The weather vane on top of Truman State’s Kirk Memorial may be fixed to point permanently to the northeast, but Truman State University has taken large steps away from its origins as the teacher’s college in northeast Missouri. Since it was founded by educational pioneer Joseph Baldwin as the First Missouri Normal School and Commercial College in 1867, the school has gone through six different names, as its reputation grew and mission changed from a focus on teaching to a focus on a liberal arts and science education. A fire in 1924 destroyed two original campus landmarks, Old Baldwin Hall and the school’s library, and managed to claim a third victim—the pond in the center of the campus quad. The pond was drained to combat the fire and eventually filled in, on top of which the new Quad was constructed.
In 1996, Northeast Missouri State University (as it was then called) decided it was time for another change: Looking to build a more national than regional image, the school was re-named Truman State University, beating out several other Missouri schools clamoring to bear the name of the only U.S. president from the Show-Me State, Harry S. Truman.
The Truman State essentials are all conveniently located at the heart of campus, including the Student Union Center, Kirk Memorial, Pickler Memorial Library (known as “Club Pickler” to students putting in their Saturday-night dues), and a cluster of academic halls (McClain, Baldwin, Violette, and Magruder). The grassy quad spanning between these buildings is actually a landfill, replacing a pond that had been pumped dry during the school’s 1924 fire. Around the academic and administrative core, residential halls, suite-style dorm buildings, and apartment-style student housing line both the eastern and western perimeters of campus. Science and sports facilities spread out on the spacious southern edge of Truman. Buildings are a mixed bag of architectural styles, reflective of the different phases of Truman State’s evolution and growth. Most buildings retain a practical Midwestern feel, with cozy red brick and thick walls to guard against winter winds on the Plains.
While it may seem straightforward on first glance, Truman’s campus is actually full of hidden gems, with lore passed down between generations of students. Legend has it chewing gum was forbidden among early classes, so students took to sticking it first in an empty suit of armor near the Pickler Library doors, then a redbud tree on the east side of the Quad. The original tree was destroyed by vandals, but students now stick their gum (and their names, and an assortment of other sticky substances) to a new tree nearby. Also in the quad, the sunken garden is the location of choice for student weddings—it once served as Baldwin Hall’s cellar before the 1924 fire. The Bell Wall, a row of clapperless bells affixed to a wall in the quad, is also known as the “Virgin Bells,” the result of a rumor that the bells ring on their own accord when a virgin student walks by.
Kirksillve isn’t exactly a college haven, but students report that what the town lacks in charm, it makes up for in convenience. The downtown district is within walking distance and offers students diversions like a movie theater, a handful of restaurants, retail stores, some coffee stores, and a small strip of bars and pubs for the occasional night out in Kirksville. The late-night crowd opts for the after-midnight menu at Pancake City (its rhyming nickname being inappropriate for a family site), and anyone still looking for a party after that can head to the 24-hour Wal-Mart, one of the few places in Kirksville that doesn’t shut down before dawn.
Truman State’s campus may not be centuries-old, but it’s already chock-full of quirky traditions and landmarks. A statue of the school’s new namesake, Harry Truman, is said to give students studying in Pickler Memorial Library that lucky edge when heading off for tests—if they borrow a penny from the collection in the statue’s hat, they’re supposed to be able to ace any exam. But if they neglect to return the penny to its place the same day, the bonus luck goes out the window.
The sunken garden in the quad is the location of choice for Truman State weddings. But anyone not looking to get hitched might want to steer clear of using the garden’s two benches for a make-out spot: Rumor has it that new couples who kiss there at midnight are destined to be married. Another kind of campus lore keeps superstitious students away from older buildings after midnight—a handful of halls are said to be haunted. An elderly lady’s ghost has been “spotted” in the Campbell Apartments; a young Truman student named Joan killed in a car accident in the 1970s supposedly still lingers in Centennial Hall; a ghost who goes by “Charlotte” and an accompanying creepy child-ghost have allegedly been Grim Hall residents for the last 70 years; and a more benevolent spirit by the name of “Gina” lives with the ladies in the Ryle dorm.
On the less supernatural side, Truman State’s football team goes to battle with the boys of Northwest Missouri State University annually to claim possession of the “Hickory Stick.” The rivalry dates back to 1930, when Truman State was still known as Northeast Missouri State University, making the two geographic as well as academic and athletic rivals.
Jenna Fischer (1997) is an actress known for her role as Pam Beesly in the U.S. TV show The Office.
Harry Laughlin (1902) was a groundbreaking American eugenicist.
Harry Gallatin (1948) is a former NBA player and coach.
Alphonso Jackson (1968) was the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the George W. Bush administration.
John J. Pershing (attended 1880-1882) was one of the highest-ranking military officials ever. He earned the rank of General of the Armies while still alive (only George Washington had held the post before, albeit posthumously).
Glen Jacobs (1989) is a pro wrestler in the ECW stable, known as “Kane.”
The Truman State Bulldogs may have a hard time drawing student spectators, but it offers more varsity sports than any other Missouri college—21, including baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, football, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track & field, volleyball, and wrestling. The teams compete in Division II play in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association. While the football team has been notoriously unimpressive in recent history, other sports have stolen the conference spotlight. The women’s swimming team has taken home an impressive seven NCAA Division II championships in the last eight years. Truman State’s soccer, volleyball, and men’s basketball teams have also garnered a handful of titles and awards recently. And, more importantly for this academically-oriented school, Truman State regularly sends an impressive number of its student-athletes to the Academic All-MIAA Team.
Truman State is an annual contender in competitive collegiate debate, mock parliament, and quiz bowl tournaments.
The “Bulldog Party” is a student advocacy group based out of Truman State University that lobbies for the inclusion of a voting student representative on the governing board of all Missouri institutions of higher education.
For all of Truman State’s campus traditions, one was recently repaired out of existence: The “sacred potato,” an irregular patch on a campus walkway, was said to bring whomever stepped directly on it bad luck on their next exams (or it could make them pregnant, if there weren’t any tests coming up). Some even claimed that sticking a knife in a potato on that spot at midnight would ensure good luck on the next day’s academic pursuits. But the university repaired the sidewalk in 2002, ending the legend of the sacred potato.
Truman State’s administration are making an effort to unite the student body by enhancing residential offerings and incubating smaller, tight-knit communities through residence hall activities and groups. The following residence halls offer a variety of single and suite-style living arrangements, as well as in-house support staffs:
-West Campus Suites
Upperclassmen who want an upgrade from standard dorm living can elect to live in one of three Truman-owned apartment facilities, complete with kitchens and private bathrooms:
Other living arrangements for Truman State students include off-campus options, spaces in the Greek houses, or a handful of spots in Farm Hall, situated on Truman State’s University Farm (since students have to put in hours on the farm to earn their room and board, these limited spots are only open to agricultural science majors).