Preserving the past, for the future
CMU staff, alumni reflect on institution's 131-year legacy
Central Michigan University celebrated its 131st Anniversary on Sept. 13, 2023. Founded in 1892 on a plot of 10 acres and with only 20 graduates the first year, to a campus spanning more than 800 acres housing over 10,000 students a year, the institution has grown from its beginnings.
The university has seen various historical moments come and go. What does not change, however, is the impact the school has had on its students.
Central Michigan Life sat down with various faculty members and alumni-turned-staff who have dedicated their lives to Central, and discussed where they are now and what CMU means to them.
Carrie Marsh – 1986 alumna
Carrie Marsh is the director of the Clarke Historical Library, located within the Park Library. The library focuses on special collections that “need a different kind of care and stewardship,” she said.
She remembers her time as a student "vividly."
“I don’t remember there being campus residence when I attended," Marsh said. "I actually lived off campus in an apartment, just across (South) Washington Street. I was an English student, so I remember those walks to Anspach (Hall) in the winter (with) the snow coming up to your knees."
One of the biggest changes Marsh has witnessed on campus is the library she now works in professionally.
"It used to be this four-story box, and the path to it went east to west, not north to south like we have now," Marsh said. "I used to work as a student assistant ... checking out books, reshelving books, helping students find certain categories. My physical memory of that space, that sense memory is still there.
“My hope and desire is that CMU continues to thrive, and it doubles down on its values. That continues to look for new opportunities while keeping a clear eye on its history.”
Bryan Whitledge – Public Services Librarian
Bryan Whitledge is the public services librarian for the Clarke Historical Library. His role consists of three steps, according to him: “Finding the good stuff,” or acquiring information; archiving it and protecting it from wear and tear; and “access,” making information available to the public. He has dubbed himself a “specialist of answering questions.”
While Whitledge didn’t graduate from CMU, he has been working at the library for 12 years and has a vast knowledge of the university’s history.
“Did you know there were originally two locations considered for Central Michigan University?" he said. "It was Cadillac and Mount Pleasant. Mount Pleasant already had a college at the time, Cadillac didn’t, but they decided to put it here anyhow. And look at Cadillac now! Sure, they’ve got a beautiful lake, but they’re so different compared to here (Mount Pleasant).
"There’s something about how we do it in Mount Pleasant that’s a little more special. A college or a university does make a place relevant.
“CMU is a pretty remarkable place, it holds a special place in a lot of people’s lives," he continued. "My favorite part is those connections, those genuinely remarkable people who decided to call this place home. So many people have come back and found who they are, the trajectory of their lives have changed.
"There’s a community here," Whitledge said. "Central is a community, but it doesn’t just happen. We build it.”
Bryan Griffin – 1995 alumnus
Bryan Griffin is the director of Annual Giving, a department that holds fundraiser events for students and departments in need on campus, including the food pantry, the student emergency fund, Finish Up Chips, and other areas of support. The campaign has been running for six years, with annual events occurring during CMU’s anniversary and on Giving Tuesday every year. This year, the department raised over $441,000, which is a new record for them.
Griffin is also an alumnus, and he’s happy to see the school growing and the impact Annual Giving has had on the university and students.
“We’ve had overwhelming support this year, and a great approach with our marketing," he said. "We ramped up our digital ads this year, and we’ve tried to make them a lot of fun. Both the ads and digital wallet donations have been able to take us to the next level."
Memories of the past help drive his philanthropic mission.
"Everyone remembers a time they were struggling in college," Griffin said. "It’s cool to be in a position where you get to help students overcome these struggles. I’ve seen a lot of great things, and I’m really proud of the department we’ve built.”
Hillary Williams – 2008 alumna
Hillary Williams is the associate director of Annual Giving on campus. She graduated in 2008, but only left Central for a short time before returning.
Williams has been working at CMU since 2016, albeit in a different department than the one she’s in now.
“I used to work for Student Services in the OneCentral office, I was an advisor there," Williams said. "I helped a lot of students get this money through the student emergency fund or other programs. To work with Bryan on this side of it and on this higher level, it’s been extremely rewarding.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia around campus. It’s always felt like home to me. As soon as you step on campus, you just feel it. I’ve gotten to see it for 20 years, and it’s been a wonderful time.”
Central Michigan Life staff writer Minna Plattenberger contributed to this report.