A memorable union

Memorial Union, built to honor fallen soldiers and now a center
of campus life, celebrated its 82nd birthday with cake and ice cream
Thursday, December 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:39 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Students and staff who sought refuge Tuesday from the blustery cold inside MU’s Memorial Union North found something a little out of the ordinary instead: two long tables covered with cake, ice cream and 1,000 cupcakes set on black and gold striped tissue paper, along with the celebratory cries of a woman behind one of the tables.

“Happy Birthday! It’s 82! Would you like a cupcake?” called Mary Flatt, director for student and auxiliary services, to passers-by, none of whom passed up the invitation.

Memorial Union turned 82 on Tuesday. Although the north tower was not completed until 1953 and the south tower until 1963, construction of the Gothic-style memorial bell tower began in 1922.

The Memorial Union was built mainly to honor those students who fought and died in the name of liberty and freedom, according to a Web site about the Union. The names of the 117 students who died in World War I are inscribed on the inner walls of the tower arch. The names of 338 students who died in World War II are displayed on a large plaque in the foyer of the north wing.

In addition to paying tribute to fallen soldiers, Memorial Union also serves as a hub for student activity. Flatt refers to the union as a center of campus life.

“It’s a meeting place; it’s a living room and a family room for students between classes; and it’s meant to support student life and the campus community,” she said.

MU freshman Eric Jackson said he enjoys stopping by the Union to rest between classes. “You can walk around, use the computers or get something to drink or eat,” Jackson said.

In addition to dining facilities and computer labs, Memorial Union also has several rooms available for meetings. Since 1998, Jesse Wrench Auditorium in the south wing has hosted classes. The International and Asian Affairs centers are in the basement of the north wing.

MU sophomore Carrie Garza is a guest services representative at Memorial Union. In the 18 hours a week she works there, Garza makes reservations, checks out laptops and gives directions to students. She said she appreciates the ample meeting space Memorial Union offers.

“It gives student organizations the opportunity to hold meetings and gives students a place to study other than Ellis or Brady,” she said.

Garza said she often thinks of Memorial Union as a quieter version of Brady Commons.

Flatt said Brady and Memorial Union are considered sister buildings and serve as the centers for campus life. The Missouri Unions operates both buildings.

In the 13 years Flatt has been at MU, Memorial Union has undergone extensive renovations.

“Everything in the south wing has been renovated, and the first floor in the north wing has seen a lot of changes, too,” she said.

With the renovations at Memorial Union almost complete, Flatt said the focus has shifted to the proposed expansion and renovation of Brady Commons. Her birthday wish for both buildings is for them to remain vibrant.

“I hope Memorial Union … continues to meet the needs of students and the community,” she said.

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