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Time capsule from demolished Tamarack Hall provides IU Northwest, community with artifacts to remember campus’s first building

Dignitaries, faculty, staff, and community members recount memories at nostalgic ceremony


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Emily Banas
Office of Marketing and Communications

Erika Rose
Office of Marketing and Communications

The demolition of Indiana University Northwest’s Tamarack Hall may have left the Gary campus with a temporary vacancy in its physical appearance, but its legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of those whose academic lives were interwoven with the university’s first building, known simply as Gary Main when it was built in 1958.

Scores of IU Northwest dignitaries and friends filled the Moraine Student Center on Thursday to commemorate the memory of Tamarack Hall, which was damaged by floodwater in 2008. The stories recounted by the special guests in attendance set the tone for the event’s highlight -- the opening of the building’s time capsule.

White-gloved and hoisting a hefty amount of anticipation as they stepped up to the cornerstone, IU Northwest Chancellor William J. Lowe and former Gary Center Director and IU Northwest Dean and Acting Chancellor John C. Buhner, Ph.D. approached the sturdy, weathered box that had been safely tucked away within the bricks and mortar for more than half a century.


Prior to the opening, Buhner drew laughs as he revealed that he actually didn’t remember the contents of the box, even though he was present on the September day it was filled 54 years ago.

His memory quickly returned, however, as Buhner viewed the items brought forth by Lowe. Astonished by how well the items had been preserved, Buhner recalled the significance of the artifacts taken from the capsule as they were handed over to Stephen McShane, archivist and curator of the Calumet Region Archives. McShane gingerly placed each document inside a glass shadowbox.

The time capsule contained a scroll bearing the signatures of friends and alumni of the university president, a 54-page Gary Center class schedule, newspaper clippings about the building project, the city ordinance authorizing the transfer of the land from the parks department to Indiana University, and minutes of the IU Board of Trustees meeting that made the building possible.

While those who had read the 1958 Post-Tribune article about the cornerstone laying ceremony were privy to what the box contained, IU Northwest officials promised that they had not so much as peeked inside the box before Thursday’s opening.

The box did contain a surprise personal memento - an index card commemorating the third birthday of the son of Ruth Nelson, who, some attendees confirmed, had been “associated with Gary College and IU for 25 years.” Buhner said Ruth was “one of the most stable influences this institution ever had.”

McShane said he intends to display the contents of the time capsule prominently in the John W. Anderson Library Conference Center and speculated that the exhibit would eventually become part of the green space currently being conceptualized for the 22,000 square-foot area. Additional lighting and sidewalks are among the improvements that will take place this summer.

A vision for that green space was presented by students in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Kelly Clemens and Melissa Grish. The students proposed a pavilion, native plants that thrive in the area, and a dry stream to aid water drainage.

Memory lane and the significance of the ‘great theater’

Fifty-four years ago, officials envisioned a building that could one day become a four-year college. At the setting of the cornerstone in 1958, then-Mayor George Chacharis outlined the vision for the building going up that fall.

“There are plans in the making to expand the center someday into a four-year college,” he was quoted as saying in the Gary Post-Tribune (1958) the day after the laying of the cornerstone.

The regional campus’s first building was best known for its spacious and ornate Tamarack Hall Theatre, which served as a regional center for art, theater, music, and educational seminars and discussions.

Buhner noted in particular “the great theater,” which he said played a very significant role in the development of regional campuses at that time.

“At the time that we built this campus, putting an auditorium in a regional campus was simply unheard of. In fact it was considered heresy by some: ‘Why do you want to put that kind of thing out in the boonies?’” Buhner said, quoting the naysayers of the time.

Buhner explained that Herman B Wells, who served as IU’s President for nearly 25 years, knew the project might prove difficult, but he said “in the long run, it’s going to say something significant and it did. . . . I have to tell you that Tamarack Hall was really a major innovation, particularly the auditorium.”

Setting the tone for the main event, faculty and staff members offered historical perspectives, including IU Southeast Chancellor Emeritus and former IU Northwest Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences F.C. Richardson; IU Northwest Professor Emeritus of Philosophy John Gruenenfelder, Ph.D.; Professor Emerita of Spanish Angeline Prado Komenich, Ph.D.; and Ruriko “May” Walker, who worked in IU Northwest’s Division of Continuing Studies from 1967 until 2002. Retired Professor of Education Kenneth Schoon, Ph.D., remembered his days as a student at IU Northwest in the early 1960s.

In 2011, Indiana University proposed to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education a revised plan for the replacement of Tamarack Hall. This plan calls for the construction, in collaboration with Ivy Tech Community College – Northwest's Gary campus, of a 106,065 assignable square–foot partnership building, to be located on the east side of Broadway at 35th Avenue. The ICHE has not yet voted on the proposal.

“I cried when they began to tear down that building. But it’s not gone,” Associate Professor of Continuing Studies Garrett Cope said, tapping his heart, during a video interview that was exhibited at the conclusion of Thursday’s event. “It’s right here.”


Additional Article Photos

IU Northwest file photo
IU Northwest students Melissa Grish and Kelly Clemens presented their vision for a green space to replace Tamarack.