Powell-Norton Hall dedication brings their family back to Eastern


Ashanti Thomas

Stephanie Wright-Griggs and Carla Wright, two great granddaughters to Zella Powell, join together to cut the ribbon for Powell-Norton Hall in honor of its rededication on Friday afternoon.

Madelyn Kidd, News Editor

Zella Powell’s great granddaughters and great great granddaughter came to Eastern for the Powell-Norton Hall dedication on Friday.

The Powell-Norton Hall, formally Douglas Hall, was officially renamed when the Board of Trustees approved the name change in April.

Zella Powell was Eastern’s first Black student to graduate from Eastern in 1910, and Ona Norton and her family were community members who provided housing for Black athletic students in the 1950s.

The dedication happened Friday at 3 p.m. and in attendance was Powell’s great-granddaughters Stephanie Wright-Griggs and Carla Wright. Powell’s great-great-granddaughter and Stephanie’s daughter Louisa Griggs attended as well.

For the dedication, Ken Wetstein, vice president of university advancement, welcomed everyone and began the remarks from University President David Glassman, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees Joyce Madigan, Wright-Griggs, Wright and Powell-Norton Residential Assistant Shane Smith.

Wetstein said he has been in contact with Ona Norton’s family who could not get to the dedication.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to have members of Ona Norton’s family here today,” Wetstein said. “I was able to speak with two of her great grandchildren this week. And let me just share that their pride in the addition of this name on campus is quite evident. The one grandson reminded me of a story where he came back and was visiting Ona in town. And there were still students from the 60s that were helped by the Norton family who would stay in contact and would treat Ona like an extra mom that they would come to visit down in Charleston. So he remembers fondly of visits from grateful students whose lives were impacted. So I share those sentiments on behalf of the Norton family.”

Wright said Powell and her family have always been proud of their family’s history in the local community and at Eastern.

“They were very proud of their family history,” Wright-Grigg said. “She saved some articles, and she showed me that scrapbook, every time I went to visit. She wanted to kind of describe it to me. And I remember seeing pictures and postcards that she had… She was here and persevered and she did very well.”

Wright-Griggs said Powell held onto many items documenting her family’s history in Mattoon and before and after being in Mattoon.

“Grandma Zella knew her family history,” Wright-Griggs said. “She knew her grandparents were founders of Mattoon, Ill… She kept many of their photos and letters. As a teenager, she started to scrap in the scrapbook or stories of some somebody and photos of family members as well as newspaper clippings of prominent African American people in institutions of the 1900s. Zella continued collecting documents and personal memorabilia throughout her life. And in 1968, she passed a suitcase. The house scrapbook and all the family photos passed to my mother and then to me. When I opened the suitcase as an adult and reflected on the story she had told us, I knew the family story must be told.”


Madelyn Kidd can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].