WAYNE, Neb. -- Just about every college campus has that one landmark.

A building, a tower, a fountain or gathering place that defines the campus. It's the type of thing you see stamped on just about all that school's promotional materials.

At Wayne State College, that iconic spot is the Willow Bowl, an amphitheater with long, curved seating and a stage area featuring willow trees.

It's a place where students meet, hang out or study while enjoying a nice sunny day. The band practices there. It's home to cheerleading camps and the Greek olympics. Spring commencement ceremonies attract some 2,000 people. Over the years, it's been the site of numerous first kisses and marriage proposals.

The Willow Bowl is Wayne State.

"It's something we use frequently as a symbol of Wayne State College. The Willow Bowl is something special to many Wayne State grads," said Phyllis Conner, vice president for development and executive director of the Wayne State Foundation.

It's been there for generations of Wayne State graduates. In 1922, it was a concrete lake, installed so students could swim and ice skate there. Two years later, the cement cracked, and the area turned into a swampy mess. Using a Works Progress Administration grant in 1938, the school cleaned out the broken concrete, using those chunks to build the seating and stage walls.

The new site became known as the Willow Bowl because of the willow trees that grew naturally in the low, wet area.

While it looks to be in good shape from a distance, the Willow Bowl is beginning to show its age. Concrete is cracking and crumbling in many places. Minor fixes here and there over the years haven't been enough, and college leaders decided that it's time to do something.

"We've talked about it over the years and started talking in earnest about it a year or two years ago," Conner said.

Plans call for removing the old concrete and replacing all 2,000 feet of walls in the seating and stage areas with limestone-block walls. The area will become more handicapped accessible. Electrical service will be upgraded.

The shape and character of the Willow Bowl will remain unchanged.

"From a distance, you won't even know anything has changed," Conner said.

The Wayne State Foundation is hoping former students turn out to support the restoration of their alma mater's landmark. The project is estimated to cost $811,000 for what the project architect said will be an 80 to 100-year fix. Conner said fundraising letters are to be sent to all alumni. 

The goal is to have financial commitments in place by June so that construction can start in July. The college aims to have work done by next May, in time for the 2012 graduates to take their seats and gain one more Willow Bowl memory.

"It has a lot of special meanings to a lot of alums," Conner said. "It's a special place in their hearts."

Wayne State is banking on those sentimental alums to make sure future students get to experience those same special feelings among the willow trees.


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