Not too surprisingly, the fyi reader survey asking for your Iowa Memorial Union memories turns up many responses.
The most popular involve enthusiastic recollections of bowling, beer, billiards, music, and food. fyi readers recall when the Wheelroom had a jukebox (the real kind, with vinyl 45-rpm singles), live music (the 1970s saw more than one Wheelroom folksinger’s rendition of “Mr. Bojangles”), and beer on tap for 25 cents a draw (college kids could drink—legally—once upon a time).
Astute readers point out that the founding intention of the IMU—and other campus centers like it around the country—is to commemorate the University’s wartime heritage.
Others remember the IMU as a hotbed of student political activity.
And last but not least, who among us IMU-goers hasn’t had an encounter with those ducks?
Thank you for sharing your memories. (A few readers left their names, and we’ve attributed their quotes.) We hope all our readers enjoy reading them as much as we did.
“My first visit to the IMU was as a University of Kansas grad student to give a paper at a conference. Although most of the papers were being given in much smaller rooms, my session was being held in the Ballroom. I walked into that enormous room with rows and rows of chairs and a huge screen at one end, and thought to myself, ‘Whoa! I’ve made the big time!’”
“The IMU offered me an introduction to the University when I was growing up in nearby West Branch. I remember catching movies like Taxi Driver and The Road Warrior at the Bijou, and playing 1980s video games in the big arcade. My high school prom after-party was held in the IMU back when it still had a little bowling alley. My IMU experiences were part of the reason I came to the University for college. By that point, the campus felt like home to me.”
“I remember going to the IMU for my UIHC orientation. I found that interesting because less than a year before I had been a student waiting in line for several hours to buy tickets to a concert.”
Bowling for scholars, and other fun and games
“The bowling alley!”
“Having fun bowling and playing pool when I had down time. Loved it!!!!”
“In 1976, I took a bowling class at the IMU. I’d never bowled in my life. The funny thing I remember is that the man Iowa City knows and loves as 'Smiley' was there in the IMU bowling alley regularly watching us girls in bowling class. He was wearing his chest full of pins, his baseball cap, and smiling that big smile back then as he continues to do in Iowa City today.”
“I took a bowling PE class in the IMU bowling alley. It was a lot of fun because there were many athletes in the class—mostly baseball players. I was better at bowling than they were—probably the only time in my life that I was a ‘good’ athlete.”
“I remember many good times playing Dungeons and Dragons in the lower level of the IMU. We would pull some tables together and spend hours over our maps and dice.”—Sue Weinberg, Joint Office of Patient Financial Services (UIHC)
“Bowling in the IMU basement bowling alley was always exciting when I was a child; I remember when students worked as pinsetters! I also remember going to the reception after the football homecoming parade in the main ballroom where hot drinks were served.”
“Dec. 6, 1968, p.m. Grand Ballroom. Event: International Festival. The event opens with a very vibrant dance based on the song “Hey, Sunshine.” The Indian student group was next. The eight of us were relatively new to the University, and most of us had no stage experience. For our Bhangra dance, Mrs. Kaushal Jain and her team had made brilliant vests for us, and the bright turbans on our heads added yet more color. My heart must have been beating at 200 beats per minute due to nervousness. The music started, and gradually all of us were on the stage. A minute into the performance, the audience was standing and clapping with us and with the music. I then knew we were okay. Whenever I go by that room, the memories come back and ‘chills of amazement’ run through my body.”—Satish Khera, College of Dentistry
Spinning Wheel(room), “spinnin’ true, drop all your troubles by the riverside…”
“Hanging out here in high school and listening to 'Spinning Wheel' [by Blood Sweat & Tears] on the jukebox. Hanging out here in college, bowling, beer in the Wheelroom. Working here, even without bowling and beer.”—JKG
“My fondest memory of the IMU is that I was able to buy beer in the Wheelroom after a long day of classes and shoot some pool and watch a little TV.”
“I loved the Wheelroom when I was a student. I have fond memories of studying with friends there while eating popcorn. It was a casual environment for just hanging out.”
