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Southern Illinois University Carbondale | Its Reputation
As SIU Carbondale lost its party school rap, did enrollment suffer?

CARBONDALE — For decades, Southern Illinois University Carbondale held a distinction that many of its administrators worked to quash: it was considered one of the best party schools in the Midwest.

With a vibrant downtown entertainment scene and a prevalent drinking culture, the Carbondale campus drew fun-seekers far and wide, and in 1987, Playboy magazine ranked SIUC 17th on its list of the top 40 party schools in the country.


Partiers on The Strip in downtown Carbondale in 1984.

But the revelry was a mixed blessing. Although the annual Halloween celebration drew large crowds and boosted the local economy, it also brought riots and destruction, and eventually, city and campus officials devised a set of regulations to rein in the party and preserve the university’s good name as a research institution.

In the years since, SIUC’s freewheeling, hard-drinking image has faded — the university no longer makes it into the Princeton Review’s annual roundup of party schools.

John Jackson, a longtime SIUC administrator who is now a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said in an interview last month that Carbondale’s raucous Halloween celebrations were a source of bad publicity for the university, and that the administration worked to suppress the events in the late 1980s. But the issue resurfaced when Jackson was interim chancellor in 2000.

A Halloween celebration that year resulted in riots, injuries and arrests: Partiers threw rocks through the windows of businesses, lit clothing on fire and chucked beer cans at police officers, according to previous reporting by The Southern.

“… I tried to put a stop to it by closing the university in 2000 for Halloween, which was not a very popular move with the downtown and all the students, as you might imagine. I think it succeeded after all, but nobody else much liked it. Anyway, my view on Halloween is a bit jaundiced because of that. Long and short is, we were going to get somebody killed,” Jackson said.

Others wonder whether SIUC’s rejection of its old reputation has contributed to its precipitous enrollment decline. Anthony Greff, an SIU alumnus, has built a popular brand around the notion that Carbondale should revive its party-school image: His “Soberly Intoxicated” entertainment blog has thousands of followers across multiple social media platforms.


A partier sits on the street in downtown Carbondale on Halloween 1986.

Greff, a promoter who helped popularize Unofficial Halloween and other Carbondale special events, said he developed the brand in 2007.

“And I brought up the idea — and it’s been brought up to me countless times — that SIU never had problems whenever it was known as a party school. … They had these epic Halloweens, they had no problems with enrollment. Whenever I would talk to people, ‘Oh, SIUC — that’s a party school.’ You didn’t want to go to SIUE, because that was a commuter school. And ever since that, it’s come to the point where alumni, they will talk to me and they will say, ‘You know, I don’t recognize this school,’” Greff said.

Sally Carter, owner of Hangar 9 on The Strip, grew up in Carbondale and began managing the bar in 1978. She said she believes SIUC’s party-school reputation was a draw for students.

“If you look at the numbers and where the numbers started dropping with enrollment, they coincide directly with Halloween and the city and the university’s efforts to get rid of the party school image,” Carter said.

She said she believes the university has lost its identity.

“I mean, that’s what people came here for — that and the natural beauty of the surroundings,” Carter said.

Recently, the City of Carbondale has taken steps toward reviving the Halloween tradition, perhaps suggesting a newfound openness to the identity it previously tried to shirk. In 2015, the city council elected to lift all restrictions on Halloween — including restrictions on bars and a ban on keg sales — and in March, city officials announced that they plan to host a Halloween-themed festival that draws on the holiday’s history in Carbondale.

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said the festival is part of an effort to revitalize the city’s downtown and bring entertainment back to The Strip, and that he doesn’t believe reopening Halloween activity will be a problem this time around.

“We have, unfortunately, almost half the students that we had back then. So it just isn’t going to be that big of an event, starting out,” Henry said.

Initial plans suggest the event will be comparatively tame: The celebration will begin in the morning with family-friendly activities, and live music on Washington Street will get shut down by 11 p.m., according to Henry.

“It’ll be much, much different, and I really don’t have any trepidation about it at all,” Henry said.

