William Rainey Harper College first opened its doors to students Sept. 13, 1967, with classes held during evening hours on the campus of Elk Grove High School.
While Harper's permanent home at Algonquin and Roselle roads in Palatine was under construction those first two years, conditions at the temporary campus were challenging, to say the least.
Offices, counseling services, the bookstore and student lounge areas were located in mobile units, with bathrooms over the creek and across the parking lot in the main school building.
There wasn't nearly enough parking to accommodate the higher-than-expected enrollment. And basketball practices couldn't start until after 9:30 p.m. when physical education classes ended.
But it didn't take long before Harper College began to help shape the Northwest suburbs by providing quality, affordable and accessible education through a variety of associate degree and certification programs and workforce training.
Fifty years later, Harper College is one of the nation's premier community colleges, and one of the largest, serving more than 35,000 credit and noncredit students annually.
During this 50th anniversary year, Harper will honor its proud past, affirm its present mission and impact, and aspire to an even stronger future.
The community, whose unwavering support has helped Harper emerge as a leader in community colleges across the country, is invited to join in the celebration:
• How did open farmland and horse stables in Palatine give rise to a vast brick-and-glass complex serving some 35,000 students annually? Retired Harper Professor Trygve Thoreson captures Harper's proud past in "Harper College: The First 50 Years." An e-edition can be downloaded for free at harpercollege.edu/50 or pick up a hard copy (suggested donation is $20).
• A 50th Anniversary Gala will take place Saturday, Sept. 16, at Priester Aviation at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. The event is sold out. Due to overwhelming sponsor support, Harper increased its fundraising goal to $1 million for the Promise Scholarship Program, which offers every eligible public high school student in Districts 211, 214 and 220 an opportunity to earn up to two years of tuition at Harper.
• Professors over the next year will discuss the history of Harper College at organizations throughout the district. The first event is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at the Palatine Public Library.
• Hundreds of employees will volunteer at schools throughout Harper's 11 area school districts for the Doing More Together initiative during the week of Oct. 23-29.
• Community Day on April 14, 2018, will be an opportunity to experience, learn, reconnect and realize all that Harper has to offer through a series of on-campus events. Activities include the College and Career Expo, Inspire U Experience Expo, Alumni Reunion, Alumni Art Exhibit and a performance by Harper Ensemble Theatre Company alumni.
To learn more about Harper's 50th anniversary celebration, visit harpercollege.edu/50.
This is the first in a series of stories the college is preparing that will run occasionally during the current school year. Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek will have a more in-depth look at the college's birth and growth in Thursday's Neighbor section.