Builders actually completed Indiana University-Purdue University–Fort Wayne’s Walter W. Walb Student Union in 1972, five years before the building included an impressive namesake. When administrators first tossed around the ideas for a completed union, they toured other universities’ unions to snag innovative construction concepts. The final building plans borrowed construction ideas from the University Center at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.
Five years after its dedication, this carefully planned facility was drowned by the Fort Wayne flood of 1982. The St. Joseph River spilled onto campus effectively turning the union’s first floor into a tributary. Photos exist of IPFW administrators navigating through the ground floor’s waters in canoes.
In 1999, the former Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen, spoke to a packed house at the Walb Student Union on national defense. The preparation for his visit included strategic planning and cooperation by the Secret Service, Pentagon staff, IPFW police, and Walb staff members. The Secret Service wanted the entire union emptied with all eight union entrances locked during the speech. However, the union staff negotiated to keep one entrance open for the student newspaper, one computer lab open for students, and a classroom open for a labor studies course. Before the event, the union staff watched with chagrin as the Secret Service agents synchronized their watches and bomb search dogs sniffed their way through the halls. When the Secretary of Defense's entourage appeared his people announced his arrival with several long blasts on a horn. The union’s facilities manager, Blix Fredrick, said this gesture was “unexpected by campus staff and caused some concern.”
As the main event on the IPFW campus, the Walb Student Union houses the Indiana-Purdue Government Suite, the student newspaper, Health and Wellness Center, Campus Ministries Office, Student Recreation Center (with billiards, video arcade, and a performance space), a piano lounge, a dining area, food court, several meeting rooms, and the largest computer lab on campus. Students are most likely to be seen relaxing between classes in the TV and Fireside Lounges.
Newly renovated, the 6,300 square foot ballroom now includes two small dressing rooms, a coat room, and a sound booth. The Walb Student Union traded in the ballroom’s original 1970s wood paneling for a more modern look in 2001. IPFW uses the ballroom for campus programming, local area ballroom dancing events, and rents the space out for weddings, high school dances, and other events.
Students play an intricate role in all facets of the Walb Student Union. Not only do students run the student newspaper and student government housed in the union, they also can be found covering the service desks, staffing the Student Recreation Area, issuing campus ID cards, scheduling union events, and preparing union facilities for upcoming events.
While involved in many student programs, the Walb Student Union’s Omnibus Lecture Series draws the most crowds each year. The union annually invites six lecturers to speak at the Omnibus Series on topics such as politics, arts, literature, entertainment, music, media, and social issues. The Walb Student Union began the Omibus Lecture Series as a way to bridge the gap between students and the Fort Wayne community. With the Omnibus Lecture Series, all interested individuals can gather to listen free of charge. The crowds range from 500 to 2,100 depending on the lecturer’s fame. Since the Omnibus Series began 10 years ago, the union has welcomed esteemed lecturers such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Edward Albee, Ralph Nader, David S. Broder, Molly Irvins, B.D. Wong, Olympian Rulon Gardner, and Beverly Sills. This year, IPFW celebrates its 40th anniversary and to mark the occasion, James Earl Jones, Capitol Steps, Deepak Chopra, Nikki Giovanni, David Brooks, and Janie Fricke will be speaking.
Indiana University-Purdue University–Fort Wayne
Full-time enrollment: 6,738
Walter W. Walb Student Union
Director or equivalent: Blix Fredrick,
Size of the union:
85,964 sq. ft.
Number of Floors: 3
Built: 1972, dedicated in 1977
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