Historical marker dedication celebrates campus beginnings

KOKOMO, Ind. –  Indiana University Kokomo celebrated its 75th anniversary by remembering where its story began — the Seiberling Mansion.

Current and past students, faculty, staff, and friends gathered Monday (September 16) in the gardens outside the mansion, now home of the Howard County Museum, to place a permanent historic marker honoring its role in the campus’s success.

Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke noted the campus has changed dramatically since the first classes in the Seiberling Mansion, when about 300 students, mostly returning adults, enrolled. Today, IU Kokomo has more than 3,000 students, attending class on a modern campus on South Washington Street.

“So much has changed in the last 75 years, because the campus took its mission seriously, to provide a quality IU pathway to prosperity and quality of life for so many,” she said. “We are indebted to every chancellor, every administrator, faculty, staff, and alumni who have invested their careers to make us what we are today.”

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, are the remarkable students. 

“They are the leaders and the future of this region,” she said. “They have always been the reason we are here, whether we are in the Seiberling Mansion or on Washington Street.” 

Several guests shared memories of the Seiberling Mansion days, including Bill Hunt, whose father, Virgil Hunt, was founding director. Bill Hunt recalled the legendary story about his father arriving by train, and, finding the building locked, climbing in a window to sleep on the sofa before starting the process to open the IU Extension Center.

He remembered his family’s time in Kokomo as “the best years,” when he could get his father’s assistant to give him a nickel to buy a drink from the campus soda machine, and watched black and white film of IU football games each week with students.

Hunt said people still tell him his father gave them a break, and he would be proud that the campus is still providing higher education for the region.

“When I reflect on the mission of IU Kokomo, and what Dad would be proud of, I think it’s the fact it provided the first taste of higher education for some people, the second chance, and even the third chance,” he said. “Many people found their footing here and went on to great things. What we see today is a different kind of student, but the mission is still the same — access to higher education.”

Skip Higgins represented his father, Smith Higgins, who was director from 1956 to 1959.

Plans were being made for a move to a new campus during Smith Higgins’s tenure, so he would not have been surprised, but pleased by the progress IU Kokomo has made, Skip Higgins said, “especially that it’s gained so much momentum over the years.”

Dr. Ted Grayson, who was among the first students in the Seiberling, shared how Virgil Hunt convinced him to enroll, giving him the chance at an education he never thought he would have as a Tipton County farm boy. 

Herbert Miller, professor emeritus, talked about his arrival with two others in 1960, bringing the grand total of full-time faculty members to seven.  He also remembered teaching classes in “various bedrooms, living rooms, and front rooms,” in the mansion. 

Sarah Heath, associate professor history, reflected on the Seiberling’s significance in campus history, and how it provided a foundation for IU to grow in north central Indiana. 

After the ceremony, those attending toured the mansion, including the basement, which served as the student lounge when it housed IU Kokomo. While usually not open to the public, Dave Broman, executive director of the Howard County Historical Society, wanted people to see the mural painted in the basement by students.

Museum volunteer Cinda Rutherford assisted with tours, and felt fortunate to have been a student during the Seiberling era. She studied elementary education and journalism.

“I have such an attachment to this place. That’s why I work here,” she said. “How many kids get to go to college in a mansion?”

Current student Hannah Bourne played a role in the event, researching the mansion’s role in campus history as part of the application for the IU Historical Marker Program, a signature project for the IU Bicentennial. The program places markers, affixed to boulders, on IU campuses and other heritage sites, to honor significant people, places, events, and organizations that have had an extraordinary impact on the university, state, nation, and world.

She was excited to meet the people she had read about while compiling the history, or their family members, and to have a part in the celebration.

“To me, these people are like celebrities, because I’ve been researching them,” she said. “I’m just very honored and excited to have left even such a small mark in campus history. Some of the best memories of my life so far have been at IU Kokomo, and to honor and recognize what was here before me is incredibly special.”

The Seiberling Mansion housed the IU Kokomo Extension Center from 1947 to 1965. It was constructed in 1890 for industrialist Monroe Seiberling, and purchased by IU in 1946. The university leased it to Howard County in 1971, for the Howard County Historical Society to use as a museum. The university retained ownership until 1997.

For information about IU Kokomo’s 75th anniversary celebration, including a calendar of events, go to 75years.iuk.edu

Indiana University was founded on Jan. 20, 1820, making it one of the oldest public universities in the nation. To celebrate its bicentennial, IU has developed a multiyear, multicampus program that will recognize and chronicle IU history, showcase the university's significant contributions to the world and set a course for the next century. For more information about the IU Bicentennial program, visit 200.iu.edu.

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