DeKalb residents Dick (Mathematics, 1967) and Elli McLaughlin (Music, 1969) were among the nearly 150 people who came to campus for Saturday’s Gilbert Hall Open House as part of Huskie Pride Weekend. Dick, who lived in Gilbert, and his spouse, who lived in Neptune, met at Northern Illinois University and are the first of three generations to attend NIU.
Memories came rushing back to the two following the tour of the newly-renovated residence hall.
“In our room, we had four guys in one room with two bunk beds, and there was another one two doors down like that, and two guys from each room shared a study room in between,” Dick recalled about his Gilbert Hall living arrangements in the late 1960s.
Elli added that back then at Neptune, which was the sister residence to Gilbert, “Women had a 10:30 p.m. curfew, and you had something like 10 minutes a semester that you could be late. If you went past those, you were ‘campused,’ and you couldn’t go anywhere.”
Dick remarked, “Times have changed.”
And so has Gilbert Hall.
Named for Newell D. Gilbert, the residence hall opened in October 1951 at a cost of $1 million. Initially housing 374 men under “conditions of economical yet comfortable and wholesome living,” it transitioned into an all-female residence hall in 1969 before becoming a co-educational residential facility in the 1970s.
When the renovation of two academic buildings in close proximity to Gilbert resulted in the need for office space in 1995, Gilbert was decommissioned as a residential facility. At the time of its closing, Gilbert housed approximately 297 students on three floors with 184 double rooms and a dining facility with a full kitchen and seating for approximately 160 students. Each residential floor had one laundry facility and two bathroom/shower rooms per floor.
The Gilbert Hall renovation project restored approximately 75,000 gross square feet of space and resulted in a variety of residential and programmatic spaces for upperclassmen on the east campus. Gilbert Hall allows students to live in close proximity to classroom buildings and academic buildings that house music, visual arts, physical education, engineering and business in addition to being close to downtown DeKalb.
“The open house allowed us to showcase our newly renovated housing facility to our campus community and re-introduce it to those who have great memories of calling it home,” said Kelly Wesener Michael, associate vice president for Student Affairs.
“We saw it listed in the paper this morning, and we both said, ‘I want to go see it, see how it’s changed.’ They spent about a year rehabbing it, and I can see why it took so long. It’s so nicely done,” Dick said.
The Gilbert Hall restoration meets the expectations of today’s college students related to privacy, particularly in the bathroom and shower areas; easy access to technology and internet both in personal and public spaces; comfortable, contemporary décor; movable and versatile furnishings; and social gathering spaces that include a grab-and-go dining facility designed in the “cyber café” style.
“So much has changed; it’s so modernized” said Dick, who worked in the Gilbert Hall food service line as a student. “I’m extremely impressed. It’s just fantastic, all of the things students have, all the opportunities. We didn’t have an exercise area; we didn’t have very much back then.”
“Our grandson is a junior here, and he lives at home in town, but I almost wish he could live here,” Elli added.
Perhaps the fourth generation of McLaughlins will have a chance.