Western Illinois University began its 25th Annual Founders' Day celebration Monday afternoon with Lana Myers ringing a bell from the front steps of Sherman Hall.
The bell ringing has become a tradition. Myers is a retired WIU employee and she is the granddaughter of Edwin DeCamp, who rang the bell on September 23, 1902 to signal the first day of classes at what was then called Western Illinois State Normal School.
Illinois State Representative Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) said she was touched by the brief ceremony. “You don’t see that kind of tradition very often. Literally I had chills when she rang the bell,” said McCombie, who was this year’s featured speaker for Founders’ Day.
After the bell ringing, the small crowd that gathered for Monday’s celebration headed inside to Sherman Hall’s third floor for music and speeches.
McCombie said she graduated from WIU in 1996 and considers herself one of the institution’s biggest advocates. She said WIU taught her that things don’t come easily and constant reinvention is necessary to achieve positive results.
“Western Illinois has seen many challenges over the last 118 years, and looking back through history, things like enrollment numbers, infrastructure issues, revenue, social unrest are often reoccurring concerns,” McCombie said, adding that she believes WIU President Jack Thomas and his team continue to guide the institution through challenging times.
“Western is not going anywhere because we are a community,” she said.
McCombie said she will work with legislators from across the state and across the aisle to help WIU grow and succeed.
The audience also heard from President Thomas. As he did in his State of the University address, Dr. Thomas called this a year of change at the institution.
“Let us move forward with optimism and confidence that we can rally around our common mission, conquer uncertainty, and position this university for a promising future,” said Thomas.
WIU Board of Trustees Chair Carolyn Ehlert Fuller praised the work being done by President Thomas and called him an excellent leader.
“President Thomas continues to work tirelessly to move the university forward despite the challenges facing higher education today,” she said.