In the fall of 1963, Judson College welcomed its first class of students to its Elgin campus -- consisting of a mansion and a carriage house situated on roughly 19 acres of undeveloped land off Route 31.
Today, Judson University's campus houses 17 buildings and is home to 1,170 students pursuing more than 50 different majors and minors in liberal arts, sciences and professions.
The private Christian university marks its 50th year in Elgin. It has hosted various commemorative events this fall, including bringing back members of its first graduating classes from 1964 and 1965 for a panel discussion in September during homecoming week festivities.
Anniversary celebrations culminate with the Presidential Installation ceremony for Dr. Gene C. Crume Jr., Judson's sixth president, at 3 p.m. Thursday; and the Founders' Day convocation with Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, at 10 a.m. Friday. Both events will be held at Herrick Chapel on Judson's campus, 1151 N. State St. A luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Betty Lindner Campus Commons will feature Lynn Wheaton, Judson's former director of advancement, who will present the Golden Eagle Award to Judson alumni Bill and Sally Boscaljon.
The early years
Will Friesen, Judson provost and chief academic officer, said Judson's historical roots go back 100 years.
Judson College was founded in 1913 as the undergraduate branch of Northern Theological Seminary in Oak Brook before moving to Elgin. Judson also has a satellite campus in Rockford that offers graduate programs at night for working adults.
Roughly 80 percent of the student population is from the region, with the remainder coming from other states and countries, including some in Asia and South America, Friesen said.
The diversity makeup of the student population includes roughly 60 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic, nearly 7 percent black, and just less than 2 percent Asian.
Having a student body that is 40 percent nonwhite is "not bad for a small, fairly expensive Christian university," Friesen said.
Judson has come a long way from its early days.
Carol (Thompson) Hunt, one of the first black students to attend Judson College when it opened in 1963, said during the September panel discussion with returning alumni that there were many racial challenges at the time, but that the professors and community were supportive.
"Judson gave me a foundation for living," she told the crowd. "It helped me in my life as an African American. Some of my brothers and sisters carry the bitterness of being immersed in severe racial tension when they were young like me, but because of Judson's supportive and loving environment I didn't have to carry that hatred and angst."
Benjamin Glunz of Elgin said Judson equipped him with the leadership skills required to start his own business. He received his undergraduate degree in 2010, and in 2012 earned his master's degree in architecture. Glunz co-owns Jerry's Café -- a campus coffee shop employing student workers -- and owns a technology company based in Carpentersville, which employs many Judson alumni. He also is a member of the Judson Alumni Association.
"I had a wonderful experience," said Glunz, who was vice president of student government at Judson. "Judson provides a really holistic experience both in and out of the classroom. The fifth year of the architecture program, you get to work on an internship with a firm. They really leverage extracurricular and cocurricular events."
The university provides a caring environment and a strong sense of community, Glunz said.
"You feel really at home when you are there," he said. "It's the only evangelical Christian school of architecture in the world."
Friesen, who graduated from a small Christian liberal arts college in Kansas, said the university is looking ahead to the next 100 years.
The university recently added new graduate and postgraduate level programs, including a doctorate in literacy accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
"That's an amazing feat for a little place like this to get a doctorate approved," Friesen said. "It says something about the quality of the master's degree and the faculty."
Judson also now offers two new master's degrees in business administration and leadership in ministry.
The university is developing other graduate programs in social sciences, Friesen said.
"We still have a lot of work to do to determine their viability," he said. "That's going to be exciting. All of (these) new things that we are doing builds capacity for the university so that we are not dependent on one or two programs that are traditional undergraduate (degrees), but a spread of academic offerings for different communities of students who would like a Christian higher education experience."