Aurora University

Historical Timeline

1890s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s  2000s 2010s

1893: After more than a year of planning by the Western Advent Christian Publication Association, Mendota Seminary opened on January 9, 1893. Just six months later, the name was changed to Mendota College. Mendota College departments were Preparatory, Academical, Musical, Art and Bible Training, with Commercial (stenography and typewriting) added on January 9, 1893. Bible Training courses were initially designed for ministers, with a goal of enriching both their pastoral and professional efforts. The seminary opened with 3 students and grew to 31 students at the end of Winter Term. J. Oscar Campbell served as the first president of the institution.

mendota seminary

1894: Advent Christian women organized The Helper’s Union, an organization designed to contribute food, linens, rugs, furniture, and funds for decorating as needed.   Barrels of fresh fruit & canned foods came from as far away as Wisconsin. They were also influential raising funds for Mendota College. 


1911: Under new President Orrin Roe Jenks, groundbreaking for a new campus in Aurora took place on May 31, 1911. The move was mutually beneficial: citizens of Aurora desired a college to enrich the culture and stature of the city, and college administrators sought to relocate to a more populated area. The institution changed its name and formally incorporated as Aurora College in October.

1912: Classes at Aurora College began on April 4, 1912. The campus consisted of Eckhart Hall (classrooms), was the only building that was fully functioning at that time; Wilkinson Hall (men’s dorm) and Davis Hall (women’s dorm) were completed soon after. The “Tin Can Jimmie Club” was formed to raise funds for the college endowment.

original buildings

1912: The Aurora College seal was designed by B. J. Dean, President of Mendota College, and used for the first time on the college catalog issued in 1910.  When the college moved to Aurora in 1912 the wording on the seal was changed to the present form.  The book, scroll, and torch which appear in the seal symbolize the meaning of the Latin inscription, “The wise man treasures knowledge.”

original seal

1922: The first constitution of the Students’ Association of Aurora College was written. It established a Finance Committee, Athletics Committee and a Committee on Societies.

1929: The fall 1929 football team was the first to be called the Spartans. They played on Patterson Field, which was built by students five years earlier. The first Spartans had a season record of four wins and three losses.

1929 football

1930: The Illinois Department of Public Instruction authorized Aurora College to train elementary and secondary school teachers, marking the beginning of one of the institution’s most successful and longest-standing academic programs.

1947: In an effort to serve veterans returning from World War II, Aurora College introduced an innovative evening program. The flexible schedules allowed former soldiers to earn a college degree while working full-time jobs.

1955: Campus facilities took a major step forward with the construction of the addition to Davis and Memorial Halls, which was dedicated on December 3, 1955. This was soon followed by the construction and dedication of Jenks Hall in 1957. These new spaces allowed the university to meet the growing demand for on-campus housing.

davis expansion

1959: A new home for baseball, Snell Field, was dedicated in memory of Coach Percy Snell, the first coach hired by Aurora College. Snell had been the sole coach for all athletics programs for many years. The field hosted baseball games on the southwest corner of campus for nearly 50 years.

1962: Academic offerings were enriched with the opening of the Stephens Hall of Science and the Charles B. Phillips Library.

stephens hall

1967: A new Carillon System was purchased, thanks to a generous gift from Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Col. Harland Sanders.

1970: Two new buildings were dedicated: Watkins Hall, a residence hall; and Alumni Hall, which served as the home for the college’s Athletics Programs. Alumni Hall replaced the long-standing Quonset huts that had been used as the gymnasium.

alumni hall construction

1978: Recognizing the importance of the arts, Perry Theatre opened, adjacent to Stephens Hall.

1981: Two new building additions were made: a new dining facility was attached to Alumni Hall, and a new laboratory wing was added to Stephens Hall.

dining hall

1985: After decades of growth and expansion of academic programs, the institution changed its name from Aurora College to Aurora University. Graduate programs in Education and Business were offered.

1986: George Williams College, located in Downer’s Grove, Illinois, closed its doors and transferred its Social Work and LERA (Leisure and Recreation Administration) programs to Aurora University.

1989: Dunham Hall was dedicated, funded by the largest single donation in the history of the school, from Martha (Dunham) Schingoethe.

dunham hall

1993: George Williams College of Aurora University was established, and soon encompassed the School of Education, the School of Physical Education and Recreation Administration and the School of Social Work.

1997: The Geneva Lake campus of George Williams Campus began a period of expansion and renovation, with the acquisition of 91 additional acres of land, the establishment of a new conference center, and a number of enhancements to existing facilities.

George Williams College

2000: Rebecca L. Sherrick, Ph.D., was inaugurated as the 13th President of Aurora University, with a promise to “put students first.” The university reached an important milestone in academic program development with the launch of the Doctor of Education degree, the first doctoral program in the institution’s history. On the George Williams College campus, the summer performing arts festival Music by the Lake was restored to great acclaim.

2001: The Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action is established, thanks to a generous bequest from Helena Zentmyer Wackerlin, a 1914 alumna of Aurora College. The center is designed to engage students in both religious reflection and service to people in need.

helena wackerlin

2003: Aurora University receives a $10 million federal grant to create the Institute for Collaboration. The building was opened two years later, and is today the home to the School of Education, the Partnership School, and the local nonprofit organization Communities in Schools.

institute for collaboration

2006: As the university reclaimed its historically-strong undergraduate identity, new programs were added in art, museum studies, religion, special education and theater. The university also opened its doors to the community with the establishment of the new Celebrating Arts & Ideas series, which offered performing arts and educational events free of charge.

arts and ideas

2007: A hallmark of the undergraduate experience, the Crouse Center for Student Success, was established to help students make the most of their time at AU.

2008: At GWC, the new Ferro Pavilion was completed in time for the eighth season of Music by the Lake. In Aurora, Vago Field was completed and hosted football soccer games.


2009: The first AU Honors Program students graduate. The program had been established four years earlier to offer opportunities for intellectually curious and highly motivated students to enhance their college experience.

2010: A new addition to Alumni Hall was built, providing new, state-of-the-art facilities for the Nursing and Social Work programs. In Crimi Auditorium, the new pipe organ Opus 119 was installed, heralding the importance of the arts at AU. Academic programs grew as well, with new offerings leading to the Master of Science in Nursing, the Master of Special Education and Doctor of Social Work degrees. Enrollment had grown rapidly over the previous decade, and totaled 4,300 as of fall 2010.


2012: A new residence hall, located between the Institute for Collaboration and Watkins Hall, will welcome students in January. The university will celebrate 100 years of the move from Mendota to Aurora.

new residence hall