Alumni remember arboretum protest

By Mike Solley

In a failed attempt to halt the destruction of trees where the Psych-Math building now stands, a dozen NIU students were arrested 16 years ago Sunday.

Paul Bisgaard, a DeKalb resident who was among those arrested, said, “Students were protesting the construction of the Psych-Math building and the destruction of the trees in the Arboretum which occupied the site.”

Students wanted people to be aware that a beautiful asset, the Montgomery Arboretum, was about to be destroyed, Bisgaard added.

A freshman history major at the time, Bisgaard said he remembered walking toward the event after taking a music test the morning of March 22, 1971. “I got there late. There seemed to be more people running around in suits rather than students,” Bisgaard said.

Upon reaching the demonstration, Bisgaard said he noticed some students had actually chained themselves to trees to prevent them from being knocked down by the bulldozers. A few minutes after arriving, he said he met up with Sally Wagoner, a friend from high school, and they began to talk. “Then some guy in a suit points at us and we were both arrested,” he said.

“They (the university police) could have given an order to clear out, but I didn’t hear it. Maybe it was because I was late,” he said.

Arrested with Bisgaard and Wagoner were NIU students Jim Allen, Phil Graber, Matthew Keller, Stephen Kulieke, William Little, Michael McFarland, Jim Norgaard, Mark O’Neill, Allen Williams and John Zulker.

“We were charged with criminal trespass to state supported property,” Bisgaard said. Williams had chained himself to a tree some 15 feet in the air so it took “quite an effort” to bring him down, Bisgaard said.

Immediately, a flood of sympathy poured in for the 12 arrested students, Bisgaard said.

Clayton Kirkpatrick, editor of the Chigago Tribune wrote an editorial praising the students for taking their stand. Kirkpatrick even offered to pay the bail and fines of the first student on the list alphabetically and urged his readers to make similar offers. “Beverly Goodwin of Worth, Ill., offered to pay my bail, but by that time we had all been released on our own recognizance,” Bisgaard said.

Kenneth Beasley, assistant to NIU President John LaTourette, also remembers the demonstration.

“At the time I was associate dean of the graduate school,” Beasley said. He said he heard of some sort of protest going on and went over to see what was going on. “I saw kids tying themselves to trees,” he said. “They were a small group but very committed,” Beasley added.

One of the results of the students’ commitment to the environment and the loss of the arboretum was the creation of Echo Park, which includes the West Lagoon, Beasley said.