There's no place like home
December 13, 2016Editor's note: After 25 years of employment with IUPUI as a writer, Ric Burrous is retiring at the end of this month. Here are some of his memories.
When twilight falls, the campus lights up like a downtown theater district, from University Library (in the foreground) to the Campus Center (upper middle, with "IUPUI" on the roof) to University Tower and the Simon Cancer Center (right).
I was 14, maybe 15, the first time I recall hearing about an Indianapolis campus for IU and Purdue. My father was in the Indiana House of Representatives, which was overseeing efforts to establish an Indianapolis-based university (that's how most legislators in that era referred to the pending campus).
Dad was fascinated by the process of organizing a campus, and even more so by the difficulties of getting two Big Ten rival universities to collaborate on a project that the then-mayor of Indianapolis, Richard G. Lugar, considered essential to the reawakening of the Hoosier state capital.
Me? I was more interested in following sports: baseball, the NFL, the NBA, colleges, high schools -- it didn't matter. When Dad talked about the process of creating what would become IUPUI, my only thoughts likely were "Where will they play their games?"
Over the next two decades, I earned a degree in journalism from IU, spent more than a decade as a reporter, editor and sports editor in Johnson County, worked part-time for The Indianapolis Star and for an Indianapolis advertising agency -- even, ironically, doing a stint as a legislative staff member in the 1980s. But by Memorial Day weekend in 1991, I was ready for a new challenge.
I found it, thanks to IUPUI. Right after the holiday, I joined the media relations staff and found myself covering the schools of dentistry, liberal arts, engineering and technology, and physical education (no tourism programs at that point) and pitching in on stories about all the other schools and programs that IUPUI offered.
Turns out that I'd come home.
New people, new places
Once on board, I had to get acquainted with a whole new set of people and a campus that was spread out to other parts of the city. The people were interesting, obviously talented, even a little intimidating intellectually. I've been lucky in my life, meeting governors, senators and congressmen, and more than a few business and education leaders, but trust me: IUPUI faculty and administrators are every bit as intriguing and thought-provoking as those who are renowned for their job titles.
The campus was different in those days. Cavanaugh Hall was the "campus center." Herron was in historic quarters near 16th and Pennsylvania streets. The Purdue schools were across 38th Street from the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The library was in what is now Taylor Hall, and the late Joseph Taylor was a familiar figure around campus -- including in the building that now bears his name.
University Tower and Hine Hall were part of University Place Conference Center and Hotel, providing lodging for those who had loved ones in University Hospital and other visitors to the city. The conference center regularly hosted meetings, symposiums, conferences and events for the community and companies as well as the campus.
From time to time, my head would swirl at the wide-ranging connections IUPUI was forging with the business, arts, governmental and educational communities. Faculty, staff and students were flocking to a growing number of community-service projects, even before we called it "service learning."
It was exciting to someone who had been outside the realm of education for more than two decades. I got to do stories on researchers from the School of Dentistry like Gene Roberts and Larry Garetto, who worked on projects with NASA, and George Stookey, a link back in time to the team that created the formula that eventually became the active decay-preventing agent in Crest toothpaste.
I had an opportunity to write features on people such as Ali Jafari and a fellow you might have heard of, someone named Nasser Paydar. I'm told he went on to great things.
There were collaborations with School of Liberal Arts folks such as David Bodenhamer (the Polis Center and the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis), the late Jim East (who advanced community access to higher education through Weekend College and Learn & Shop) and polling guru Brian Vargus (I never seemed to escape links back to politics).
Through the years, the campus evolved. University Library created a hub for academic study for students and faculty alike. Wood Memorial Plaza brought us the fountain and an oasis of relaxation. The old law school was replaced by Eskenazi Hall, giving a campus home to the Herron School of Art and Design, while the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law moved to its new home in Inlow Hall. The old 38th Street campus migrated to Blackford Street near Michigan Street, creating a complex with the long-standing Engineering Building.
The Informatics and Communications Technology Complex provided a dazzling new home for technology on campus. The Campus Center came along and almost overnight became the heart of campus. The Downtown Canal became an extension of the IUPUI campus with the opening of Fairbanks Hall and the Health Information and Translational Sciences buildings. One regret is that I never could get people to buy into my nickname for that area: the Campus on the Canal. Oh, well. You can't have everything.
New buildings were born, such as the Simon Family Tower, the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, the new Regenstrief building, the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute, and North Hall.
Others departed, like the Union Building, the Mary Cable Building and a hefty portion of the former Wishard Memorial Hospital.
Still other facilities received the care and attention that years of community service and memories warranted, such as Carroll Stadium and the Natatorium.
The restoration of Ball Gardens is one of the great changes in the physical side of the IUPUI campus. | LIZ KAYE / IU COMMUNICATIONS
One heck of a home
I'm probably missing many physical milestones, but that's OK. Sometime soon, more changes will come along, and the story will be outdated. One that does hold meaning for me, as a fan of history, is the restoration of Ball Nurses' Sunken Garden and Convalescent Park. Countless thousands of students have walked through those grounds over the decades, many never realizing the history -- and the potential -- that Ball Gardens offers.
The opportunities that I have been given over the past 25 years have been remarkable, and I can only hope that I have been able to share some small portion of what this place has meant to me. The physical changes are amazing, and they hold the promise of an even brighter future. The faculty and staff at IUPUI haven't just been sources or subjects for stories; they have been my work family and -- from my perspective, at least -- my friends. That is what I will miss the most.
But what buoys my spirits are those who are the heart and soul of IUPUI: the young men and women who are our students. I can't begin to tell you how they have excited me, thrilled me, challenged me, educated me and often moved me. I can only say to those who are part of the IUPUI family: Cherish those relationships, those students. Never take this place for granted. Trust me, it all slips away too soon.
By day, IUPUI is an interesting, exciting place. But for me, nightfall is when the campus gleams like dreams coming true.