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ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY

Watch now: Years of planning led to Illinois State University's 100th homecoming

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Homecoming began as a means to reunite friends and students after World War I.

NORMAL — Finding a weekend for Illinois State University’s Homecoming takes a lot of planning ahead. It has to be a home game, after Family Weekend, that does not conflict with other events in Normal and ideally avoids Illinois Wesleyan’s homecoming as well.

It normally takes around two years to plan a homecoming, said Director of Alumni Engagement Stephanie Duquenne. This year’s is the 14th homecoming she has been involved in planning.

“We’re planning already for Homecoming 2022,” she said.

ISU's 2021 Homecoming is the 100th anniversary of the first recognizable homecoming event. Events kick off Oct. 11 and culminate in the football game against North Dakota State on Oct. 16. 

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Emily Deppermann, Illinois State University communications graduate assistant, left, and Kait Sullivan, events and programming coordinator, talk about their planning efforts that begin a full year before ISU homecoming events.

Emily Deppermann and Kait Sullivan are two grad students working in the Office of Alumni Engagement. They have been helping plan homecoming, with Deppermann leading Reggie’s Substance Free Tailgate and Sullivan leading the kickoff event.

Deppermann said she did her undergraduate degree at ISU and, during her time as a student, never understood how much it took to plan the annual events.

“I didn’t realize at first how much went into homecoming, and what all went on in this office,” she said.

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Of course, sometimes all that planning gets waylaid, as happened last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When football moved to a spring football season, we moved with it,” Duquenne said.

Alumni Engagement staff lucked out in that they had already been moving toward offering more virtual events for homecoming, allowing alumni across the country to participate, Duquenne said. The parade has been livestreamed for years as well. 

The school did almost every event online last year, except for the blood drive.

This year’s events will be a lot more traditional, Duquenne said. Luckily, most homecoming events, like the parade, 5K, tailgating and football game, all happen outside anyway, making it safer during the pandemic.

Watch now: Homecoming back with new traditions at Bloomington-Normal high schools

Still, some developments from last year are staying, including a virtual 5K where participants can run wherever they are. There will also be up to 27 regional events as part of what Duquenne called “Homecoming to-go.” The Office of Alumni Engagement will even ship supplies to the events.

Other aspects of keeping everyone safe, like road closures for the 5K and parade and having police officers around, make homecoming one of the largest cooperative efforts for the school each year. The Town of Normal, the City of Bloomington, both municipal police departments, ISU police and even the state Department of Transportation are involved in planning.

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Reggie Redbird and Illinois State University cheerleaders lead the ISU Homecoming Parade down West College Avenue in Normal on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.

“It’s one of the largest campus collaborations, and town collaborations, that happens behind the scenes,” Duquenne said.

Another less visible collaborator is the university’s ROTC program. Students in the military officer training program facilitate street closures.

“We really couldn’t put on the parade without our student ROTC,” Duquenne said.

As students, Deppermann and Sullivan are looking forward to the homecoming experience. Sullivan, who did her undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, said she's excited to see all of the ISU alumni who come back to Bloomington-Normal for the event.

Watch now: ISU graduate workers restart union actions

So far, office staff have been handling most of next year's homecoming planning, Deppermann and Sullivan said, but that will change once this year's event wraps up.

“Once this one stops, (we’ll) already focus on the next one,” Sullivan said.

Contact Connor Wood at (309)820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood

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