"A Laboratory of Leadership: Celebrating 100 Years of the Indiana Memorial Union Board"

Indiana Memorial Union Board Centennial Celebration
Tudor Room, Indiana Memorial Union
October 31, 2009


Thank you, Andrew, for that kind introduction.

Let me take a moment to introduce my wife, Laurie Burns McRobbie, first lady of Indiana University, and Laurie’s mother Eunice, my mother–in–law.

We are both delighted to be here at this evening’s centennial celebration of the Indiana Memorial Union Board, which is bringing together Union Board alumni from at least the last 60 years. It is always a great pleasure for us to be among so many friends, colleagues, distinguished alumni, and supporters of Indiana University.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to congratulate everyone who has been involved in planning this wonderful reunion. I would especially like to acknowledge a few individuals whose leadership has been critical in the success of the Union and of Union Board. Would you help me thank former IMU Executive Director and Chairman of the Centennial Celebration Winston Shindell and current IMU Executive Director Bruce Jacobs? Would you also help me thank Brent Pieper, President of the John Whittenberger Society? Also with us this evening are President Emeritus John Ryan, retired Dean of Students Dick McKaig, and President Emeritus of the IU Foundation, Curt Simic. Thanks also to Andrew Dahlen, Caitlin van Kooten with the Union Board Lectures Committee, and members of the Union Board of Directors. Would you help me welcome them?

This evening we are celebrating both the history of Union Board and the many people who have made that organization a unifying force on this campus. Would all past and present members of Union Board please stand? Now, would everyone please join me in congratulating them and thanking them for their dedication and leadership?

A Laboratory of Leadership

Many of you already know the legendary story of the founding of Union Board, but this is an occasion where that story bears repeating. A century ago, IU student John Whittenberger had a vision. It was for a new student “union,” one that would foster a spirit of collegiality and closeness among what was then seen as a fragmented student body. Of course, at that time Indiana University had an enrollment of just over 1,000 students.

With the support of his classmates, as well as IU’s 10th President William Lowe Bryan, Whittenberger’s vision became a reality, and in 1909 he became the first president of the Indiana Memorial Union Board. Today, he is appropriately memorialized in Whittenberger Auditorium, one of the Union’s largest gathering spaces, which has played host over the years to a remarkable range of speakers, including Jordan’s Prince Zeid, and what is touted as the longest running film series in the country. John is also remembered in the John Whittenberger Society, which connects Union Board alumni and friends across the nation and around the world.

In 1911, two years after the founding of the Union Board, Paul McNutt assumed the presidency of the organization. After graduating from IU, he would rise to become governor of Indiana and help lead the state through the Great Depression. McNutt Quadrangle is named in his honor, and a bust of the former governor resides in the front foyer of its main building.

Sherman Minton became president of Union Board in 1913. After earning a law degree from IU, he would go on to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934 and help push through President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Several years later, he would serve on the U.S. Supreme Court as a powerful voice against racial segregation. Today, the IU Maurer School of Law holds the annual Sherman Minton Moot Court Competition, which helps law students hone their litigation skills to achieve the great heights that Minton himself achieved.

Sherman Minton served on Union Board alongside another legal scholar, Wendell Wilkie, who, after graduating from IU, went on to become a successful attorney, businessman, and internationalist. He was twice nominated for president by the Republican Party. Wilkie Residence Center is named in honor of this great Hoosier statesman.

These are just a few of the names that make up the magnificent, century–old history of Union Board. As you all know, there are many, many more. I could tell you about IU’s legendary 11th President Herman Wells and his time as treasurer of Union Board. I could also tell you about renowned entrepreneur, internationalist, and IU benefactor Edward L. Hutton, who joined Union Board in 1939 and whose exceptional generosity made possible the beautiful new Hutton Honors College, located right across the street from here.

Indeed, this is truly a special organization. It has been—and continues to be—a laboratory of leadership at IU.

IU’s Living Room: The IMU

This proud legacy of leadership is captured here in the walls of the IMU, which President Wells compared to “the living room’ of our campus. He made that comparison in 1960 at the dedication of the Ward G. Biddle Continuation Center, a large addition to the Union, which added the now–familiar Tudor Room, the Frangipani Room, and the Whittenberger Auditorium. As you may know, Ward Biddle was also a former Union Board official and served as the first director of the IMU.

Over the course of the past century, just as the Union Board has helped develop the leaders of tomorrow, the Union itself—one of the world’s largest student unions—has been a second home to thousands of students, faculty, staff, and visitors where they meet, debate, study, or—like tonight—celebrate. Like all great structures, this magnificent building has retained its historical grandeur while evolving to serve the changing needs of the greater IU community.

Over the years, it has dramatically expanded in size and services. Most recently, it welcomed the addition of the new Student Technology Center, which provides students with the technology they need in a space that encourages collaborative work outside the classroom. This excellent facility came to fruition though the hard work of student groups, including, among others, the Union Board. Indeed, it represents yet another example of the Union Board’s outstanding commitment to meeting the academic and social needs of IU students.

A Unifying Force

That the Union has become the center of this vital campus marks its great architectural and functional success—as well as the vision and dedication of Union Board.

True to John Whittenberger’s vision, Union Board has served as a unifying force at IU—a role that is reflected in the wide range of programs it hosts, including rare film screenings, performing arts, concerts, and lectures. All of these programs—and, in particular, the process of presenting these programs—generate a strong community of scholarship and fellowship that bind this campus together. We need only look towards the Union Board to discover the issues of the day and to take the pulse of student life on campus.


At that dedication in 1960, President Wells remarked on the great use to which IU students, faculty staff, alumni, and friends were putting the new space. He said, “This response indicates to me that the era of the Union’s greatest usefulness lies ahead of us, far beyond anything which we can now foresee.”

We may say the same thing today as we still look towards a future that is far beyond what we can now imagine. That the future holds the promise of even greater achievements is testimony to the strong leadership and student involvement that have been the hallmarks of the Union Board for the past century. May your second century yield even greater intellectual and cultural riches than your first.