MACOMB - From small towns to bustling metropolises, from educators to Fortune 500 business professionals, farmers to stay-at-home parents, if someone attended college, chances are they remember that time with great fondness. From the “townies” who were met at social outings to favorite professors to campus haunts, lifetime friendships and memories were made.
For Chris Foltz, a Western Illinois University student from the early 2000s, that point has been made clear in an unexpected way. In less than a month, he inadvertently created a movement by bringing well over 17,000 of his former classmates and WIU alumni together.
Foltz, who now works in research and development in the Mojave Desert, started thinking about what WIU means to him and how his experiences at Western shaped his life, so he started the Facebook group, WIU Mega Reunion 2020. The group was intended as a place where his classmates and friends from that era could post memories and ideas for a possible “mega reunion.” He expected maybe a few hundred responses.
“I was blown away by the next morning. There were more than 2,000 people who responded overnight, sharing photos and memories, and talking about how we can make an impact at WIU and Macomb next year,” Foltz said. “I had to travel off-grid for two days, and when I returned, the group had already doubled in size and it was clear to me the interest was far beyond my era, so I opened it beyond my years and it hasn’t stopped growing since.”
Steering and host committees are forming – from housing to sponsorships to philanthropy and entertainment activities – for what could turn out to be the largest on-campus reunion in Western’s history. Foltz is working with University Housing and Dining Services and University officials to organize on-campus stays in residence halls during the reunion weekend, which will be held Sept. 25-27, 2020. The University Union Hotel is currently accepting reservations for that weekend.
“I am so taken back by the support and thousands of messages,” he said. “My goal is to impact WIU and the community. If you could read all the messages people have sent me, you’d understand how important this is to so many people. Someone wrote to me about how this group came at the exact right time for them . . . life has been tough for them recently and they mentioned how this group - the memories, the pictures, the conversation - saved them when they needed it the most.”
Foltz quickly realized that this event was turning out bigger than he could have expected and the logistics would take some real planning. “But one thing for sure is that WIU Mega Reunion 2020 is happening,” he said. “I am so excited and everyone else should be, too. I am committed to my goal, WIU and everyone who has joined in.”
In addition to the Mega Reunion proceeds and philanthropic initiatives benefiting WIU and the Macomb community, the WIU Foundation has established the Mega Reunion 2020 Fund. The scholarship fund was established to help eliminate barriers and often overlooked financial hurdles for both current and future WIU students. To date, nearly $7,000 has been donated.
Foltz wants this event not only to be something for people to join together, but for those involved to commit to making an impact to the University they love. In addition to programs and give-back opportunities being developed both on campus and in Macomb by Foltz and the committees, the WIU Foundation has set up a giving page at the request of the group so individuals can donate to a WIU Mega Reunion scholarship intended for current Western students.
“I would not be who I am today without my time in Macomb and at Western Illinois University,” Foltz said. “Looking at over 350,000 interactions between alumni in the group that may have never happened without it, it’s clear I’m not the only one who feels the same about WIU. Imagine what we all can and will do by coming back to Macomb and working together to move WIU forward. That’s what it means to be a Leatherneck."
A website with information, committee forms and sponsorship opportunities can be found at https://wiumegareunion.com/getinvolved/. The official Facebook group link is available at the reunion’s main page at WIUMegaReunion.com.