Ball State

By Alexis Smith

“It is important to keep in mind the question of whether the RNC neighborhood could have developed and flourished as it did if Ball State University had not succeeded.”

— Bruce Geelhoed, interviewed Oct. 24, 2016


Ball State University is one of the key institutions that affected the Riverside Normal City neighborhood over time. In the late nineteenth century, local leaders in Muncie decided that having a local college would boost city and economic development over time. The University started as a small private teaching school, but was not sustainable and went through several ownership and name changes. In 1917, the founders of the Ball Corporation, the Ball brothers, bought the school and its property out of foreclosure.[1] The Ball Brothers then donated the school to the state, making it a public institution. In 1929, the state renamed the school as Ball Teacher’s College in recognition of the generosity and legacy of the Ball family.[2] The College remained a compact area until after World War II,  when rapid expansion of the university continued with land purchases, such as Christy Woods, in order to accommodate veterans using the GI bill. Post-WWII, up to 49% of the students attending universities and colleges were veterans, resulting in the growth of universities across the nation.  [3]


Barracks previously used for the training of soldiers in the 1940’s were converted into dormitories for the increase in the student population. In the 1960’s, the university saw an influx of faculty and students from outside of the Midwest, aiding in the reclassification of the school as a University in 1965.[4] The growth of the University and the affect on the community can’t be ignored when observing the neighborhood community and it’s change, as Ball State currently owns 1,140 Acres near the RNC, some of which are properties in the Riverside-Normal City Neighborhood.[5]

Neoliberalism is influential on the development of universities and their surrounding areas. “Neoliberalism is a tool used to reshape schools and universities, this makes them far more responsive to the pressures of the market.”[6] It is important to understand that universities now play a role as urban developers and investors, affecting and influencing the community that surrounds them. This idea comes directly into play when discussing Ball State University and the Riverside-Normal City Neighborhood. The neighborhood itself is a historic and prominent fixture in the Muncie community. It was in this neighborhood that many of the community’s churches were located. It housed the local elementary known as Emerson School, and it was home to some of the most wealthy and prominent figures in the community. The identity of this neighborhood has played a role in shaping the University, and, as a result, the University has shaped the neighborhood. It is essential for each to have a symbiotic relationship with the other to create a long lasting institution and a prosperous town. In this “town-gown” relationship, the Riverside-Normal City Neighborhood was Ball State’s gateway into the rest of the Muncie community. The neighborhood itself currently holds real estate interest for Ball State, and it’s in the University’s interest to act as investors and developers for the land they own. Traditional residents come in contact with non-traditional residents (students) more than they come in contact with officials from the University. One of the many ways universities impact communities is through their students. In order for the Ball state community to thrive, Ball State must reach out to the non-academic community that is Muncie, Indiana.


Currently the relationship between Ball State and the RNC neighborhood is a budding one. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it could have been described as a love-hate relationship between the traditional and non-traditional residents, as around this time, that there was a large shift in the population of the RNC. Traditional residents became a minority and non-traditional residents, renters and students, became the majority. The relationships between the residents are in a constant flux, primarily due to the fact that students temporarily inhabit the space, as traditional residents are generally living there for longer periods of time. As you might imagine, past and current students love the close proximity to campus, affordability, and the amenities provided in the RNC neighborhood. Traditional residents also love some of the amenities the neighborhood offers, like parks, restaurants, proximity to Ball State and downtown, and the architecture and housing offered by the neighborhood. There are some drawbacks to living with this eclectic population. Traditional residents may not enjoy hearing people crammed on the neighboring house’s porch, blasting music at three in the morning or waking up to find trash littering their yards and sidewalks. Students may feel alienated from certain parts of the neighborhood by traditional residents and find it hard to live in the same environment. Current efforts to improve upon this relationship are fostered through the Neighborhood Association, and higher learning projects associated with the University and organized by professors, several of which currently live in the neighborhood. The improvement of these relationships can be met with a certain level of hesitancy, which was demonstrated in a study by the University of Vermont on “town-gown” relationships. Students tend to view themselves only as members of their campus community, not members of the larger community outside of campus. This creates difficulties when it comes to the perception of students, and the way students perceive the outlying community. [7]

In our interviews and research we have come across data and statements that have supported the idea that Ball State is a key institution when it comes to the neighborhood and its developments. We had an interview with Carol Smith and Nancy Atkins, who were next-door neighbors on Dicks St. starting in the 1940’s. They are still friends, and they reminisced together as they looked through the photos and notes they brought to one of our scanning events. In their reflection on the neighborhood and its residents they remembered prominent University figures such as John Lewellen, who lived in the neighborhood and who’s name appears on the Ball State pool. They mentioned that he used to give swim lessons at Tuhey Park.[8] In other interviews with current faculty members, proximity to the University played a key role in the attraction to the neighborhood for those affiliated with the University and those outside it.  In statements made by neighborhood residents like Eleanor Johnson and current professor Michael William Doyle, they like to be within walking distance of their workplace, and the RNC neighborhood provides that type of accessibility.[9] In interviews with current and former residents like Ronald Smith, it was mentioned that the neighborhood’s identity began to change and the student population increased around the 1960’s and 1970’s. This was also around the same time the Ball State College became a University.[10] Carol Smith remembers seeing Joyce DeWitt, a Ball State Alumna, buying groceries in the neighborhood at the grocery store in the village around the 1960’s before she became a household name in the 1970’s. [11] When different businesses and manufacturing jobs left the area, Ronald said that many residents were unaffected because they were in professional jobs or worked at the University, and few residents were working class. [12]


[1] Web. Ball State University: History & Mission

[2] Web. History and Traditions: Indiana State

[3] Burman, Eliza. “How the G.I. Bill Changed the Face of Higher Education in America.” Time. June 22, 2015. Accessed December 08, 2016.

[4] Web. John Richard Emens, 1945- 1968- Ball State University Archives

[5] Property Owned by the BSU Board of Trustees

[6] Susan Brinn Hyatt Universities and Neoliberal models of Urban Development: Using Ethnographic Fieldwork to Understand the ‘Death and Rebirth of North Central Philadephia’

[7] Shannon L. Carr and The University of Vermont, “Love and Hate: Exploring the Relationship between College and Community,” The University of Vermont, May 26, 2010, 6, accessed November 20, 2016.

[8] Statements from Carol Smith and Atkins, Nancy. “RNC Scanning Party.” Interview by Abby Clark an Alexis Smith. October 29, 2016.

[9] Statements from Eleanor Johnson and Michael William Doyle. “RNC Scanning Party.” Interview by Abby Clark an Alexis Smith. October 29, 2016.

[10] Ronald Smith, Interviewed by Abby Clark and Leslie Thomas, November 4, 2016, Transcript.

[11] Statements from Carol Smith, “RNC Scanning Party.” Interview by Abby Clark an Alexis Smith. October 29, 2016.

[12] Ronald Smith, Interviewed by Abby Clark and Leslie Thomas, November 4, 2016, Transcript.

Header image courtesy of the Ball State Digital Media Repository