Henry said he hopes people in surrounding communities will get more comfortable with coming to Carbondale.

“Those riots really frightened people off way back when, and I don’t blame them. But our students, it’s just different today. I think there’s just a different mentality. There isn’t this ‘party hard’ sort of mentality going on,” Henry said.

Illinois 200
Illinois 200 | Reagan’s Illinois: A place of honor, integrity, kindness that inspired a president

Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at

On Feb. 6, 1984, President Ronald Reagan was riding high as he celebrated his 73rd birthday in Dixon, Illinois, the county seat of Lee County and the town where he lived as a youth for a dozen years starting in 1920.

More than half a century earlier, Reagan had ventured forth from his hometown to earn a bachelor’s degree at Eureka College, class of 1932 — not an easy feat during the Great Depression.

Then he became a radio sports announcer in Iowa, an actor in about 50 Hollywood movies, president of the Screen Actors Guild, a television personality, and spokesman for General Electric.

Turning to politics in the 1960s, he served as governor of California for two terms and, on his third try, was elected 40th president of the United States.

His hometown birthday bash in 1984 found Reagan — tall, handsome and known for his sense of humor — in good spirits as he addressed a crowd that packed Dixon High School’s Lancaster Gymnasium.

His speech came after he and his wife, Nancy, rode in a parade and lunched at his boyhood home, which local residents had rushed to renovate in time for the big day.

“Birthdays are special moments, and you’ve given me one today,” Reagan said. “But I must tell you, even though this is the 34th anniversary of my 39th birthday (the crowd laughs), those numbers don’t faze me at all. I believe Moses was 80 when God first commissioned him for public service.”

After more audience chuckles, Reagan continued: “And I also remember something that Thomas Jefferson once said. He said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that — (laughter) — I’ve stopped worrying. There are those who say I’ve stopped working.” (More laughter)

Reagan, known as The Great Communicator for his TV addresses to the nation from the Oval Office, could afford to poke fun at himself.

He was feeling healthy and fit, nearly three years after being shot by John Hinckley in March 1981, barely two months after his inauguration.

The economy was growing again after a tough 1982 recession.

And his re-election chances looked good. Reagan, a Republican, would go on to receive 59 percent of the vote that fall and carry 49 states in a defeat of Democratic nominee Walter Mondale. The former vice president had served under the man Reagan more narrowly defeated in 1980, President Jimmy Carter.

It was quite an accomplishment for the only president born in Illinois.

The son of Jack and Nelle Reagan, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on Feb. 6, 1911, in a second-floor Main Street apartment in the Whiteside County village of Tampico.

A conservative icon to many, a proponent of leaner government and a stronger national defense, Reagan served from 1981 to 1989 amid trying times.

Among them: Reagan’s firing in 1981 of 11,000 striking air traffic controllers; the 1983 explosion at a U.S. barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Marines and sailors; the 1986 space shuttle Columbia disaster; and the Iran-Contra scandal where arms were traded for hostages.

But in Reagan’s Illinois, folks remember the positives: a new spirit of optimism; economic expansion; the invasion of Grenada to oust leftist revolutionaries; and nuclear arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union.

At the Ronald Reagan Birthplace, Tampico residents still serve cake every year on Reagan’s birthday. A few years ago, they erected a statue of Reagan as a boy playing on a cannon in the town park.

In Dixon, they’re fixing up Reagan’s boyhood home again. Numerous rehab projects were undertaken in 2017 to repair deteriorated parts of the house, built in 1891.

Down the street in a restored three-story brick school building, the Northwest Territory Historic Center preserves Reagan’s grade-school classroom and has a display of his movie posters.

Two statues commemorate Reagan: one portrays him wearing a suit outside the boyhood home, and the other, in the city’s downtown riverfront park, shows him, clad in riding clothes, astride a stallion — just as he appeared in a local parade in 1950.

