Melinda Burke
Blog Category:
Around Campus

There are thousands of heart-warming alumni stories about Old Main, many of these the Alumni Association collected throughout the restoration of our most beloved-building and the front porch for the campus. Throughout its history Old Main housed classrooms, laboratories, offices, a mess hall, sleeping quarters, a weather bureau and photographic darkroom. From love stories and engagement photos to accounts of Old Main’s use as ROTC headquarters in the 1950s or the sight for the crowning of Homecoming’s king and queen, Old Main remains a central part of the UA experience for many alumni.

Our first commencement was set in Old Main. On May 29, 1895 at 10:30 am in a very crowded Silver and Sage room. With the class motto on the wall “In Struggle, Reward”, graduates Charles Rouse, Mercedes Shibell and Mary Flint Walker were commencement speakers. The President’s Reception that evening included a military band, and tours of Old Main highlighting the newly installed electric lights.


Mr. Rouse went on to become our first Alumni Association president from 1900 – 1905

We heard from so many of our alumni during the restoration of Old Main, for example -

Alumni Janna-Neen Cunningham shared the story of her Grandfather, Samuel Mansfeld, who was notorious for riding his bicycle around the walkway on the second floor disrupting classes and annoying everyone!! Four generations of the family have had the joy of attending and graduating from The University of Arizona and imagining their Grandfather riding his bicycle around Old Main. 

Malcolm Terence ’63, a Wildcat editor-in-chief, remembers WWII vets at Old Main telling UA students “great war stories,” about real war. Cadets wore uniforms to ROTC class two days a week. Terence recalls, “It was not comfortable on hot Tucson days, so sleeves would get rolled and shirts untucked. That was such a violation of regs that sometimes one of the 3rd or 4th-year students would try to bust us for this sacrilege.”

Victoria Ashford  ’86
“Ah, Old Main, what fond memories she keeps for me.  I remember the solid sounds of footsteps as I and other future military leaders walked along her wood-planked floors,  scurrying to attend  ROTC classes, or participating in Angel Flight, Arnold Air Society and Scabbard & Blade meetings.”

Heather Houpt remembers Homecoming weekend 2008, when she ventured back to our Alma Mater with Marc Violett to spend the weekend with friends and take in the festivities. On Friday afternoon she received a text message to meet him at Old Main. As she approached the fountain, he got down on one knee and asked her to be his wife. Now, 4 years later they are expecting their first child; their very own future Wildcat. 

Alumna and author Nancy Turner:
Old Main and its history features prominently in her novels set in Arizona. The architecture immediately takes you back in time to the early days of Arizona, and the stories are set in 1881 to 1911. 

“When college life got me down after exhausting nights of study and projects that seemed to never end, hot dusty days with much to do, there were many afternoons I walked to Old Main and sat in one of the waiting areas, not really waiting, but content to be there and listen. I closed my eyes and listened to the generations of voices that had trod those halls, listened to the very first students' whispered secrets, young men rumbling through on their way to the football field, academic and romantic questions asked and answered, and the energy of youth that seems caught in the old place. After a while I had a class or a bus to catch, and I had to leave, but it was always with a renewed sense of this place as valuable, as pure Arizona, and as mine.

Yes, for alumni, this is OUR home. We love Old Main, we thank you President Hart for taking such good care of her. I know future generations of Wildcats will sit on the steps, create their own memories and Old Main will live on as the front porch of the University of Arizona. Thank you.