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Kansas Memorial Union papers

The Kansas Union was built as a living memorial to those Kansas alumni and students who gave their lives for our country in service during the Great War, or more commonly known as, World War I. More than three thousand Kansas students and alumni served in World War I, and sadly one woman and one hundred and twenty nine men were killed. What was meant to be a mere gift of gratitude towards the war veterans by alumni, students, faculty, and friends soon evolved into the living room of the university. Since the Kansas Union was completed in 1927, it has undergone several additions to keep up with the growing demands of the university.

The first suggestion for a student union building at Kansas was at a Student Council Resolution in 1911. A financial campaign followed this resolution resulting in the rental of a house at 1200 Tennessee (Cornerstone). However, since the building was so far away from campus, enthusiasm soon declined and it closed after only a year. Spurred by a 20 to 20 tie in football against Nebraska, a war memorial campaign emerged with a goal of a million dollars (Kansas Union). The funds were not only invested in the Union but also in building the Memorial Stadium, and a statue of “Uncle” Jimmy Green, which are another two very symbolic marks for KU. Alumni were reminded that one.

Masloski hundred and thirty men and women died, the first being Lt. William Fitzsimmons, a member of the class of 1910, who was also the first casualty of the war (Rush). The Kansas Union was to be fifty feet by one hundred and thirty five feet. A roll of honor along with mementos and artifacts were sealed in a copper box and placed in the cornerstone of the completed building in 1927 (Cornerstone). Completed in 1927, the Union was the first such structure at any of the large state schools (K.U. News Bureau).

The Memorial Union was built by the veterans of one war and ironically, burned by the opponents of another. An arsonist protesting the Vietnam War started a fire inside the Kansas Union in 1970. The fire started around 10:30 p.m. and brought out every fire fighter in Lawrence. Along with all these people came students from all over campus with hopes of helping the firefighters put out the blaze. Students brought firefighters cups of coffee, removed priceless art pieces from the Union, and helped carry fire hoses up the stairs to the top two floors where the building was at its worse. After two hours of fighting this horrific fire, flames burst through the top floor roof and could be witnessed from anywhere on campus. After a whole night of trying to control the fire, with help from all over, fire fighters finally were able to bring this blaze to a halt. After all was said and done, there was an estimated two million dollars worth of damage and forty thousand square feet over two floors of the Kansas Union that were ravaged by the flames of an arsonist’s torch (Vandervliet).
Since the completion in 1927 of the Kansas Union, it has undergone several additions to keep up with the growing demands of the University. The original Union building was a memorial to KU students and alumni who lost their lives during World.

War I (McGinley). The first building enlargement came in 1950 when the building committee approved a plan for a one million dollar addition doubling the size of the Union (Memorial Union). With this addition came bowling alleys, billiard rooms, table tennis, photography and a music library. In 1970, just before the fire hit the Union there was remodeling done to the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors but luckily none of the new additions were damaged by the flames. Since fire did bring about approximately two million dollars worth of damage to the fifth and sixth floors, there was more work to be done on the Kansas Union to make it fully functional again. Even after the out of control fire the Kansas Union remained open, showing its importance to the University. Then, in 1993 a three stage plan to remodel the Union was put into action and was finally completed just last year. (Cornerstone).

The Kansas Union today is more than 250,000 square feet on six levels, and is arguably the oldest student union west of the Mississippi River (Kansas Union). A special plaque with all one hundred and thirty World War I deaths is on the Jayhalk Walk on the fourth floor of the Union. A renovation in the ‘90s required removal of a pillar containing the original cornerstone. Inside the pillar was a copper box. The copper box had items that students, alumni, and faculty had put in it from 1927, when the Union was first built. Unfortunately, water and heat had damaged much of the papers and artifacts. Spencer Museum took everything from this box and did their best to make replicas and duplicate whatever they could. In 1993 a new memorial box, replacing the old one, was put in the old cornerstone and dated 1927. Along with the new memorial box, they also put a time.

Capsule in another cornerstone and dated this one 1993 (Cornerstone). Finally just last year when they made the new staircase at the Union, there was just enough room at the
bottom for a time capsule. The time capsule was sealed away in the Rock Chalk Jayhalk rock at the bottom of the first floor staircase (KU News Bureau).

Today, the Kansas Union is better than ever. Nick Johnson a student at KU said, “The Union is like a shopping mall designed specifically for college kids.” There are many different aspects to the Union as well as different events that occur there. For instance, students have the opportunity to go bowling or play arcade games. Also, there is a food court that contains a variety of different foods. Along with these activities students may also relax on the fourth level or take some money out of the bank. Nick also states that he enjoys the view from the new staircase that overlooks the Memorial Stadium. With all this and more, these are the needs of today’s college student.

In the early 1920’s when veterans of World War I returned to campus they searched for a way to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. This resulted in the construction of the oldest student union building west of the Mississippi River. In the ‘60s the Union was doing three to four million dollars worth of business every year, now it has grown to almost sixteen million dollars a year (Kansas Union). Frequented daily by so many students the union management is unable to estimate the volume of its traffic. This is no surprise given that the Kansas Union has so many different functions that revolve around every student’s needs. One word describes the life of the Kansas Memorial Union over the years “change” (Cornerstone).

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