Union celebrates 50 years

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Story by Ellen Becker, Managing Editor

There will be many events at the Union from 7:30 a.m. to midnight Thursday, including a recreated candy counter and classic TV shows. (Photo by ANDREW MATHER, Photo Editor)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Ed Elliott Union.
The idea for a student union came about in 1944, when President G.W. Diemer, of the then Central Missouri State Teachers College, told the Board of Regents he had plans for a postwar building.
In a letter from March 20, 1944, he wrote that the building “should have. complete social, dining and recreational facilities.”
He added that the proposed union building  “would be erected as a memorial to more than a thousand men and women [of the college] who have been in military service during the present war.”
It wasn’t until 1958 that planning for the construction of the Union began. Excavation began at the site of the Union building on Nov. 28, 1961, and the building was completed by Sept. 29, 1962, just in time for Parents Weekend.
The new building had eating facilities, a game room, a barber shop, a 10-lane bowling alley, meeting rooms, a student lounge and a candy counter at the information desk.
There was also a TV room. Students did not have TVs in their dorm rooms, so they would often come to the Union for entertainment.
Aside from sweets, the candy counter sold school supplies, magazines, newspapers and even cigarettes and cigars. The tobacco products remained available until 1990.
In a 1966 expansion of the Union, 10 more lanes were added to the bowling alley.
Other additions included a ballroom with a stage, a beauty shop and a lounge for faculty and staff members.
The Mule Barn, a sort of coffee house, was added on the lowest level where the University Store is now. It served food and had a stage where various students performed.
Students visit and smoke cigarettes while relaxing in the Union’s main lounge in 1963. Tobacco products were available at the candy counter in the Union until 1990. (Photo from 1963 Rhetor)

The College Union was also renamed the University Center.
Instead of fast food, the Union’s cafeteria served full meals, like spaghetti and meatballs, and turkey with mashed potatoes.
Deb Hobson, director of Union & Meeting/Conference Services, said she remembers the first time fast food was added to the Union.
“They added a Pizza Hut kiosk where you could get little personal-pan pizzas,” she said. “When it first opened, there were about 100 people in line at a time.”
Hobson came to UCM in 1988, and said she has seen many changes throughout her time working in the Union, including the food court being remodeled three times.
She began as the manager of the Recreation Center, which included the 20-lane bowling alley. There was also an indoor mini golf course where the seats of Chik-fil-A are today.
Penny Lund, office professional for the Diversity Office in the Union, also came to UCM in 1988.
“There used to be a fountain outside that got ‘soaped’ regularly,” she remembered. “Students would dump laundry detergent in the tub of the fountain and it would overflow with bubbles.”
In the mid 1980s, plans were developed to once again expand the Union, this time from 90,555 square feet to 168,000 square feet.
In the Union’s second renovation that came in 1990, the Mule Head Lounge that was in the center of the building became the Union atrium, and a two-story fountain and two-story clock tower were installed.
An information desk replaced the candy counter, and computer areas and an ice cream parlor were added downstairs.
Textbook Services, which used to be located in the Ward Edwards Library, was moved to the lowest level of the Union.
“There used to be textbook windows, where you’d hand them your book list and they’d bring them out to you,” Hobson said.
Ten of the bowling lanes were removed to create space for the Office of Student Activities, which had been in the Administration Building.
A game room with arcade games and pool tables was also added during the expansion.
“When arcade games were really popular in the 90s, we grossed about $100,000,” Hobson said. “When we replaced the game room with Chik-fil-A in 2009, we were only making about $16,000.”
The barber shop and beauty shop closed with the 1990 renovation, and a travel agency was added on the lowest level of the Union.
“It was here for about 10 years, up until 9/11 when people stopped traveling,” Hobson said. The whole renovation cost $9.5 million.
Eugene Stillman, assistant director of Multiculture Affairs in the Union, came to the UCM in 1990, and said he remembers the renovation well.
“All the dining halls on the first floor were replaced with the ballrooms,” he said. “And the bookstore moved to a different corner downstairs.”
Stillman also remembered how students would gather for late-night parties in the Union on weekends.
Students pass by the east side of the newly constructed Union in 1963. There have since been two rennovations, in 1966 and 1990. (Photo from 1963 Rhetor)

“On Friday and Saturday nights, there were 200 to 300 people here,” he said. “It used to be a big hang out place. Anytime I was looking for someone, I’d just walk through the Union, and they were there.”
In 1999, President Ed Elliott retired, and the University Union was renamed the Ed Elliott Union.
In 2006, wireless Internet was added throughout the building. SubConnection was added downstairs, and Jazzman’s Café was added to the atrium.
After the video games and pool tables were removed in 2009, the Union Recreation Center was renamed the Union Bowling Center.
In 2012, the Union Cinema opened during a renovation to the Charno Room. Also in 2012, Café Rouge was added to the atrium.
“We’ve tried to make the Union comfier recently, with the new couches and the café,” Hobson said. “I’m happy to say we’re more student-focused now.”
She also mentioned the addition of the DVD kiosk in the Bowling Center, which took months to obtain, as well as the Step-n-Pulls on the bottom of bathroom doors.
Hobson said her favorite part about working in the Union is interacting with students.
“We have the best students anywhere,” she said. “I love doing stuff that wows them, giving them more than they thought they could have.”
Stillman said he also enjoys interacting with students, as well as meeting new people.
“You can meet a multitude of people here from all around the world,” he said. “It’s a global community within a community which is exciting to a people person like me.”
Hobson said she loves the history of the Union and is looking forward to the 50th anniversary. “It’s exciting for me because I’ve been here for 24 of the 50 years,” she said.
As for the future of the Union, Hobson said she sees it becoming more of an extension of the classroom. “It started as more of an academic focus, and I see it returning to that now,” she said.
She added that if enrollment continues to grow, another expansion may be needed.
Lund said she is pleased that the Union is still in good shape after so many years. “The fact that it’s still here and being utilized after 50 years, I think that’s great,” she said.
“I can’t believe it’s that old,” Stillman said. “All of these memories bring me back to yesteryear. I hope students see the value in having a building like this. It’s just a great place to be.”