Debating socieities in Cambridge, England, who wanted their own club for discussions, dining, meeting and lounging started the union concept as far back as 1815. The idea was introduced in the United States at Harvard University in 1901 and rapidly gained popularity with the upsurge in enrollment after World War I.
Four students of the North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU) grasped the value of unions while visiting regional colleges in the mid-1940's, and envisioned a student union at NDAC. Enthusiasm quickly spread among students, faculty, staff and alumni. The building drive motto, "Now or Never," illustrated the urgency they felt for such a building.
The 1947 student body supported a $5 student activity fee for the construction of the student union. After many years of planning, fund raising, time and effort, and with additional help from downtown merchants and alumni, the union became a reality. The building was dedicated to the men and women from the college who lost their lives in war.
The Memorial Union opened during Homecoming Week in October 1953. A statement of purpose issued in 1954 proclaimed, "It's not just a building, it is also an organization and a program." The Memorial Union has continually been remodeled to keep up with the growth of the student body, and services change to meet students'needs. Operational funding is provided in part by student activity fees. Policy is developed by students, faculty and alumni on the Memorial Union Advisory Board.
Beginning in 2005, the Memorial Union underwent a large construction project. The building was re-dedicated on Tuesday, October 2, 2007. The structure has undergone a $22 million remodeling project, including the renovation of 124,000 square feet of the previously existing building and an addition of more than 63,000 square feet. Primarily student fees, approved in a student election in 2003, funded the project.
"This impressive structure will undoubtedly be a hub of student activity at NDSU. Funded by NDSU's students, the new Memorial Union is another outstanding example of why NDSU is a university of choice for students," said President Chapman.
"The new Memorial Union, designed with extensive student input, will truly epitomize the concept of a Union program on a university campus," Janna Stoskopf stated.
Highlights of the construction project, which began in the summer of 2005, include a new, more spacious art gallery; the addition of the "Bison Connection", a one-stop service center; a new 10,000-square foot multi-purpose ballroom; additional lounge and dining space; new meeting rooms; increase space for student organizations; and a new Food Court with a performance area.
"The Memorial Union's goal is to be the number one student union in the country. This renovation and addition marks a giant step in that direction," said Steve Winfrey, Director of the Memorial Union, noting that students, staff and faculty had input on the project from its inception.
"The Union all started with students coming together to create a place to hang out and it's turned into so much more. The mere fact that it's here today is a testament to what students can accomplish," Student Body President Josh Reimnitz said.
A statement of purpose was issued in 1954, proclaiming, "It's not just a building, it is also an organization and a program." Today, the Memorial Union's web site proudly displays this mission statement, "We Advance Student Success."