As NIU prepares to celebrate Homecoming 2019 from Oct. 19 through Oct. 27, one group of former Huskies already has notched its return to campus.
Members of the Class of 1959 reunited Sept. 6 at the College of Education, touring Graham, Gabel and Anderson halls and meeting with Dean Laurie Elish-Piper.
For Patricia Aldred and her classmates, the visit brought back memories both fond and funny.
“There were less than 3,000 students here when we started, and it was the Northern Illinois State Teachers College. Then, the next year – our sophomore year – it changed to Northern Illinois State College. We all graduated from NIU,” Aldred said. “We graduated at the East Lagoon. There was a bridge across there, and when you crossed the bridge, you had graduated.”
She vividly remembers the endless cornfields – “The wind whipped across them viciously in the winter,” she said – and the wooden planks laid across muddy sections of campus before sidewalks were paved.
Remembering Neptune Hall brings a laugh.
“We all lived in Neptune Hall – in the very first year of Neptune Hall – and it was built exactly to the same plan as Gilbert Hall,” Aldred said.
Gilbert had opened in 1952 as a men’s dormitory. “That meant when we first walked into the bathrooms in Neptune, there were urinals in the girls’ bathroom,” she said. “They took those out after the first month of school.”
Coming from Aurora, Aldred majored in physical education and science.
“I had already worked at a playground department in Aurora, and was successful,” she said. “My family didn’t have any money, but I got a state scholarship, and I was able to work here – I worked in the dormitory – so I managed to get an education.”
She taught physical education and health for 25 years, later teaching as a substitute in Glen Ellyn and Wheaton for five years and finally teaching middle school science and health until retirement. She even directed the school musicals.
“For me, it was really interesting because junior high kids are such an unusual breed, and there was so much like I felt you could do with them,” Aldred said. “It didn’t feel like doing the same thing over and over again.”
NIU prepared her well, she added.
“You learn about things that you have to teach,” she said, “but also about the respect for the students that you have to put in. That helped me to become successful.”
Hawaii beckoned Aldred and her husband, Dr. Tony Aldred, 21 years ago as their retirement home. They love the year-round beautiful weather and the relaxed pace of the Aloha State, where friends and strangers alike “hang loose” and live slowly and courteously.
But DeKalb will always hold a special place in her heart.
“Good friendship with good people,” she said, “and I had teachers here in P.E. and science who I could talk to, who thought of me as a person and not just a number.”