first schools that had homecoming, and we should be proud. Celebrating the 111th homecoming is tremendous in a world where things change every day and many people don’t care about tradition.”
Korcek, who had a 22-year tenure at NIU as the sports information director and 37 years as a sports information office employee, gave a presentation Wednesday night about the history of homecoming at NIU, “Who Really Did Invent Homecoming?”
The Regional History Center is featuring an exhibit that runs through the month of October titled “Homecoming: 111 Years Strong.” The exhibit is in the foyer of Founders Memorial Library and extends to the Regional History Center, Room 400. The exhibit is free and open to the public during library hours.
The exhibit showcases items from the University Archives related to NIU’s homecoming through the years, including photographs, pennants, banners, posters, yearbooks, pompoms and the 2015 homecoming queen’s tiara.
“We wanted to highlight our collection and show how NIU celebrated homecoming in the past,” Sarah Cain, curator at the Regional History Center, said. “It’s a perfect way for us to get involved in the fun of homecoming while bringing attention to the various items we have in our collection.”
During his presentation, which features photos from the university archives, Korcek hopes to tell the audience little-known facts about NIU, including the history of the school’s mascot, colors and name.
The mascot has only been the Huskie since 1940. Previous mascots over the years include “the Profs,” “the Cubs” and “the Cardinals.” The school’s original official colors were declared yellow and white in 1899 and were changed to red and black in 1906. The university also had four name changes through the years: it was known as Northern Illinois State Normal School from 1899 to 1920, Northern Illinois State Teachers College from 1921 to 1954, Northern Illinois State College from 1955 to 1956 and Northern Illinois University since 1957.
The first NIU “homecoming” game took place Oct. 10, 1903. The student newspaper described the “eventful game” between the NISNS football team and alumni as “the day on which the ‘Grave Alumni’ would test the strength of the ‘Cubs’ and determine whether or not they were worthy of defending the ‘Yellow and White.’ ” The Cubs won the game, 6 to 0.
The first time the term “home-coming” was used to describe the alumni returning for a weekend on campus was 1906. The festivities included attending a faculty reception, football game and a business meeting.
This year’s homecoming theme is “Destination Huskie Nation: 111 Years Strong.” Scheduled events during the week include a powder puff football game, recycled boat race, Yell Like Hell, a blood drive, lip-sync competition, coronation cookout and Huskie Nation Lituation Concert.
Homecoming tailgating will begin at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in The Yard and the homecoming football game against Kent State will begin at 2:30 p.m. in Huskie Stadium. The eighth annual NPHC Rep Yo’ Step will be held 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Campus Recreation Center, with the NPHC Step Show Afterparty dance from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. afterward.
Just as the first years of NIU’s homecoming focused on fun for students and reconnecting alumni, Reggie Bustinza, executive director of NIU’s Alumni Association said this year’s homecoming is still very much the same.
“Students are students for only a few years, but alumni are alumni for the rest of their lives,” Bustinza said. “It’s important that Northern should always be a home for our 240,000 living alumni. Homecoming is one of our traditions, with activities for alumni and students centered around a football game.
“It’s truly a welcome home that everyone enjoys.”