Illinois Central College celebrates 40 years

Jacqueline Koch

In 40 years, Illinois Central College has grown from one campus to three.

About 10,000 more students are enrolled now than in 1967. And students drink from plastic — not glass — Coke bottles.

But Tuesday, students had a chance to sip soda from glass bottles as part of the beginning of ICC’s 40th anniversary retro-themed celebration.

Lindsay Wetterauer, a sophomore from Washington, said the atmosphere helped students get in the 1960s groove.

"No one from our generation has probably drank out of a glass Coke bottle," she said.

ICC kicked off its "40 years, 400,000 minds" celebration Tuesday, honoring Sept. 18, 1967, the day the college’s first classes were held. The theme refers to the number of students, professors, staff members, boards of trustees and others who left their mark on the campus and community.

"It represents the impact the college has had here in 40 years," said Cheryl Fliege, the school’s associate vice president of marketing.

When ICC opened its doors for 2,486 students and 56 full-time faculty 40 years ago, tuition cost $5 per credit hour.

Richard Nimz began teaching at ICC during its second year and said he watched new campus buildings emerge from empty lots during his tenure. The now-retired social science department professor also saw student interest in current events wane.

"I’m not as aware as much of student activism," he said. "Maybe it will happen."

Students who attended ICC’s first classes did so in temporary buildings located on what’s now the East Campus. Nimz said water crept into buildings when it rained and snow came through windows.

"I think (the students) appreciate the college," he said. "They may not appreciate the bad years."

On Tuesday, ICC cafeteria employees dressed in tie-dyed T-shirts, wore beads and peace signs, and wrapped colorful bandanas around their heads.

"We want the look they had back in ’67," said cashier Debbie Diaz, who wore a long blond wig, green-tinted glasses and silver hoop earrings.

Songs from that era — including "Hey Jude" by the Beatles and "America" by Paul Simon — played in the cafeteria.

"The students like it," Diaz said. "A lot of them know the songs and are singing along to the music."

Students also liked the special meal prices Tuesday. A hamburger, French fries and milk shake or Coke cost $1.99, while a meatloaf plate was $2.25.

Memorabilia from the past four decades was displayed in ICC’s main building. College archivist Ruth Oleson said she began the collection about five years ago and was excited to display it for the first time for the anniversary. T-shirts, pictures, newspaper clippings, yearbooks and trophies lined tables. A slide show displayed pictures on the wall.

"The college is important, and so its’ history is important," she said. "Things in the archives document that history."

Two huge banners hung from the sides of ICC’s main building, displaying the anniversary theme and faces of students.

The celebration will continue all school year. Prizes will be given away each month and a large event is scheduled for next spring.

Jacqueline Koch can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or jkoch@pjstar.com.