Picture Arizona State University with Tempe Butte in the background, and it’s impossible not to visualize that giant “T” looming over the city.
Wait -- a T?
Just look at the photograph on page 26 of the newest book about ASU, and you’ll see the T as the homecoming parade heads toward campus.
That letter was built in 1926, when it would have been absurd to have today’s “A” to symbolize what was Tempe State Teachers College.
That long-gone T is one of more than 200 images depicting ASU’s storied past in Arcadia Publishing’s campus history series. Simply titled “Arizona State University,” the book debuted this month from the publisher specializing in local history books.
The uncommon image of the T is symbolic of how authors Stephanie DeLuse and Denise Bates set about creating the pictorial history book. They avoided using most of the iconic photos of the university and instead spent hundreds of hours getting material from nursing homes, alumni, staff and average citizens.
They estimate half the photos have never been seen except by their owners. One of those discoveries is a photo from legendary football coach Frank Kush, with his recently deceased wife, Francis.
“He was kind enough to have me come into his house and take a picture off his wall or off his dresser, so we have a picture nobody else had seen,” DeLuse said.
Pictures with extensive captions tell the university’s story from the time when John S. Armstrong convinced the Territorial Legislature to approve a teacher-training school called the Arizona Territorial Normal School. Most photos are from the founding to about 1980.
The authors are faculty members who began the project while working on the same ASU program at the time. They worked two years to collect photos and stories from some aging but pivotal figures in ASU’s history. Several of those contacts died as the project continued.
“It gave us the understanding that what we were doing was at the right time,” Bates said. “If we waited any longer, who else would be gone? And we wouldn’t be able to capture their stories and their perspectives.”
The authors said they were impressed to learn how some of ASU’s most important figures from more than a century ago continue to have an impact in more recent times through their descendants. That includes Armstrong’s grandson William P. Carey, a New York investment banker who donated $50 million in 2003 to the business school that now bears his name.
The authors also avoided loading the book with photos of presidents or donors whose legacy is well-documented elsewhere. Their research unearthed other coffee table books on ASU, with skimpy captions that don’t tell much of a story.
“With these kinds of books, we had to dig around to find some of them because they don’t stay in your head or your conscious long because there’s no true heart to them,” DeLuse said.
Pictures and captions chronicle stories such as a pre-Sparky devil mascot, student protests and the heated 1958 statewide election that allowed Arizona State College to become a university.
The authors said it was heartbreaking the book didn’t have room for all the interesting photos and stories they collected. The book was designed to have a long shelf life and to have enough information for curious readers to delve deeper into history on their own.
“There are so many stories in here that need to be developed in other publications,” Bates said.
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