In 1904, University student Edward Parker had an idea: establish
a place on campus to unite students. One hundred years later, the
Michigan Union is celebrating its life at the University and the
people who helped create it — the Michigan Union Opera, which
raised the funds to build and complete the center for student life
by 1919.

Laura Wong
Art and Design senior Jane Fisher looks at old yearbooks yesterday at the Union Centennial Celebration, when a permanent exhibit was unveiled. (LAURA SHLECTER/Daily)

Students, faculty and alums gathered in the Union’s
Anderson Room yesterday to commemorate the centennial and the
opening of an exhibit in a first-floor room renovated to honor the
Opera.

The exhibit features programs and ticket stubs from many of the
Opera’s productions.

“They were affectionately named the Union Mimes —
they did everything from write the music to design costumes and
perform,” said Union Director Audrey Schwimmer.

The troupe performed from 1908 to 1926 and also toured
nationally in locations such as Chicago, New York and Boston.

In total, they raised $125,000 for the Union — the
equivalent of $1.4 million today.

The commemorative room also offers several computer amenities
for students, such as a searchable database of Opera alumni.

“If you knew someone, you could search for them. We have a
lot of alums that come back for football Saturdays. This way, they
can come in, type in someone’s name and find out if they were
in an opera,” said Karla Zinnecker, program coordinator for
the Union.

In addition to the database, the room also offers wireless
Internet access to visitors. Zinnecker added that the entire Union
will be wireless soon.

“They’ve been working on it for the past
year,” Zinnecker said.

LSA junior Ben Moerman, chairman of the Michigan Union Board of
Representatives, said he hopes that the new exhibit will build an
awareness of the history behind the Union and the board’s
activities throughout the year.

“The Opera was a large unifying force behind funding of
the Union. I hope (students) gain an appreciation of the hard work
that came before them,” Moerman said.

One concern of the board is that students do not know how to get
involved in Union activities, or what the board does to promote the
Union.

“It’s one of the little-known groups that makes a
huge impact on campus,” said Rob Chesnick a former board
member and 2003 graduate of the University, who was present at the
ceremony.

“I think that the Michigan Union has a rich history not
known to many students. It’s not just a building, it’s
an experience.”

A handful of students turned out for the event, including LSA
sophomore Eileen O’Brien who saw the display for the
celebration in the Union.

“I think it’s nice that they set up something for
all the faculty and students to participate in,”
O’Brien said.

Schwimmer, who spoke at the event, emphasized not only the
history of the Union, but the future that lies ahead.

The organization hopes to attract students by keeping the
exhibit open indefinitely.

“It’s a permanent exhibit — we hope it will be
here in 100 years,” Schwimmer said.

 

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