WMU News

Centennial officials seek submissions for time-honored tradition

Oct. 17, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- It may be impossible to hold back time, but members of Western Michigan University's Centennial Steering Committee are confident they can hold back 2003.

"We're developing a Centennial Time Capsule as part of the ongoing celebration of the University's 100th anniversary," explains Shavonne Petts, a member of the steering committee's Student Events Subcommittee.

"We're asking members of the WMU community, area residents and friends to make suggestions for what to include and to donate items. We especially need help identifying material that will give people who haven't even been born yet a sense of what WMU is like today."

The Centennial Steering Committee and Student Events Subcommittee are accepting ideas and donations for the capsule until Monday, Nov. 24. They will jointly decide which items to include.

The time capsule will be opened in 2053 on May 27, WMU's founders day. Until then, the container will reside in the structural base of a sculpture that was commissioned for the centennial. The work, called "The Gift of Knowledge," will be dedicated at noon Thursday, Oct. 23, at the installation site in front of the Seibert Administration Building.

Petts, a junior from Canton, Mich., and an officer in the Western Student Association, says capsule organizers want to avoid items that could still be found in campus libraries and archives 50 years from now.

In addition, she says submissions must be able to fit in the time capsule, which measures 1 foot-by-1 foot-by 2 feet; have a meaning distinctive to WMU; be nonperishable and non-electronic; and, if documents, be on acid-free paper when possible.

Dr. Ruth Heinig, steering committee co-chairperson and a retired WMU faculty member, notes that the Centennial Time Capsule will be opened before the capsule buried on campus in 1976 to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial.

"That container will be opened in 2076," Heinig says. "But we decided to open ours after only five decades because many of those who are studying or working here now will be able to attend the opening."

Among the items being considered for inclusion in the capsule are centennial memorabilia; congratulatory letters from past WMU presidents and other dignitaries; a special greeting for the Class of 2053; a 2003 WMU ring; a campus map; and current residence hall rules and menus.

"Many other items could be included that would be interesting and informative 50 years from now," Heinig says. "For instance, we'd love to have collections of personal photos and memorabilia that illustrate University life in 2003 in areas such as academics and student activities."

Heinig adds that such a time capsule would make history come alive, something she says serving as co-chairperson of the Centennial Steering Committee has already done for her.

"When WMU was founded in 1903, we communicated primarily by letter and telegraph, relatively few homes had electricity, and horses, boats and trains were the modern forms of transportation," she says.

"Yet it was a time of rapid development and exciting firsts. The Wright Brothers made their historic airplane flight, Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in physics, the United States started digging the Panama Canal, and forward-thinking entrepreneurs were creating companies like Buick, Cadillac, Ford and Harley-Davidson."

People were doing amazing things all around the country, Heinig continues, noting that even mundane-seeming accomplishments like the first coast-to-coast automobile trip were momentous events.

"Two men and a bulldog took 64 days to complete the trip," she says. "But it was a remarkable achievement when you consider that they were traversing rivers and mountains in a new-fangled contraption that sped along at 20 miles per hour in an era when there were no gas stations and only a few miles of paved roads.

"WMU came into being through similar perseverance, then utilized some of that era's energy, inventiveness, courage and visionary leadership to become a national leader among teacher-training schools," she says. "The Centennial Time Capsule will help future generations get to know the top-100 university that we are today and to appreciate the spirit and effort that brought us here."

Anyone wishing to suggest ideas or donate items for the capsule may contact Heinig at (269) 387-8449 or <heinig@wmich.edu> or by contacting Petts at (269) 387-2194 or <s1petts@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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