Lawrence history through the Archives:

Julia Stringfellow

When Memorial Union opened in 1951, it looked similar to how it does today, but with a few differences. There was no Viking Room in the basement, and alcohol was not served anywhere in the union and was not allowed on campus.
Ping-pong tables were in the basement, and the basement was also where theatrical productions were held, since the Music-Drama Center was not built until 1959.
The grill basically looked the same in the 1950s as it does today. There was a guy behind the counter known as the “soda jerk,” who was responsible for preparing sodas and sundaes. He was called Clarence, and while no one knew his real name, he knew the names of all the students and faculty.
Memorial Union in the 1950s and 1960s was the center of social activity at Lawrence. Students stopped in at the grill between classes for a soda, and games such as bridge and poker were played frequently. All student organizations also met in the union. Students also went to the union to connect with the outside world, given that one of the few television sets on campus was located in the basement. The prom and formal dances were held in Riverview Lounge.
As with the grill, sledding down Union Hill has been popular since there was a union. Union Hill went straight down to the river in the 1950s; there was no garden like today. Alumni from the 1950s tell stories of sledding down the hill and going out to the middle of the Fox River and then swimming back to shore in icy cold water.
Many campus visitors, including convocation speakers, visited the union during their time at Lawrence, and they often had a hamburger and soda at the grill. One of the most famous visitors to the union was John F. Kennedy, who visited while running for president in March, 1960.
His talk to 300 members of the Lawrence community took place in Riverview Lounge, and he spoke of the important Wisconsin presidential primary taking place April 5. Kennedy answered questions from the audience following his talk. The March 18, 1960, Lawrentian tells of the students and staff who followed Kennedy and his group as he made other stops in northern Wisconsin.
Of all the stories alumni from the 1950s and 1960s have told about the union, one of the best involves the Betas. At the beginning of the school year in the late 1950s, members of the Beta fraternity put up posters in Ormsby, the freshman girls’ dormitory at the time, announcing that cheerleading tryouts would be held in the basement of the union on a particular day.
Upon seeing the posters, many of the girls were excited to try out to be a Lawrence cheerleader. The day of the fake cheerleading tryouts arrived, and a few of the Betas were on hand to judge the tryouts with clipboards. A number of freshman girls arrived, since many had been cheerleaders in high school, and as they were jumping and cheering, the Betas were judging and taking notes. Of course, when the girls found out it was all a hoax, they were furious.
For over 50 years, Memorial Union has served as the living room for the Lawrence community. Riverview Lounge has been the location of many student events and where LUCC has met for many years. The grill has been the place where many faculty, staff and students enjoy lunch. These activities will continue to thrive at the Warch Campus Center when it opens in the fall.