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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI’s Memorial Union to celebrate 50th anniversary in November

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- Sept. 14, 2004 -- It once housed a bowling alley, and students gathered there to meet and hear the late Sammy Davis Jr. perform.

Called the “hearthstone” of the campus, the Memorial Union, over the past 50 years, has been a place to eat, to enjoy a movie like “On the Waterfront,” take in a concert by the Beaver Brown Band, work at the student newspaper or serve on the URI Student Senate.

Dedicated on Nov. 13, 1954, the union has been a campus hub for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Just like the week of Nov. 13 through Nov. 20, 1954, there will be a week of activities this year from Nov. 15 through 19. Each day that week will focus on a specific decade—Nov. 15, the 1950s; Nov. 16, the 1960s; Nov. 17, the 1970s; Nov. 18, the 1980s and Nov. 19, the 1990s and beyond.

On Thursday, Nov. 18, there will a performance in the Union Ballroom by Charlie Hall’s Ocean State Follies at 7:30 p.m.

Before 1954, the union was housed in Quonset Huts, but in The Coffee Times, a newspaper published by the Memorial Union, former Presidents Raymond G. Bressler and Carl Woodward called for a much needed social center and student union building.

With additions to the original building completed in 1964 and 1993, the Union has become that much needed center.

Bruce Hamilton, director of the union and student leadership, said staff and students got behind the idea of a union anniversary celebration in May.

“We want to highlight the mission of the facility, but we also wanted to develop a program around the 50th anniversary,” Hamilton said. “Staff members and students got pretty creative, with somebody suggesting that each day of the week represent a decade.”

Hamilton said the building will be rededicated on Thursday, Nov. 18 at noon, with President Robert L. Carothers scheduled to participate in the festivities.

“We are going to try to get in touch with alumni, former directors, and students who were heavily involved in the union. We’re planning a Sock Hop, and Music Professor Joe Parillo and his students will be performing music each day from the corresponding decade.”

Also, the Memorial Union Gallery will be transformed into a historical museum of the decades complete with yearbooks, memorabilia and photos.

Dean of Students Fran Cohen said the University would be diminished without the role of the union.

“It serves as the center of the University, the campus living room, gathering place, and resource center,” she said. “In times of celebration and in times of crisis it's where people naturally go. The building accommodates raucous rallies for a Rhodes scholar, a basketball team and centennial celebrations. On Sept. 11, 2001, people came to the building to get information and to share pain.

“It's where you go for news about a hurricane or an important world event,” Cohen said. “It is a routine daily stop for the thousands of students and staff who need to find student leaders, something to do, the newspaper or radio station, coffee, directions, a bus schedule, flu shots, and dozens of other necessities. More than a building, the Memorial Union is an evolving, fluid, responsive, peopled place made alive by the memories of thousands of students and alumni.”

The union also houses the Rhode Island Credit Union, Ronzio’s Pizza, the bookstore, Campus Copy and Design, University Optical, Two Lips Flowers, Total Image Hair Salon, the mailroom and other necessities.