Hencken talks forty years of homecoming

Originally run 10/20/06

Eastern President Lou Hencken has been involved with homecoming for over 40 years.

He attended homecoming as a student, a resident advisor, a vice president for Student Affairs and as a university president.

He has seen floats catch fire, parade watchers pick fights with marching bands and parades that have been rained out.

Despite having seen all that, Hencken still looks forward to the traditional homecoming events.

“I really enjoy seeing the alums come back, the coronation, the parade,” Hencken said.

In the mid 1970s, Hencken was adviser to the parade.

The adviser works with all the groups who participate in the parade and organizes the students.

“We would get up at three in the morning to paint the streets,” Hencken said. “We used to line the parade down Lincoln.”

He said the parade is no longer directed down Lincoln Avenue because of safety concerns.

He also remembers when the parade had more residence halls participating than it does now.

“Thomas Hall spent a lot of money building a float,” Hencken said. “This float was amazing, but they had a flat tire a 150 yards before the judging station.”

He said the rules stated that floats had to go by the judging station, and “it was quite a controversy.”

“The rules were clear, you had to go by the judging stand,” Hencken said. “After that, the judges started judging the floats the night before.”

In his 40 years of involvement with the parade, broken down floats aren’t the only things Hencken had to deal with.

Weather sometimes ruined the homecoming festivities.

“We had, one time at the parade, it rained so much that the bands didn’t even get off the bus,” he said. “They drove along the parade route because the rain would have ruined their uniforms.”

In the 1970s a float caught on fire.

It caught on fire because students didn’t have to use fireproof pomps, said Hencken. After the fire, students had to use fireproof pomps, which cost three times as much as the regular pomps.

This and other social factors are why Hencken thinks fewer students build floats.

“Fraternities started pairing up with sororities,” he said.

He also believes that homecoming gave people a way to interact with other people that they didn’t have, instead of the Internet or movies, people got together and built floats.

As students found different ways to be social, fewer and fewer participated in the parade. This meant fewer floats in the parade.

Another reason the parade is smaller than it was 30 years ago is fewer high school bands that participate in the parade.

“You did not used to have marching band festivals,” said Hencken.

Hencken believes this, as well as an incident at a past homecoming parade involving a high school band and parade go-ers are the main reason fewer high school marching bands participate in the event than 30 years ago.

Hencken said in addition to student participation other changes have been implemented to change the homecoming parade.

More police have been added along the parade route, as have orange safety fences, to keep people from walking out into the middle of the marching bands or in front of cars.

“I was vice president for student affairs when we had that incident with the band and I feel bad, I think maybe the orange fences could have prevented a few things,” said Hencken.

Despite all the precautions, Hencken still worries.

“I worry about the alums coming back who maybe didn’t leave the university in the best standing and maybe start drinking and I’m not trying to be a prude, but maybe will start drinking at six in the morning and drink a little too much,” Hencken said. “I worry about the weather, I want to have good weather, but I worry anyway, I think my worrying makes me proactive. I try to think, okay what can we do here to prevent this.”

Despite the worrying, Hencken says that homecoming is still an enjoyable time for him.

“When I became vice president I really began to attend the alumni receptions for outstanding alums. When you see what ordinary students did from the university did and how successful they become, it is the night I really do like,” said Hencken. “Every year, you think this is amazing.”

Hencken also enjoys the 50-year anniversary reunion, the homecoming king and queen coronation and riding in the parade.

This year he is riding in a convertible, because his grandchildren requested it over a fire truck. Hencken said his grandchildren enjoy throwing handfuls of candy into the crowd.

“I think I could buy 50 bags of candy, but by the time we get to the square, we’re out and you feel bad on the way back, you have to make apologies,” said Hencken.

Hencken’s favorite part of the parade is seeing the crowds that come out to support the university.

“It’s neat not only to see the university students, but the townspeople and alums,” said Hencken.

Next year at this time, Hencken will not be president of Eastern, however, he said that will not stop him from participating in homecoming.

“I’ll be back, I’m not going away. I might be along the route, with my granddaughters saying, ‘Lets catch the candy,” he said. “It will be different, I don’t think it will be more enjoyable one way or another, but it will be different.”

Despite not being president, Hencken’s worries about homecoming are not going away any time soon.

“Next year if I see an ambulance go by, your natural reaction might be oh well I don’t have to worry about that anymore, but it won’t be, because I will still know the students and still worry about them,” said Hencken. “No matter if I’m 75 or 80 years old I will still worry about the students that are here.”