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Black and white photo of Memorial Stadium.

In 1924, its first year, Memorial Stadium was the place to be on fall Saturdays. The stadium was built with donations from students, staff, and alumni.

Kicking off another stadium drive

by Chris Coughlan-Smith

From M, winter 2004

In May 1921, alumni association president Charles F. Keyes (B.A. 1896) laid out the situation at an alumni dinner: student morale was low and unrest high, according to an alumni committee, in part because of the lack of athletics facilities and large indoor gathering spaces. Every school in the Big Ten had or was building a grand football stadium. The solution was obvious: University of Minnesota alumni needed to contribute enough money--more than $1 million--to build both a stadium and an auditorium. The idea was a hit. A fund drive, the first in U history, succeeded not only in raising money, but also in infusing the campus and alumni with new spirit. A campus-based fund drive in the fall of 1922 kicked off with a rally that "all but tore the roof off the old Armory," wrote Minnesota Alumni Weekly editor Vincent Johnson. The campus drive lasted just one month and raised $665,000 from students and faculty. With an artillery cannon that fired a blank shell after every $25,000 in pledges, the campus shook almost daily with cries of "Boom, boom, stadioom!" The alumni campaign kicked off in April 1923, reaching into every county of Minnesota and all 48 states. By July, an additional $1 million was raised, with 7,025 pledges coming in from as far away as Japan. An alumni group ran the drive and paid for it, so every cent raised went to the building fund. Stadium groundbreaking occurred in March 1924. With as many as 475 workers on the site 60 hours a week, one million bricks were assembled into a horseshoe-shaped stadium and 45 miles of redwood boards laid into bench seats--all in seven months. Opened in early October 1924, Memorial Stadium, a testament to those who served in the Great War, was dedicated at a football game on November 17. During halftime, Thomas F. Wallace (B.A. 1893, J.D. 1895) spoke on behalf of the thousands of donors. He presented the stadium to the University as a "token of their love of alma mater and as a memorial to all the men and women who in times past, in our country's hour of need, unselfishly answered her call." Over the years, Memorial Stadium housed six national championship teams and legendary All-Americans like Bronko Nagurski, Bruce Smith (B.A. '42), Paul Giel (B.A. '54), and Sandy Stephens. Growing maintenance costs, however, helped persuade the Board of Regents to move Gopher football to the newly built Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 1982. (Memorial Stadium was demolished in 1992.) Ever since, alumni have been waiting for football to come back to campus. Once again, the University of Minnesota Alumni Association is helping kick off a stadium drive by pledging $1 million for stadium construction. To support academic excellence, it is also pledging $500,000 in scholarship funds.

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