“In the early 1970s when I was in junior high, I used to meet my boyfriend in the IMU, and I saw many a concert there as well. And then later in the 1970s when I was going to the University, I often would go hang out in the Wheelroom and meet new friends there. And once, I found a ride to Kansas City by checking the IMU’s ride-share bulletin board.”—Teresa Young, Psychiatry (UIHC)
“Music in the Wheelroom. Meeting friends over a drink and having a safe place to hang out. I also enjoyed dancing on the sundeck with the UI folk dance club. Despite the fact I had two left feet, the club members were always supportive and happy to let me or anyone join in the fun and frolic.”
“Back in the 1970s, the IMU was a true student center with bowling and pool tables; just a great place to be with friends on campus.”
“I have been employed by the University of Iowa for the past 21 years, but my favorite memories of the IMU are from when I was a student. I spent many hours studying (and sleeping!) in the IMU. I also recall hearing John Denver perform in the Wheelroom before he became a well-known singer.”
Celebrity dates and altered states
“As a UI undergrad from 1973 to 1974 and living in Daum, going to the Wheelroom for pinball and 25-cent draws. Ate many Sunday night dinners in the IMU since the Burge cafeteria was not serving. Also used to look forward to the annual erotic film festival in the ballroom. (Somehow I doubt such a film festival would be acceptable these days.)”—John Lundell, UI Injury Prevention Research Center [Editor’s note: Check this spring’s Bijou lineup at www.uiowa.edu/~bijou.]
“I worked across the street at the IMU Parking Office. I got coffee every day at the Market. Refills were only 25 cents. They had the best corn bread. I miss those times.
In the 1970s, an annual student film event, Refocus, brought films and filmmakers to campus. Among those who came, showed their films, and participated in discussions were Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese. I remember sitting at a table in the River Room with Altman and some UI grad students, discussing something mundane when two rather plain-looking girls joined him, members of Altman’s troupe. They were Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall. I also have fond memories of watching movie after movie in the ballroom. One in particular, Son of Movie Orgy, was a hodgepodge of old movies, TV serials, and commercials that went on for almost four hours.”—Charlie Drum, University Relations
“I was just grabbing a bite to eat in the IMU River Room Cafeteria before heading up the river to an evening rehearsal in the Music Building. As I waited in the food line, there was a guy behind me who looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him or recall his name. I figured he must be some graduate student I’d known long ago and who was back in town for a visit. For fear of appearing stupid, I didn’t ask him who he was, but we struck up a conversation anyhow and sat down to eat together. The time passed quickly and I had to say goodbye and rush off to my rehearsal. I was halfway there when it hit me—I had just had dinner with comedian Dick Gregory.”— Dianna Penny, Internal Medicine (UIHC)
“Reefer Madness was shown in the ballroom. There were people there in altered states, of course. When the doors opened for the crowd crammed into the lobby, and the masses started funneling though the doors, someone started making cow noises. Soon the entire crowd was moo-ing...and giggling, of course.”
Soldiers and protest kids
“People forget that it’s the Iowa Memorial Union [emphasis by the respondent] and memorializes the students who interrupted their studies to fight for their country…. When I worked at the IMU, I found the plaque(s) with the names of those students and the display case. It really made an impression on me...this isn’t just a building we pass through on our way to the River Room, the Bijou, or the bookstore. [The IMU] is dedicated to those young students who sacrificed all they had so future generations are free to come and study, to question, to dissent, to protest or to sign up to serve….”—Mary Delaney, Anatomic Pathology (UIHC)
“I spent so many late nights in the Union making protest plans with New Wave, a progressive student organization that was thriving in the 1980s. We planned the anti-apartheid protests of spring 1985 in those rooms, including the many marches, assemblies on the Pentacrest green, a 100-plus person tent city (strong memory of clove cigarettes and patchouli oil hanging over the tent city in a fragrant cloud), and scaling the outside of a Pentacrest building (Jessup?) in order to get arrested in the president’s conference room, where many of us were arrested (and later released with dropped charges). Funny memory of being carried out of there while singing, ironically, 'We shall not be moved.' Great memories (and a successful protest, I might add). The University of Iowa divested its South African interests directly afterward. I also spent many a late night writing Shakespeare papers for Miriam Gilbert, [UI professor of English], in the Wheelroom.”—April Lidinsky (class of 1988), professor of women’s studies at Indiana University at South Bend
“Several members of my family and my husband’s family attended and graduated from the University of Iowa. My father-in-law attended during World War II. He has memories of the IMU with formal dances in the Main Ballroom with the men in ROTC uniforms and the women in ball gowns and gloves. I attended in the 1970s and was on the Union board…when [student] unrest closed the campus…May 20, 1970. As a Union board officer, I spent several nights in the IMU answering telephones at the impromptu information center during the unrest. I think of how very different our campuses and interactions were.”
