Cheers and Tears in Bloomington for the World’s Greatest College Weekend

Bloomington, Indiana, is a college town, with a large, old state university. Herman B Wells, a Sigma Nu, was the 11th President of Indiana University leading the University from 1938-62. David Starr Jordan, Delta Upsilon, served as IU’s President from 1885, when he was 34, until 1891, when Leland and Jane Stanford lured him to Palo Alto to be the first president of the university the Stanfords created as a monument to their late son, Leland, Jr.  Jordan was the first IU President who was not an ordained minister. Both  men’s fingerprints are on so many things that make IU a very special place

This weekend, the third in April, has been called the “World’s Greatest College Weekend.” It is the time when the Little 500 bike race is held. The race began in 1951 when the Executive Director of the IU Student Foundation, Howard “Howdie” Wilcox, Jr., an alumnus of Alpha Tau Omega’s IU chapter, modeled a bicycle race after the Indianapolis 500.

In 1988, a women’s race, the Women’s Little 500, was added to the weekend’s events. The men ride 200 laps (50 miles) and the women do half that. Both are relays with four- member teams competing. (See for a trailer of the documentary One Day in April.)

On Friday, the Kappa Alpha Theta team won the race for the second time in a row ( Due to weather conditions, Saturday’s race was postponed until today. (Update – Sigma Phi Epsilon won the 2015 Little 500). Money raised from the competition is used for scholarships for IU students and more than $1 million in scholarships has been raised over the years.

Many people know of the Little 500 from Breaking Away, the 1979 film about a group of Bloomington guys who form a team and race against the largely fraternity comprised competition. Steve Tesich, an IU Phi Kappa Psi, wrote Breaking Away, It was based loosely on the experiences he had as part of the 1962 Phi Kappa Psi Little 500 Team. His team mate, Dave Blase, provided  the  inspiration for the Dave Stoller character.

Yearbook article about the 1959 Little 500 courtesy of 1959 Arbutus)

Yearbook article about the 1959 Little 500 courtesy of 1959 Arbutus)

This weekend, however, has been marred by tragedy. Hannah Wilson, a senior and member of Gamma Phi Beta, was found murdered on Friday. College should be a time for learning and making deep friendships and sharing new experiences. It should not be a time to bear the deep pain of loss and the grief of losing one so young. My heart breaks for Hannah’s family and friends. May they find peace in their memories of Hannah.

pink carnation

© Fran Becque,, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest


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