An effort to erect a statue of young Reagan as a lifeguard at Dixon’s Lowell Park has yet to bear fruit. Over seven summers, he rescued 77 struggling swimmers from the Rock River.

Reagan’s tough stance against communism is recalled in Dixon’s downtown, where a replica of the Berlin Wall stands. Less than a year after he left office, the Cold War-era wall fell.

Reagan’s name would be preserved on everything from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, to an airport, government buildings and roads, to Dixon’s own Reagan Middle School.

His post-presidency, which included publishing his memoir, “An American Life,” in 1990 and dedicating his presidential library in Simi Valley, California, in 1991, was dominated by his bout with Alzheimer’s disease. He bore the illness for nearly 10 years until his death in California on June 5, 2004. He was 93.

All that still lay ahead as Reagan stood at the Dixon High School podium on Feb. 6, 1984, and thanked “everyone who made this terrific day possible.”

The president praised the spirit of small-town America that had the nation “back on her feet and moving forward with confidence.”

And he said: “So, you see, the reason I came home today was not to celebrate my birthday, but to celebrate Dixon and America. Honor, integrity and kindness do exist all across our land.”

Honor, integrity and kindness are qualities that inspired a president. He learned to appreciate them in small-town Illinois — Reagan’s Illinois.

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More Southern Illinois counties consider gun sanctuary resolutions

GALATIA — Derrick Fletcher wanted to take matters into his own hands in order to send a message to legislators in Springfield.

Fletcher, 32, of Galatia, found out about a number of laws being floated in the Illinois General Assembly to regulate firearms. At the same time, he watched Iroquois and Effingham counties pass resolutions in opposition. He said he was shocked to hear Saline County was not considering such a resolution and sprang into action.

He said he spoke with officials in Effingham County, figured out how to proceed, and then contacted Saline County Board member Roger Craig, who took it to the full board. Saline County passed its version of a gun sanctuary resolution on Thursday, April 27.

Fletcher said the resolution may not actually enforce any law, but it does send a message to people in Springfield.

“At least my conscience would be clear knowing I have tried,” he said.

The resolution opposes HB1465, HB1467, HB1468, HB1469, and SB1657. The document says the General Assembly desires to restrict the individual rights of U.S. citizens as protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

Similar resolutions have been passed in Jefferson and Perry counties as well.

Fletcher, who spent nine years in the military and enlisted at 17, said the legislation in Springfield would restrict young men and women coming home from the military who need to know how to use a weapon. Particularly, he mentioned HB1465, which provides that on or after the effective date of the bill, it is unlawful for any person within the state to deliver or sell an assault weapon, assault weapon attachment, .50-caliber rifle, or .50-caliber cartridge to any person under 21 years of age.

The bill also says it is unlawful for persons under 21 years of age to possess those weapons 90 days after the bill is passed. As of March 14, the bill has passed the House and Senate, but has not been sent to the governor’s office.

“These lawmakers have forgotten these people have been deployed at least one time before they are 21,” he said. “These laws would have affected me. I know people who they would affect now.”

Southern Illinois legislators Terri Bryant, Dave Severin, Natalie Phelps Finnie, Dale Fowler, and Paul Schimpf have voted in opposition to all of the bills listed in the gun sanctuary resolutions.

Craig told The Southern Illinoisan Friday that Pope, Hardin, White and Hamilton counties have all asked him for a copy of Saline County’s resolution, and he has granted their requests.

In Perry County, board commissioner Bob Kelly said the board passed its version of a resolution this past Thursday. However, it looks a bit different from the standard resolutions being passed around.

Kelly said they took out the opposition about bump stocks in HB1467 and the language about not prosecuting anyone. He said those are state and federal laws and the county has to comply.

“I wanted to do our own thing and show people that we did look at it,” he said. “Ours is not like the other ones.”

Franklin County will also take a look at passing its own resolution, according to Franklin County Board chairman Randall Crocker. He said the board will discuss it Monday at its next meeting.

Crocker said he asked Effingham County for a copy of its resolution, adding that he’s a strong supporter of the Constitution.

