The Oregon State University Memorial Union has been a landmark of the main campus in Corvallis for over 80 years. The story of the student, faculty, staff and alumni effort, from the origin of the idea to the reality of its final construction, is an epic worthy of telling. The story of the OSU Memorial Union is, in part, a story of World War I. The sacrifice and deep emotional connection that resulted from having lost over nine million lives world-wide, followed by the sense of elation that this generation had fought “the war to end all war” was the catalyst for the living memorial, the Memorial Union. It is a classic example of a supreme fundraising effort that took more than a decade to realize, but whose outcome was never in doubt.
The original idea for a “college community center” came from two students, Warren Daigh and Tony Schille, who were a part of a student organization called the “Gauntlet and Visor.” Both of the men were ex-service men, who helped promote the larger interests of the campus and student body. After an endorsement from the student body at a special convocation held in the fall of 1920, a committee was formed to determine the ways and means by which such a building could be built on this campus. Fundraising continued for the remainder of the decade. Because of the economic conditions of that period, many families who made pledges to the construction of the Memorial Union were forced to send only a small portion of their annual pledge. These families were no less committed to the project and often continued to pay on their pledge until the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Construction began in late summer of 1927 with the first of twelve steel columns poking into the air. The Memorial Union opened its doors on schedule, early in October of 1928 and thousands of students, staff, faculty and alumni toured the massive structure and rejoiced in the culmination of their long-held dreams.
Today, the Memorial Union continues to be a center of campus life and activity. It is a leader among college unions internationally and is respected among peer institutions for its student leadership model, the preservation of its historically significant interior, the dedication of its staff and the creativity of its programs.