KOKOMO, Ind. — More than 200 campus and community members joined in the 70th anniversary celebration for Indiana University Kokomo during a walk and picnic on Tuesday (Sept. 15.)
The group of faculty, staff, students and downtown merchants enjoyed the warm, sunny afternoon at Foster Park, just a few blocks from the house where what was then the IU Extension Center opened.
Two of those people witnessed the campus’ very beginnings, as the children of Virgil Hunt, the founding director of what was then called the Kokomo Extension Center. Bill Hunt and Marjo Biddinger shared their recollections of those early years.
“Kokomo would not be the same place it is today without the presence of IU Kokomo,” Bill Hunt said. “The local community took hold of IU Kokomo and nourished it.”
While both were toddlers when they arrived in Kokomo, they had fond memories of the campus, its mission, and their father’s part in its history. Hunt noted that IU President Herman B Wells envisioned the extension centers as a way to reach out across the state, including to veterans returning from World War II.
He told the story of Virgil Hunt’s first day in Kokomo, arriving by train and walking to the center, only to find it locked. He found an open window, crawled in, and slept in the classroom building that first night.
He said Kokomo previously had a junior college, and the local community embraced and supported the new extension center.
“IU was all about providing access for people around the state, many of them first-generation students,” Hunt said. “Now IU Kokomo is a destination. The campus life is so different than it was. We have a great sense of pride in what has been created over the years.”
Biddinger recalled when IU Kokomo moved from West Walnut Street to the Seiberling Mansion, and taking children’s art classes there in the dome.
“Thinking about those beginnings on Walnut Street, what a wonderful campus IU Kokomo is today,” she said. “You students are really lucky to have that opportunity in your back yard.”
Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke honored Hunt for his continued support for IU Kokomo with the Seiberling Award. It is given to someone who gives $5,000 or more in a year. Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight presented the award to Hunt.
She noted that his support made possible the sciences building, named Virgil and Elizabeth Hunt Hall in honor of his parents, and that he also gave to the Milt and Jean Cole Family Fitness and Wellness Center.
She noted that the campus has changed dramatically in its 70 years, and continues to change.
“We will continue to take bold steps into the future,” she said. “All students need to be prepared for our complex global world.”
State Rep. Mike Karickhoff asked those attending to imagine how different the community would be without the campus.
“IU Kokomo educates a lot of people,” he said. “It provides the opportunity for success. It’s the access for those opportunities to be successful, right here in our own back yard. Education is the key and the cornerstone. We have a world-class institution here.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.