“I don’t think the state legislators have the right to change what the Constitution says,” he said.

Jackson County Board chairman John Rendleman and Williamson County Board chairman Jim Marlo both said their counties are not considering gun sanctuary resolutions at this time.

The Southern reached out to Union County officials, but did not hear back by press time.

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Progress is being made on Cairo's port project, but $1 million still stands in the way of substantial development

CAIRO — Despite a cascade of bad news for the city, State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, still sees hope in Cairo, especially his plans for a port to come to the city’s shores.

Fowler has spent the last 16 months of his first term in office on the project, and said he has lost count of the number of trips he has made to the historic community.

He has brought business and political leaders from throughout the region as well as from Washington to town to try to get them to see what he sees — hope not just for Cairo but for “all counties south of Interstate 64.”

His hope to build a river port on the Ohio side of Cairo got new life five months ago, when The Rauner Foundation gave $100,000 to the newly-revitalized Cairo Port Authority to spend on marketing the proposed development to companies and investors.

Fowler said they have done just that, and after a meeting in Cairo on Monday, he said they have gotten 18 letters of support from business who would be interested in using the facility should it go online.

Fowler said there were representatives from Patriot Holdings, of New Orleans, Plaquemines Port, Canadian National Railroad, American National Mines and CDB Barge as well as representatives from the states of Missouri and Kentucky.

Todd Ely, a consultant on the project, said these letters of support are exactly what Gov. Bruce Rauner asked for when he donated the money. Ely  hopes to have 25 total letters by the end of May. He said this was a good start for the proposed port, an idea he said his consulting company came up with about three or four years ago.

However, while Fowler was enthusiastic about the momentum, Ely pumped the brakes a bit.

“We are still in the very early stages,” he said.

“They are non-committal,” Ely said of the support letters. Still, the enthusiasm is there, he said.

“I’ve not had had one company tell me no, they don’t think the port is a good idea.”

Standing in the way of real progress is a $1 million price tag that Fowler and Ely said would cover the necessary permitting and design costs needed to really be able to make hard sells to companies, getting firm commitment that could mean real money flowing to the project.

“The next step is we need a FY19 balanced budget,” Fowler said, emploring his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together to fund the state. He said he is hoping for a line item in this year’s budget to specifically allocate the money.

“The port at that point is real and viable,” Ely said, should the money be released.

At that point, he said he estimated it would take between 18 to 24 months to complete to permitting and design process, with the US Army Corps of Engineers permits taking the longest.

Ely said after this process is finished, contracts can be signed with companies and money can be borrowed against those contracts to actually begin construction. But again, the $1 million has to come first.

During Monday’s meeting, Fowler said there was a lot of projections as to what this port could mean for Cairo and the region. He said with a storage facility planned for the port, there could be as many as 900 to 1,000 trucks per day going through town.

“It will be substantial,” Fowler said.

While this could provide tremendous economic opportunity for the city between the rivers, it also could mean a lot more work and a lot more money pumped in. Cairo's already deteriorating infrastructure would also need substantial investment. Streets in town where trucks already pass through with regularity are in rough shape from years of wear and tear without a lot of maintenance.

With the recent announcement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that those remaining in two of the city’s crumbling public housing developments would have to leave by the end of June, it has brought into question Cairo's future. However, this hasn’t been a burden on selling the port project, Ely and Fowler said.

“It has brought more attention to the community and it has brought more sense of urgency that something has got to be done down there,” Ely said.

Fowler said he has actually been approached by a construction company out of Louisville, Kentucky, “with Southern Illinois ties” that is interested in building duplexes in town. However, he said it was too early to name names.

This is not the first time a plan has been made to save Cairo and boost Southern Illinois along with it; it’s not even the second or third. The city has had its share of rallying cries that have faded as time passed. Despite this track record, though, Fowler said he remains optimistic, but also pragmatic. Right now, he said everyone’s eyes have to stay forward.

“We are right there,” he said. “As long as the momentum continues forward, that’s the whole key.”