Love, IMU style
“Sitting in the cab of a construction truck parked unlocked in front of the construction site of what would now be the IMU South Entrance. It was a very chilly November night in 1964. My boyfriend and I, both [first-year] UI students, were looking for a private place out of the cold night air to make out. In those days, that term meant something much more innocent that it does today, but still we did a good job of steaming up the windows of that truck. I often think of that night, that truck, and the excavation mounds of dirt, pallets of brick, etc., whenever I pass that entrance.”
“My husband and I had our reception in the Main Ballroom in 2001. We had so many compliments about how beautiful it was—and all the room available for comfort."
"Friday night folk dancing on the parquet floor of the first-floor Main Lounge with the University Folk Dance Club.”
Home away from home
“The IMU was practically a home away from home for me when I was a student (1981–87). I got up in the morning and was there by 7 a.m. to study/eat breakfast before my first class. Then later in the day, I would go there to work in the River Room, eat lunch, and study some more. Between classes I snoozed on the couches—in the area that is now once again a lounge area—by the information desk. If I studied in the evening away from my apartment, it was usually in the IMU as well.”
“I can never forget the tranquility and energy that I experienced as I would be working for long, long hours in the Hawkeye Room in the IMU. I would be stuck as I was studying for my comprehensive exams—but often, as soon as I looked through the window from the Hawkeye Room and saw the ducks moving nonchalantly as if life were not all that much of an effort, I would [feel] a surge of energy and [experience] a productive flow. It was nice to sit there and observe the bliss of nature outside the window, be it the green grass in the spring, or white sheets of snow in the winter, and the occasional cyclists or pedestrians who would strut by. Sometimes I would allow my eyes to cross the Iowa River through those windows and absorb what I was seeing there. The trees, riverbed, birds flying...this and that. Sometimes I would escape a mental block by walking around inside the Hawkeye Room and appreciating the ‘Hall of Fame’ kind of pictures of past UI athletes. Their resilience and ultimate timeless victory would also inject some energy that would help me progress. Of course, this was interjected by some impromptu naps with my head on the table….”—Zoliswa O. Mali, International Programs
“As a student back in the 1980s, the IMU was a regular stop to or from my art classes across the river. However, my most meaningful memory precedes my college days. I attended my first contemporary Christian concert there. The musical artist was Phil Keaggy, and I recall sitting in a darkened room observing what could arguably have been one of the best guitarists of that decade…. It represents a time when the wonderful diversity of the University included (unapologetically) Christian fare. It is much harder to come by these days...if at all.”
Tornados, textbooks, and thieves
“One vivid memory I have of the IMU is being there in the basement when the tornados hit. It was scary not really knowing if or when the tornados hit, but it was fun in a surreal way when the band that was there giving a free concert decided to go on with the concert."
"Recollections of bowling in the IMU basement (for PE credit) come to mind.”
