Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.
Northern’s University Center, now called Holmes Student Center, was completed in 1962 to meet the growing demands of a huge influx of post-World War II students. The idea for a student center was born in 1940, when Jim Lundberg opened Jimmie’s Tea Room, a popular meeting spot near campus. The university later bought Jimmie’s, renamed it The College Tea Room, and enlarged it into a student union, hosting dances and other activities.
The current University Center opened in 1962, after then-president Leslie Holmes lobbied for a new “center for community life of the college.” A dedication ceremony in the new Carl Sandburg Auditorium featured speakers like Chicago legend Studs Terkel and Sandburg’s granddaughter. The local paper reported on the “swank Pheasant Room,” “plush faculty lounge,” and president’s “penthouse suite.” So popular was the facility that its size was doubled within a few years, and a 15-story tower was added, creating DeKalb County’s most noticeable landmark. Eventually, a university-owned bookstore was added.
In 1974, the student center was named for Holmes, the president whose persistence made it a reality. In 2018, a long-awaited renovation added thousands of square feet, including two new restaurants, a Starbucks coffee shop, a new bookstore, offices for key student organizations, and a patio area outside of the newly created ground level. As Holmes Student Center approaches its 60th birthday, it has been given new life as a modern hearthstone for a new generation of students.