This is the 150th anniversary of the founding of Southern Illinois University.
It’s been a long, storied history. The institution has had a profound effect on the region. In fact, SIU affects each and every one of us profoundly on a daily basis. The effects may be subtle, but they are there none the less.
Obviously, without the university anchoring the southern end of town, Carbondale would be a much different place. It’s difficult to imagine driving north on U.S. Route 51 and not seeing the spaceship-like dome of the SIU Arena snuggling into the side of that hill.
The Carbondale “skyline” wouldn’t be complete without the Pulliam clock tower. And, the city’s architecture wouldn’t be the same without the bland, boxy, boring Faner Hall.
As for Carbondale itself? There is no reason to believe it would be the largest community in Southern Illinois. Perhaps it would have grown as a railroad town, but without Southern Illinois University, the town would lack the diversity of restaurants and entertainment opportunities it offers.
Second, consider the residents of the region.
How many people reading this editorial would live in Southern Illinois if not for SIU?
Would your job exist? Given the current state of the industry, it’s a strong possibility this newspaper wouldn’t be alive without the historical influence of SIU.
Look across the room at your spouse or significant other. There’s a strong possibility that without the presence of SIU, the two of you might not have met. It’s impossible to project the different trajectories most of our lives would have taken if not for SIU.
Granted, the university is currently experiencing tough financial times, but it remains the largest employer in the region. It is the foundation upon which the region leans heavily. It’s our reality, if not something we think about on a daily basis.
Third, the presence of the university has vastly changed how each of us views popular culture.
You may not be a sports fan, but there is a good chance you are familiar with names like Jim Hart, Walt Frazier, Steve Finley, Dave Stieb, Connie Price-Smith, Gwen Berry and Deanna Price. Even casual sports fans are familiar with most of these names because of their ties to SIU.
If SIU didn’t exist, these names would likely be unrecognizable to most of us.
Other names important to Southern Illinoisans because they were Salukis include Dick Gregory, Jim Belushi and Richard Roundtree. How many of us have watched television or movies with friends, and proudly pointed out that so-and-so is a Saluki.
And, Buckminister Fuller? As remarkable as Bucky’s (we will use the familiar for a former Saluki) career was, who of us would be familiar with the name without the SIU connection?
Think of the concerts the university has hosted over the years. Think of the political figures that have visited Southern Illinois because of the university. Think of the visiting scholars and lecturers that have enriched our lives.
The effects of SIU’s presence are profound, and most of the preceding examples touch on the most superficial.
How many teachers received degrees at SIU, then went into the community and changed the lives of troubled youths, or focused a student on a field of study who ultimately led to advances in science or medicine?
How many researchers made discoveries that other scientists built upon to make our lives safer or more comfortable?
There is no way any of us can put a price tag or a value on what Southern Illinois University has meant to the region. On the 150th anniversary of the school’s founding, it is important to reflect upon and celebrate the existence of this remarkable institution.
Happy anniversary, SIU, and for all of our sakes, here’s wishing for many more.