“Back in the early 1990s, I worked [in the University Book Store]. I recall students huddled around the large screen watching soap operas or the Hawks playing in a championship game. Students and faculty lined up to grab a wonderful pastry and a delicious cup of joe in the Union Pantry. It was a great place for everyone to gather, and you knew you would run into someone that you knew—there was always such a sense of community. One year the bookstore had a jukebox, and we played some of the favorite tunes at that time. We had a great group of people to work with—you never knew what the next day at work would bring. It was a great experience to work with the students. Buy back was always a busy time, and of course, the first few weeks of the semester brought its own special set of problems, but they always seemed to work out. It was definitely one of my favorite places to be.”—Carly Sieger, College of Dentistry
“In the 1970s, my mom, Kathy Venzke, and her friend Karen Hradek used to sell crafts at the Thieves Markets held in the IMU ballroom. I remember spending hours sitting under their display table. When I was an undergrad at the University (1983–87), I spent many wonderful hours dancing to bands in the ballroom, going to the Bijou, and in the spring, hanging out all day at RiverFest. I also loved going to the Madrigal dinners right before Christmas…. My sister worked for the IMU catering service, and worked many Madrigal dinners and has great stories about how they used flashlights to signal the other caterers to bring in the next course. During those years, I also took a photography class and got to use the darkroom in the IMU. Lots of good memories!”—Julia Venzke, College of Public Health
“In the 1980s—throwing my backpack in the bins in front of the [University Book Store], digging through the piles for the ‘best’ used textbooks, waiting in line to pay that huge book bill each semester. Now, as a parent, taking my sons to the same bookstore and having a lot more fun shopping for Hawkeye t-shirts, cool gifts, pens, and of course, books. But this time, they’re new.”—Julie Jones, College of Nursing
“My IMU memory as an undergrad in the mid-1990s is about the amazing and very popular vegetable bread you could get [at the Union Station] for your sandwiches. That bread was such a hit that I thought it would be around forever. Since then I haven’t had a turkey sandwich with provolone, sprouts, and mayo that has been nearly as good. I’ve looked around over the years with hopes of experiencing something like that ‘college days scrape your change together good eats,’ but there doesn’t seem to be anything quite like it!”
“By far the best thing about the IMU was the State Room, which was the best restaurant in Iowa City until it closed. My wife and I enjoyed some great dining there; we used to go every year on her birthday. The lobster bisque was justly famous, and is now greatly missed!”
Why a duck? Why not a moth?
“It has to be the ducks, hands down. As a student I would study and eat outside on the patio by the river. I would always become pleasantly distracted by the swarms of ducks that felt the IMU was as much their hangout as it was mine. It also made for some great conversation starters with the stranger sitting next to me.”
“Most of my fondest memories of IMU are musical, since I was with the University Choir, and attended many of the University Symphony concerts there, in the days before Hancher Auditorium. One concert by the (then) Iowa String Quartet stands out for one non-musical moment. The players were toward the middle of the ballroom, and were in a spotlight. Near the end of a Haydn quartet, cellist Joel Krosnick, known for his crazy sense of humor, got this funny grin on his face, as he noticed a very large moth entering his cello. He glanced over at Allen Ohmes, the first violinist, who had also taken note of the visitor, and started cracking up. Those of us in the first few rows saw what had happened, and were in on the joke, as well. At the end of the work, the players took a bow, Krosnick turned his cello around, giving it a tap with his bow, and out flew the moth, right on cue, to take his own bow. The whole place went up for grabs, as the moth rose up, into the spotlight, and off to wherever music-loving moths go...a very memorable concert.”—Steve Slezak, KSUI radio station
“Years ago I attended an annual training week held in the IMU each August. My kids stayed in our IMU room while I was at classes. We ate [in the IMU] and rode the Cambus around for fun. It was our summer vacation.”
“In the 1980s, over the summer break (my daughters were in elementary school), we would stop at the IMU, get a New York Times, eat lunch, and sit down and solve the Times crossword puzzle (my youngest always went first and on up the ladder). Often students would join us. We got to know quite a few students during those special times.”
Prom and circumstance
“I have a memory as a parent of West High School [of Iowa City] student at her senior prom. Three of us parents snuck into the balcony and watched our kids make their entrance into the room. It was magical for them and for us. I will always remember it.”
“[Back in the 1950s, we held] the City High School [of Iowa City] junior-senior prom in the IMU ballroom. It was up to our junior class to decorate for the dance. We went early the morning of the prom, and did not finish decorating until late afternoon. There were also many dances in the River Room for the Rainbow Girls. It was always a great place to have our special functions.”—Lynda Stratton, Center for Credit Programs