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Highlights from Willamette's History

As the First University in the West, Willamette has a rich and complex history. Please read our Land Acknowledgement in recognition of this land and its Indigenous people, then explore the timeline of our university's history spanning from the present all the way back to 1834.

Willamette Timeline: 1950 - 1999


President M. Lee Pelton was inaugurated Feb. 19, capping a week of academic and celebratory events. He became Willamette’s 22nd president in July 1998.

The Mary Stuart Rogers Music Center was dedicated in March with a week of concerts. The center features the 450-seat Jerry E. Hudson Concert Hall, the James W. Rogers Rehearsal Hall and the Roger W. Rogers Gallery.

For the first time in school history, national track and field championships were won by a Willamette woman (Beth Fitzgerald, 800 meters) and man (Jimmy Watts, decathlon), both class of ’99.


History professor William Duvall was named Carnegie Foundation Oregon Professor of the Year, the sixth time in nine years a Willamette professor received the award.

Willamette joined the NCAA Division III athletic conference.


Jerry E. Hudson became president emeritus, retiring in July after 17 years as Willamette University president. Bryan Johnston served as interim president for the 1997 98 academic year.

The 1997 Bearcat football team advanced to the NAIA national championship contest, losing 14-7 to Findlay (Ohio).

Elizabeth Heaston ’99 made history when she became the first female to play in a collegiate football game. She made two extra points in a 27-0 win over Linfield College.

In December, the first lighting of the star trees, planted in 1942 as part of Willamette’s centennial, became a new campus tradition, one that symbolizes the partnership of the University with the community of Salem.


Students worked side-by-side with staff to minimize the damage when flood waters rose in February. Classes were canceled for two days.

The Atkinson School was accepted for a Beta Gamma Sigma honor society chapter. Membership is the highest academic recognition students of business management can achieve.

The $7.1 million F. W. Olin Science Center was dedicated Sept. 5.


Students moved into the completed University Apartments in the fall.

On Founders’ Day, the successful completion of the Sesquicentennial Campaign for Future Generations was announced, raising $62 million. When the campaign began in 1989, the goal was $50 million.

A School of Education was established in the College of Liberal Arts.

College of Law dedications included the re-dedication of the library, in honor of J.W. Long, and the dedication of the John C. Paulus Great Hall.

The Atkinson Graduate School of Management earned accreditation from both the American Association of Schools of Business and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. Its integrated Master of Management is the first and only program with this dual accreditation.


The Japanese Garden was renamed for the late Germaine Fuller. Fuller had been an art history professor at Willamette since 1986.

Willamette’s athletic program won the Northwest Conference All-Sports award for the 1993-94 school year. It marked the first time the Bearcats had won the trophy since it was started in 1985-86.


Willamette’s men’s basketball team won the NAIA Division 2 National Championship. Coach Gordie James was named the NAIA Division 2 Coach of the Year.

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed with over 4,500 people coming to see the exhibit which featured over 500 panels.

McCulloch Stadium was re-dedicated after renovation made possible by a gift from Bill Long ’59. At the ceremony, the new field was dedicated as Ted Ogdahl Field, honoring the former Willamette coach.


The Sesquicentennial Founders’ Day Weekend was packed with special events including: - A commemorative U.S. postal card was issued as part of the Historic Preservation Series. Over 10 million cards featuring Waller Hall were printed and distributed across the United States. - The refurbished Victory Bell was rung 150 times to commemorate the anniversary. - Town and Gown, a bronze sculpture by Mark Sponenburgh, was dedicated.

The academic year ended in May with two dedications — the Gliding Dragon Tree and the Sesquicentennial Rose Garden. A time capsule was later buried in the Rose Garden by the Senior Class to be retrieved during the class’s 50th reunion.

On September 10, The Truman Wesley Collins Legal Center was re-dedicated. United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner was the keynote speaker.

Goudy Commons was dedicated on October 16. It is named in honor of Elmer and Grace Goudy, benefactors and trustees of the University.


For the fourth consecutive year, Willamette enrolled more National Merit Scholars in its entering undergraduate class than any other private school in the Northwest.


Tokyo International University of America was completed.

Waller Hall was renovated; the “old historic temple” was re-dedicated in a ceremony held in the new Cone Chapel, named in honor of Edwin and June Cone.

An Undergraduate Research Grant program was initiated. The program was endowed and named in honor of former CLA Dean Julie Ann Carson in 1994.


The William B. Smullin Hall was dedicated.

A Master of Arts in Teaching pilot program began with three students.


Coach Charles Bowles’ men’s track team won its seventh straight — and ninth out of ten — Northwest Conference championship.

The Martha Springer Botanical Garden was dedicated.

A new sister university agreement was signed with Simferopol State University in the then-U. S. S. R. (now Ukraine). The resulting exchange program began in 1989.


The Bistro opened on campus.


Sister-university relationships were entered into with Xiamen University in Fujian Province of the People’s Republic of China and with Kookmin University in Seoul, Korea.


Willamette was selected by a U.S. News & World Report poll of college and university presidents as the best small comprehensive university in the West.

The Center for Dispute Resolution was founded as a part of the College of Law.


An $18 million fund-raising campaign was launched. Part of the proceeds from that campaign were used to renovate key academic buildings, beautify the campus, and construct the Mark O. Hatfield Library (which was completed in 1986).


A $12.5 million fund-raising campaign, called the Fund for Educational Excellence, culminated in the addition of the George H. Atkinson Graduate School of Administration [changed to Management in 1980], housed in the new Seeley G. Mudd Building.


The Lestle J. Sparks Athletic Center was completed, containing the Edwin E. and June Woldt Cone Field House and Chester Henkle Gymnasium.


The George Putnam University Center was dedicated.


The football team, coached by Ted Ogdahl and led by All-America Calvin Lee, was ranked third in the nation by NAIA after an undefeated regular season.


The Truman Wesley Collins Legal Center was added to the campus, as was William S. Walton Hall.


Willamette entered into a sister-college relationship with the International College of Commerce and Economics (now known as Tokyo International University).


Trustees voted to establish a sabbatical leave program for faculty.


A Willamette chapter of national fraternity Kappa Sigma was established.

The new James T. Matthews and Lewis F. Belknap Residence Halls for men opened.


A Willamette chapter of national fraternity Delta Tau Delta was established.

The new Lucy Anna Lee and Emily J. York Residence Halls for women opened.


The College of Law’s Moot Court team won the national championship.


The United States Steel Corporation, in cooperation with the American Alumni Council, selected Willamette as national award winner for the best record of improvement in alumni support among coeducational colleges.


Mortar Board, then a senior women’s honorary, installed a chapter at Willamette.


Thanks to the establishment of the Atkinson Fund by Mr. and Mrs. George H. Atkinson, the Atkinson Lecture Series was begun and a university chaplain was appointed.


The Charles P. and Fannie Kay Bishop Memorial Health Center was constructed, and the G. Herbert Smith Auditorium was added to the campus.

Willamette installed a chapter of the national senior men’s honorary, Omicron Delta Kappa.

The new Doney Residence Hall for women opened.

For the fourth time in five years, the Willamette forensic squad was selected to participate in the National Invitation Debate Tournament.


McCulloch Stadium was built.

The Mutual Broadcasting System featured the Willamette A Capella Choir on a coast-to-coast broadcast.

The “Semester in Washington” program began in the College of Liberal Arts.