Front and central

Great Performers, Speakers Take Center Stage

By Jeff Murphy, '80, '95

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong played at the university's Rhetor Ball in 1960.

What do legendary actor-comedian Bob Hope, country singer Johnny Cash, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and the great trumpeter-composer Louis Armstrong have in common? They all appeared on a University of Central Missouri stage to inform, enlighten or entertain.

To enrich the overall campus experience for students, a strong tradition of live events — from guest speakers to Broadway shows to concerts of all kinds — was born early in the history of UCM. While such activities provide an important avenue for bringing students, faculty and staff together, they also help the university build connections with alumni and the community. Over time these events have helped solidify UCM’s role as an important cultural and artistic hub for the region.

This role has been amplified by outside organizations, including Missouri Boys State and Girls State, which have chosen UCM as a host site for their annual event, bringing a combined 1,700 young people to campus each summer in recent years. For nearly 70 years the university has hosted Boys State and a wide variety of high-profile political leaders that continue to come as guest speakers.

Nothing brings a community together like live stage performances. An article that appeared in a 1931 issue of the campus newspaper, then called The Student, captures this timeless sentiment while providing a glimpse of what it was like to enjoy a magical evening with a world-class musician 90 years ago.

Pianist Ignacy Paderewski, who served earlier in his career as the prime minister of Poland, came to what was then known as Central Missouri State Teachers College to close out the Artists’ Course with an April concert in the College Auditorium. The venue was renamed Hendricks Hall after Eldo L. Hendricks, the university’s eighth president, in 1933.

Hendricks Hall 1933

“At a quarter past eight … every seat was filled, including several rows on the stage. Students greeted relatives and friends from hometowns located all over central Missouri; alumni renewed friendships; and strangers formed rich first impressions,” the article read. “The air was tense with pleasurable anticipation. At last the house lights were slightly dimmed. The brilliant stage lights were lowered; and simply, and unostentatiously, the great artist and statesman came upon the stage.”



College Auditorium was dedicated in 1923, nearly a decade before Paderewski’s performance, and quickly became a mainstay for cultural and artistic opportunities. Special events throughout the 1920s and ’30s included the Russian Symphonic Choir, St. Louis Symphony, Denishawn and Blue Bird Russian ballet companies, Ukranian National Choir, opera star Sigrid Onegin, harpist and guitarist Alberto Salvi, renowned violinist Joseph Szigeti and Vladimir Horowitz, arguably the most famous pianist of the 20th century.

UCM’s most famous graduate, Dale Carnagey, 1908, returned to speak at his alma mater in 1937, a year after publishing “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” He had changed his name to Carnegie in 1916 when a soldout speaking engagement at Carnegie Hall after the publication of his first book, “The Art of Public Speaking,” made a tremendous impact on him. In 1938 students and the community were treated to a performance by actress Ethel Barrymore Colt, a member of the nine-generation Barrymore stage and film family.

Dale Carnegie 1937 UCM Picnic

Dale Carnegie came back to campus to speak and attend a picnic in 1937, nearly 30 years after he graduated.

A musical composer with a special place in her heart for UCM, Emma Lou Diemer performed in Hendricks Hall in 1944. The daughter of George Diemer, the university’s ninth president, she grew up at Selmo Park and went on to have a successful career as a composer and keyboard artist performing works on piano and organ. She will be honored Nov. 9, 2021, with a faculty and student performance of “The Works of Emma Lou Diemer.”

“I’m happy Adam Zrust and the choral department are performing some choral music of mine for the 150th anniversary,” Diemer says of the upcoming concert. “I have many fond memories of the university and the 19 years of living in Warrensburg, attending the College Laboratory School and College High School. … I spent many an evening practicing that organ [in Hendricks Hall] while my father worked in his office.”

The university’s sesquicentennial anniversary performance evokes special memories of Hendricks Hall and its pipe organ, donated by the Alumni Association and dedicated in 1923 by music professor Eleanor Shockey, ’30, to students and alumni who lost their lives in World War I. The organ is now being restored by Distinguished Alumnus Mike Quimby, ’73, ’75, and his team at Warrensburg’s Quimby Pipe Organ Inc. as a gift to UCM in memory of Shockey, his mentor.

Continuing its prominence as a venue for education and the arts throughout the 1940s and ’50s, Hendricks Hall hosted performances and lectures that included the U.S. Marine Band, Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, world traveler Cornelius Vanderbilt, Senator William Fulbright, the Cincinnati Symphony and the first United Nations Secretary General Trygve Lie, to name a few.


Duke Ellington 1974


The tradition of great performers on campus continued in the 1960s and ’70s, with Louis Armstrong coming to the Rhetor Ball in 1960 and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra bringing the stage to life in 1974.

The opening of the Multipurpose Building in 1976 added a new venue for large-scale concerts and events. It’s the place where the globetrotting Bob Hope joked that “it’s good to be in your garage” and called Warrensburg the “gateway to Montserrat.” Over the years, the Multi’s stages have accommodated individuals and groups such as author and speaker William F. Buckley Jr.; country performers Johnny Cash, June Carter and Alabama; Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame band Cheap Trick; as well as a long list of guests like actor Ed Asner, astronaut Mae Jemison and many others who spoke during special events, including commencement ceremonies. UCM also hosted former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton in 2011 and Barack Obama in 2013.

Financial support has been vital to the continuation of great speakers and performances. In the early 1980s, UCM benefited from a bequest in the will of career educator Julius J. Oppenheimer, who attended the university in 1908. He made possible two funding sources that have contributed to decades of outstanding educational experiences. The Julius J. Oppenheimer Symposium Series Endowment provides funding for events and speakers who promote and support liberal arts education. The Florence Hull Greer and Julius J. Oppenheimer Fund provides resources to annually bring academic lecturers to UCM.

Oppenheimer funds initially brought Lord Harold Wilson, former prime minister of Great Britain, to UCM in October 1984. Since then, these funds have made possible a Who’s Who list of speakers that includes award-winning actor John Houseman; famous news correspondents Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith and Hugh Downs; Nobel Peace Prize winners Betty Williams and former Polish President Lech Walesa; former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev; former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; “M*A*S*H” actor/activist Mike Farrell; former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush; former U.S. presidential candidates Senator George McGovern, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and activist Ralph Nader; environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; Nadine Strossen, the first female president of the American Civil Liberties Union; and many others.

Barbara Bush and Elliotts

Former First Lady Barbara Bush visited in 1996 when Ed and Sandra Elliott were CMSC president and first lady.

Institutionally funded programs such as the Premier Performances and Performing Arts Series, established in 1988, also brought big names to campus, with Hendricks Hall playing a prominent role. UCM alumni may remember the Count Basie Orchestra, Marie Osmond, Phyllis Diller, Chet Atkins, Crystal Gale or Don McLean. Hendricks Hall’s stage was transformed for a Russian ballet on ice, Harry Blackstone Jr. wowed his audience with illusions, and actor-singer Kevin Bacon performed with his brother, Michael.

The university continues to be a campus truly enriched through the arts and those who support them. While UCM celebrates its past during this sesquicentennial, it also looks to the future with a goal to renovate its time-honored venue, Hendricks Hall, for generations to come.

Hendricks Hall is currently used by UCM students for musical concerts, homecoming events, Greek organization gatherings, ROTC drills, convocations, pinning ceremonies and even as a lecture hall. Support these activities and prepare for future community performances by helping restore the auditorium to its former glory.

Donate to the Hendricks Hall renovation project at

Hendricks Hall




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