Ransdell reflects on Homecomings’ past, present

President Gary Ransdell and Big Red lead the parade behind the WKU marching band during the Citizens First Homecoming Parade Sept. 29, 2010, on Avenue of Champions. Julia Walker Thomas/HERALD

Kylie Carlson

For 20 years as president and more as a student, Gary Ransdell has been a part of Homecomings at WKU.

This year, to commemorate his last Homecoming as president, the theme is “Oh the Places You’ll Go: A Ransdell Story.”

In those years, Ransdell has seen the annual event change and develop with both new and old traditions.

“The dress was different,” Ransdell said. “The men wore sports coats and ties. All the girls had those giant Homecoming mums.”

Julie Ransdell, the first lady of WKU, celebrates Homecoming with a traditional flower arrangement. She added that she had received her Homecoming mum from Gary Ransdell as well.

“You couldn’t hardly hold them up,” Julie Ransdell smiled, remembering the mum pinned to her dress.

Gary Ransdell also said previous Homecomings were more about decorating the residence halls and the Greek houses than it was decorating the parade.

“They had to decorate the houses or the residence halls according to the various themes. That’s where the competition was,” Gary Ransdell said.

Along with the decor and dress, there were different traditions the Ransdells remember from their years as college students. There used to be concerts on the night of Homecoming and bonfires on the lawn, according to Gary Ransdell.

“Neil Diamond would come with a guitar and a stool in Diddle Arena and sing in the house microphone. It’s not quite like that anymore,” he said.

“There was also a bonfire pep rally where the Preston Health and Activities Center is now, as opposed to Big Red’s Roar that we do now,” he added.

Ransdell was asked about his experience at his first Homecoming as president. He was named president on Sept. 12, 1997, just a little over a month before WKU’s 1997 Homecoming.

That year, Gary Randell was quoted in the Herald saying he “wants to come home.”

“The first Homecoming in ‘97 that we came back to was especially fun because people came back that we got to see, that we hadn’t seen in a lot of years,” Julie Ransdell said.

The most satisfying thing about Homecoming, Gary Ransdell added, is seeing students return to the Hill with their families.

“That’s special for me during Homecoming because they bring their families back and they walk around campus with pride,” he said.

Gary Ransdell loves to see alumni take pride in his or her alma matter, he said.

“It is so satisfying to watch people’s eyes light up, and they are so proud of our university,” he said.

One of the most memorable Homecoming years to Ransdell was last year when many fraternities and sororities celebrated their 50-year anniversaries during Homecoming.

“Going to those and seeing people we were in school with, 50 years later … it was pretty neat, and we got to participate in a lot of the activities,” he said.

For Julie Ransdell, the annual Homecoming parade has been one of her favorite parts about the week’s events.

“The parades have been really fun,” she said. “They have morphed into something really special and fun. I like that it ends up downtown now, which is new.”

Gary Ransdell agrees that putting the parade downtown was a good move.

“I think the students get a kick out of that, and it’s a little different and engages the community and campus more,” he said.

At the end of his trip down memory lane, Gary Ransdell explained what Homecoming as a whole means to him.

“As alumni, it’s great to see people we went to school with back on the campus that we have worked so hard to improve and to see the pleasure that they find in coming back,” he said. “That’s pretty hard to beat.”

“Homecoming to us means our Alma Mater, our friends, our alumni, excited to be back on their campus,” he added.

Reporter Kylie Carlson can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @kentuckylie.