More than five years ago, the iconic ‘I’ was removed from Red Hill on the campus of Idaho State University due to safety concerns. Thanks to a generous donation the ‘I’ is back and better than ever.
The new ‘I’ has been up on the hill since Oct. 1 and came to exist because ISU alum Steven Rice called the university saying he was interested in purchasing the ninth letter of the alphabet.
“And I spoke those infamous words; Stuart, I’d like to buy a vowel,” Rice joked during his speech Thursday.
71 feet long, 24 feet wide and costing approximately $225,000, the ‘I’ is something the Rice family wanted to get involved with.
“The university didn’t solicit funding for this,” Rice said. “The President was dedicated to it and we were excited to be able to participate so the university’s funds could go to other projects.”
Wholly funded by the Rice Family Foundation, which honors Dr. Lawrence Rice, who spent more than three decades on campus as an English professor and later as the Academic Vice President. His son says the opportunity to do something like this was too good to pass up.
“The university is important to us, it’s been important to my family, dad’s career was here, put meat on the table and roof over our house through all our years, we have degrees from the university, so we were excited to have an opportunity to support something at the university,” Rice explained.
The old ‘I’ carried a lot of history. Originally added to the hill in 1916 as a ‘T’ to represent the Idaho Technical Institute, it would become a ‘4’ in 1926, before becoming the iconic ‘I’ in 1927.
Jim Maher, a member of the university’s engineering department, attended ISU from 1962-67.
“And the students at that time were responsible for taking care of the ‘I’ and I was involved in that process,” Maher said.
Five years ago, he was involved in taking down the original ‘I’.
“I was heartbroken,” he said. “The day that decision was made, watching it come down was a very, very difficult thing for me. And, at that time, I didn’t know whether or not the ‘I’ was going to be rebuilt.”
When work began on the new project in August, Jim was there.
“I was up on the hill while we were doing the installation of the foundation for the ‘I’, I was the one that was responsible for planning the base for the project. I ended up spending probably three or four weeks up on the hill actually supervising.”
And now the ‘I’ sits lit on the hill.
“I’m gonna come back tonight and take a look at it because it’s so important, so special to me as a symbol of the university,” Maher said.
While you may currently be able to see the ‘I’ at night, it’s only dimly lit. It won’t be this way for long as the university says its waiting on a newer, more powerful light which will allow it to be seen far and wide.