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ASU commemorates 50th anniversary

October 08, 2008

Editor’s note: As ASU gears up for its 50th Homecoming, this first article in a series of stories takes a look at one of the milestones along the university’s path over the past five decades.

In 1958, gasoline was 25 cents a gallon. The average American income was about $5,000 per year, and drivers could buy a new car for less than $2,500.

And at ASU, which at the time was known as Arizona State College, the students, staff and faculty were fired up.

They had just come off of a huge push to build an expanded Memorial Union – the Arizona Legislature had authorized $400,000 for the building, but the estimated cost was $1.5 million – and the ASU community, undaunted, went to work raising the remaining funds by having talent shows, carnivals, shoe-shine booths, a toad race and more.

Now they were battling to change the initials of their school from ASC to ASU.

New head football coach Frank Kush crisscrossed the state, twisting arms to get people to vote for the name change once it was on the ballot.

“The fact that we were doing so well in football didn’t hurt at all,” says Don Dotts, who became editor of the alumni magazine in 1958.

The students fanned out to gather more than 63,000 names on petitions to have the name change – Arizona State College to Arizona State University – put on the ballot via Proposition 200.

Dotts, who graduated from ASU in 1957, recalled in a recent interview about the name-change campaign that the petitions were driven to the Arizona Capitol in an armored car, with guards escorting the vehicle.

ASC students meant business.

The school had an enrollment of 9,708 in fall semester 1958 – and, as Dotts notes, “you knew just about everyone in your class.”

The times were different  indeed. Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army, and in 1958 there were no tank tops, shorts or flip-flops seen on campus. The women students wore skirts, and blouses or sweaters.

Teased hair hadn’t come into fashion yet, nor had spiked hair or tattoos for everyone. Vietnam was an unknown country.

Grady Gammage celebrated his silver anniversary as president of ASU that year, and his namesake auditorium was still on the drawing boards. People could still drive in front of the Memorial Union, since Orange Street had not yet been made into a mall.

That year, students attending summer classes feasted on watermelon and studied in Matthews Library.

The cross still was on top of Danforth Chapel, and the course list included “Upholstery” and “Selection and Cullings of Poultry.”

The men’s basketball team wore short shorts, and ASC boasted a rodeo team.

Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority members made voodoo dolls to sell before the big game – ASC versus that “school down south.”

The marching band played at Disneyland, and Sun Devil Stadium was nearly completed.

But the name-change battle overshadowed everything else that was going on in Tempe.

“We were the underdog in higher education in the state,” Dotts says. “That sticks with you.”

The proposition passed on Nov. 4, 1958. It was a glorious moment in Sun Devil history, a pinnacle that never has been reached again.

“We were so together,” Dotts says.

This year is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of ASU. Homecoming will begin Nov. 7 with the royalty coronation, and will end Nov. 15 with the conclusion of the Sun Devils’ football game versus Washington State University. During that week, there will be many events planned for students, faculty and community members. All the details can be found online at Take the time to get involved with ASU history by being a part of The Maroon and “Golden” Anniversary.