The many lives of Tirey

Once the center of student life, Tirey Hall is now a venerable location for high-profile events and university functions.

The magnificent front steps and the classic clock centered on the red bricks just below the peaked roof of Tirey Hall’s entrance paint an iconic image of Indiana State University. The fourth oldest building on campus, Tirey has aged gracefully as it has transitioned from a classic student union to a structure that is an elegant venue for meetings, performances and events.

  “It’s had a hundred lives,” said Paul Edgerton, emeritus vice president for student affairs and a 1960 graduate of Indiana State. “It was the center of campus. Everything that happened in terms of student activities was generated in that building.”

From hosting Friday night dances and visiting dignitaries to serving as a meeting place for students, a setting for special events and speakers and convocation series to storage space, Tirey Hall has remained an important fixture at Indiana State even as the university expanded its borders both north and west, shifting the center point of campus from the Quadrangle to Hulman Memorial Student Union.

Used today for Board of Trustees meetings among other events and also housing Tilson Music Hall, Tirey’s early days are etched as fond memories Edgerton and others have of the building in its heyday when it was the center of student life.

“Tirey was unique,” Edgerton said. “There was a food service area called ‘the grill.’ When you walked in, it just had that collegiate feel.”

Michael Jack, ’65, recalled being a working student who was literally down to his last dime one day before payday. His choices were to buy a can of Campbell’s soup to eat or go to the grill, where he could meet with friends and have a cup of coffee.

“The soup and the coffee each cost a dime,” he said. Hunger ceded to coffee and camaraderie, and he spent his 10 cents at Tirey, which plays a role in many of his college recollections.

“It was a classic union building,” said Jack, a Brazil, Ind., native who graduated with an accounting degree and has held various executive positions with major corporations. He was a participant in the first Trike race, a 10-lap race around the Quad on children’s tricycles that started in front of Tirey.

Built in 1940 as the Student Union Building for $440,000, it was renamed Tirey Hall in 1963 in honor of Ralph Noble Tirey, Indiana State’s president from 1934 to 1953. When the building, a Public Works Administration-funded project, was dedicated in March 1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt gave the dedication address, and Metropolitan soprano Rose Bampton performed.

Tilson Music Hall, the 1,500-seat auditorium housed in Tirey was named in honor of Lowell Mason Tilson, a faculty member and chairperson of the music department from 1915 to 1940.

Many famous speakers from past presidents to noted journalists and scientists, as well as musical and theatrical performances, still grace the Tilson stage.

Linda Eldred, ’63, worked at the university for 40 years before retiring in 2003 as the associate director of Student Life Programs and advisor to the Union Board.

“I spent my lifetime in the union,” Eldred said of Tirey Hall. “That building means an awful lot to me.”

Aside from being “architecturally the prettiest building on campus,” Eldred said Tirey was “a home-away-from-home. It was a meeting place, a place for discussions and activities. It created a community.”

As a student majoring in elementary education, Eldred got involved with the Union Board, initially doing decorations for events. She spent hour upon hour in the building, making memories and unbeknownst to her, setting the foundation for what would become her life’s work.

In 1963, the university hired her. She had planned to have a long career as an elementary teacher, but she was approached while completing her student teaching about a new, full-time position with the Union Board.

“I got the job, and I began working with just a great group of students. They were on fire and really got things done,” she said, recalling the ballroom being  the site of plant shows and art shows. She also put together an art festival that was held for two weeks each year at Tirey.

“I was there to grow the Union Board and expand its programs,” she said. One such program was bringing in local bands to play for dances after football games.

“I was a chaperone. It was hopping. We had lots of kids come to the dances,” she said.

Tirey served the university well as the home of the student union for many decades, and Eldred guided hundreds of Union Board students in their efforts to create a thriving campus life.

As time passed and student enrollment increased, it became clear in the 1980s, Edgerton said, that Tirey would not meet the needs — in terms of space or location — as a union building.

“We needed a union more designed for campus and enrollment in a location where it was easier to walk through it than around,” he said.

However, everyone recognized that Tirey was a trademark of the campus and should remain a functional building, which it has.

“I dearly love that union building,” Eldred said. “It had so much meaning to me because it changed my life. It led me on new paths.”

She recalled her last day on the job before her retirement.

“I went in to kind of say goodbye to the building,” she said. She walked through its corridors, reflecting on the many great times and special moments there.

“I walked around and the memories just flooded back to me. So many memories.”

It was finally time for her to depart.

“We had an elevator connected to the Elks building, and our secretary got stuck in it all the time. I was moving my last load of things from my office, and I got stuck on that elevator for about 30 minutes,” she said. “That’s when I thought, ‘This union building doesn’t want me to leave.’”

And while she did leave, Tirey is near to her heart, as it is to so many people who have traveled and continue to travel its halls.

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