Returning to the present, that proposed building is now the heart of community life on campus, with a vibrant atmosphere that is inviting to all that enter its doors. This year URI’s student newspaper, The Good 5 Cent Cigar, will proclaim, “Memorial Union celebrates 60th anniversary.”
Back in 1943, the student-gathering place was located in what is now the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house on campus, but when soldiers returned from World War II and enrolled at URI, the student union was moved to Quonset huts nearby. Those veterans and other URI community members raised money in memory of those who lost their lives in the war, and in 1954 the Memorial Union was constructed.
Although there have been multiple renovations to the Memorial Union over the years, the original lounge remains, complete with two memorial plaques — one honors World War I and II soldiers who died in battle, while another is dedicated to URI community members who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The Union, always bustling with students, “is constantly changing to adapt to current times,” said Bruce Hamilton, director of the Memorial Union. When it first opened, the building had a bowling alley and then later a pub. Now there are charging stations for students to charge phones and other electronics and a computer store, neither of which would have been imagined when the Union was first built.
An intricate piece of the Memorial Union that still remains intact is the Class of 1950s mural spanning two walls on the first floor of the Union. Art Sherman, a member of the class of 1950 who painted the mural, depicted his fellow classmates in a variety of settings. Renovations required minor repairs, and Sherman, now in his 90s, has come back several times to make repairs.
The Memorial Union will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a day of 1950s-themed free events on Nov. 5. “We want to show that the Memorial Union is 60 and still cooking,” Hamilton said.
The Nov. 5 events are:
• 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Barbecue – Free burgers and root beer floats.
• 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. – The Union Board will take pictures of students and turn them into a replica magazine cover.
• 1–2:30 p.m. – Music Professor Joe Parillo will play 1950s and 1960s jazz inside the Union’s Main Lounge.
• 7–9 p.m. ¬– Movie night and 10-cent coffees in the 193 Degrees Coffee House.
• 8–11 p.m. – Casino night in the Ram’s Den.
• 9:30 p.m. – Food and coffee will be provided for a late night breakfast in the Rams Den.
• Prizes will be distributed throughout the day.
The Memorial Union’s Twitter account will also be posting updates and pictures daily of flashback photos of the Memorial Union. Follow them at @URI_MU for Twitter and use the hashtag #urimu60.
“The Memorial Union is the center and heart of campus because we are the only facility on campus that’s just for the students. The things we have here are because the students want them. I use two terms when I talk about it being ‘the heart of campus’ — geographically it is the center of the campus, emotionally it is the heart of the campus,” Hamiltion said.
The Union also houses the Rhode Island Credit Union, Ronzio’s Pizza, Ram’s Den, Dunkin’ Donuts, the bookstore, box office, Campus Copy and Design, Ram Computers, The Cigar, Union Express Mail, University Optical, Total Image Hair Salon, the Student Senate and numerous offices for student organizations.
This release was written by Rachel Smith, a graduate assistant for the URI Marketing and Communications Department.
FILLED TO CAPACITY: Students hang out at the Student Union when it was housed in a Quonset hut. Photos from the 1955 yearbook, Grist
A NEW UNION: A shot of the new Memorial Union from the 1955 yearbook.
A HOT SPOT FROM THE BEGINNING: The Memorial Union has been the place to be for students since it opened in 1954.
A UNION CAMPAIGN: Students hold up a sign as they stand before an artist’s rendering of the new Memorial Union.