Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Andrea Zeek

In the third year of the corn monument revival, University of Iowa engineering students ramped up their efforts with the tallest, largest, and most ambitious design on record.

This year’s monument was erected Sept. 26 on the west side of the Pentacrest in the shape of a pyramid with a football mounted on top. It was designed last fall by engineering students Taryn Gholson and Marri VanDyke, who were inspired by the NFL’s Vince Lombardi Trophy. Made with about 3,000 ears of corn, the monument stands 26 feet, 7.5 inches tall and weighs more than 4,500 pounds.
A UI Homecoming tradition, the corn monument dates back to 1919. The tradition continued annually until the 1960s, when interest waned. It was revived in 1981 and made sporadic appearances since—until 2014, when the UI student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers took up the project and built a 25-foot monument using about 1,100 ears of corn.

“The monument is really cool because it was a tradition for so long to unite campus,” says Travis Thornburgh, vice chair of the 2016 corn monument team. “It’s something very Iowa.”

It was in this spirit that Thornburgh and chair Brendan Durkin, both senior civil engineering majors, worked to include more students from the College of Engineering and across campus. From helping out with gluing, cutting, and drilling on build days to painting a mural of Herky at the base of the structure, students from a variety of disciplines volunteered their time. The mural recalls the first picture of Herky drawn by a UI alumnus in 1948. Coincidentally, the original drawing also featured Northwestern, who the Hawkeyes will play in their Homecoming game Oct. 1.

Thornburgh says it was especially important for the team to partner with the College of Engineering’s Nexus of Engineering and Art program to make a design that was both practical to build and aesthetically pleasing.

Bill Eichinger, a professor of civil engineering who helped the students design and construct the monument, says the project is a valuable learning experience for students because it’s unlike their typical coursework.

“We don’t build anything like this in the classroom,” Eichinger says. “They have to design and construct something that’s real and work through problems as they go.”

Thornburgh says working on the corn monument has given him a greater appreciation of what it takes to build a structure.

“It’s been a great experience,” he says. “As engineers, really going through the phases of construction gives us a lot of perspective on what we’ll be asking people to do in the future.”

The image of Herky on the sign was painted by a group of NEXUS Artineers at the college. They completed the painting in one day of painting. The image was taken from a cartoon drawing from about 1948 that won a mascot contest and became the Herky loved by Hawkeye fans -- drawn by 1943 graduate Dick Spencer III. The Hawkeyes played Northwestern that year as well. Deanne Wortman, director of NEXUS discovered the image, transferred it to six shaped pieces of particle board, and the NEXUS students painted it.

The monument will remain on the Pentacrest until Oct. 3.