For current students, it may be difficult to imagine Indiana State without the fountain and the traditions it has created, but the water feature was installed to help beautify campus and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
For many students, their first picture as Sycamores is also their last: parents on either side, big smiles and the famous Dede Plaza fountain spraying behind them.
Last year when 2015 graduates realized they wouldn’t be able to take their final picture in front of the fountain because of plaza renovations, the university and Barnes & Noble allowed graduates to receive their caps and gowns in March — and therefore take their ever-important fountain pictures before the fountain closed for construction.
“Students in orientation take pictures with their parents in front of it, and they want to do the same thing on graduation,” said Teresa Exline, chief of staff at Indiana State University.
For current students, it may be difficult to imagine Indiana State without the fountain and the traditions it created. However, when Exline began working at Indiana State in 1987, Dede Plaza was the intersection of Sixth and Chestnut streets. The “commons” was a parking lot, HMSU was a residence hall, students gathered on “the corner,” and the campus bookstore held shop in the location of the Career Center. Streets ran all through campus, and students had to cross them to go to class.
“There were many times I was afraid students would get hit on Sixth Street. Coal trucks would go down it at high rates of speed,” Exline said.
When students weren’t sitting in class and avoiding coal trucks, they were hanging out. When Rex Kendall, executive director of the alumni association, came to campus in the early ’80s, the old Student Union was the place to be. Before the fountain became a campus icon, students mingled in the courtyard in front of Tirey Hall, and the steps to the old Student Union were the focal point for photography, pamphlets and university literature, he said. It also helps that a Hardee’s in the lower level of the union — remembered fondly as the “old grill” — catered to commuter students who could not eat in residential dining. Now, all students can enjoy food in the commons.
Before there was a large fountain in Dede Plaza to cool off in, freshmen became true Sycamores when they hung out at Tirey or the Corner.
“Fraternities and sororities had their own areas, athletes had areas — and people would just gather there and hang out. Now, everyone hangs around the fountain, and that’s kind of the way it was at the Corner,” Kendall said.
Students can thank the 1986 master plan for the major improvement of the current campus. The plan sought to beautify the campus and make it more pedestrian-friendly by moving the parking lots to the exterior of the campus, closing the two main streets to create a recreational space — Dede Plaza — and adding green spaces.
The fountain immediately became a focal point for campus, featured prominently in advertisements and publications for the university, said Exline, who worked in the Office of Communications and Marketing at the time. In 1991, a billboard of the fountain made its way to Indianapolis: “Seeing is believing — the new Indiana State University.”
“We would bring aerial shots featuring the fountain to alumni events and they would point at it and ask ‘Where is that?’ and I would say, ‘Well, you know where the bookstore used to be? Where Sixth and Chestnut used to cross? That’s what you’re looking at,’” Exline said. “And they couldn’t believe it. We keep telling people, you really need to come back and see campus, it’s changed so dramatically.”
The fountain was just one step of a much bigger plan that transformed Indiana State into a “true campus,” instead of a mere extension of the concrete-laden downtown.
“One of the things you try to do when you’re branding a campus is to build iconic places that people will want to utilize for photo-taking, for social media purposes. These places should make it easy for everyone who sees these photos to know that they were taken on Indiana State’s campus,” Exline said. “It’s distinctive. It’s something that separates us from the other campuses.”
Not only did the fountain offer a place to socialize, but also the campus received a heart transplant.
“To have a central meeting place,” Kendall said. “That’s something that Paul Edgerton and President Landini, that’s something they all wanted. So once that fountain came on board and they flipped the switch and the water started flowing, it truly was a magnet for people to come there.”
Kendall said the fact that people have to pass by the fountain to get to the food courts — positive reinforcement through food — helped elevate it to the icon it is today.
“They did a great job of making sure it wasn’t just a fountain,” Kendall said. The water feature’s functionality was vital to its character, so when the university renovated the fountain in 2015, they kept that spirit intact.
“The fountain was built in ’90 and was 25 years old, so it needed a facelift,” said Bryan Duncan, director of capital planning and improvements. “We didn’t want to change the function of the fountain, which was a multi-purpose meeting place for students and people on campus.”
Duncan, who has worked at Indiana State for the past 20 years, said the most recent master plan from 2009 continues to improve the area and establish Third and Chestnut as the main entrance into campus. Along with the many benefits of the Health and Human Services Building renovation, it will beautify the main entrance. And last summer, overhead utilities on Chestnut Street from Third to Fifth streets were buried.
Freda Luers came to Indiana State in 1985 as director of Lincoln Quad. In 1989, she worked in Student Life Programs, now known as Campus Life. The Hulman Memorial Student Union was a residence hall until the university administration — with input from the leadership of the Residence Hall Association, Student Government Association and Union Board — worked on renovation plans that further cemented the fountain’s status.
“In my personal opinion, the fountain is what ISU is,” said Luers. “I love the Quad, I love University Hall, I love Normal Hall, but that fountain is ISU. The passion isn’t there for all those other places, but the passion was there for the fountain.”
Luers said students and parents appreciated the opportunity to take early graduation shots. She says it is a family spot that is often used for orientation, family day and other photo opportunities.
“I think it’s also the connection through the years. So, maybe students from the 1991 era … are connected to students in 2021 because the fountain is that stable thing. The Welcome Center’s new, HMSU is new, but it’s not as cool as saying, ‘I spent the evening running through the fountain,’” said Luers.