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College Road Trip: A Tour of the Midwest

By Selena Fragassi


Flatlands? Not here at these six amazing colleges and universities that have enough resources, attractions, amenities and services to give guests a real thrill ride. We take you on a tour of the Midwest’s best venues in an array of cities, from one of the happiest places in America to the birth of the jazz recording.

Bethel College (Mishawaka, Indiana)
When you book with this college (located near South Bend), you’ll be tapping into a robust network you may not know even existed. “There are six campuses in the area, and we started our own little support group,” laughs Lisa Greco, director of special events and conference services. Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College are just two examples. “We meet every quarter to share stories—and supplies!” The other asset the internal network shares is referrals. “We work very collaboratively with the other schools and the CVB to make sure planners get what they need when they visit the area.” That includes organizing bus trips to see Notre Dame, which is a popular “bucket list” item on many agendas as is seeing Amish Country and a large shopping district in nearby Indianapolis. “Anything you could want or need is within a two- to three-hour drive.”

Onsite, guests can tap into an 865-seat auditorium, athletic facilities, two gymnasiums and more intimate spaces for about 30 people. And then there’s the food. “Because we’re a Christian college, there’s no smoking or drinking, so food is our vice,” says Greco, noting that menus can be customized to work within budgets and ethnic and diet requests. Coming soon: One-stop shop accessibility. “We’re working on our certification now,” says Greco, “although we’ve always operated that way.”

Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana)
If the performing arts are what your group is after, look no further than Earlham College. Located on the border of Indiana and Ohio in a quaint town called Richmond, it is here that the first recording of jazz was ever pressed. So it’s no surprise that Earlham was inspired to debut its brand-new Performing Arts Center in the heart of campus this fall. It will offer retractable seating for 258 people, theatre space for 100 as well as studios for percussion, voice, piano, photography, metals, ceramics and more. If you also want a show—no problem, says Lynn Knight, director of events and operations. “Summer is actually a great time to book here because we have a variety of festivals including outdoor films and concerts, and the new Shakespeare Festival.”

In addition to the arts, Earlham College also has a handle on sports with a brand-new baseball stadium and AstroTurf football field and the country’s longest bike path just outside the campus grounds. “We also have two large gyms with weight rooms, a pool, rock climbing wall, athletic fields and a wellness center,” says Knight.

Classroom spaces range from small quarters that host 6 people to auditorium-sized theaters that seat 150 to 600, each with state-of-the-art features like video conferencing. Accommodations vary, too, with eight residence halls that offer single, double and triple rooms. “We’re the only full four-year college in Wayne County,” says Knight, “so we don’t have classes in summer and can do more for our guests.”

Hope College (Holland, Michigan)
In 2009, Holland, Michigan ranked as the “second happiest town in America” on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index—and any visitor to the area’s Hope College will understand why. “You can’t help but notice the welcoming atmosphere and generosity of the people that live and work here,” says Heather Roden, director of conference services. Clearly that do-good attitude applies to her event team as well. “We always want our guests to have an enjoyable event, and we aim to exceed expectations by honoring random requests, continually going above and beyond and simply being on the lookout for how to make a great experience.”

Some examples of these extra measures: One youth group was given a tree to TP, another was given permission to “yarn bomb” some of the school’s landmarks and once the conference services team even acquired 1,000 electric candles for a sacred walk. “The groups and events we host vary, but we’re always up for their challenges,” says Roden.

When it’s time to get down to business, Hope College can provide the right fit as well with a range of facilities from small seminar rooms to the Knickerbocker Theatre and a field house that seats 4,000 people. There’s also The Haworth Inn & Conference Center with more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space and 50 hotel rooms. “In the summer we can accommodate up to 1,500 people in our residence halls, too,” Roden affirms. And what better spot for summer than Holland, which is not far from vacation portals Grand Rapids, Saugatuck and Kalamazoo.

Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio)
It’s the scenery that usually draws people to Kenyon College in central Ohio, just two hours from both Cleveland and Cincinnati. “We often receive accolades for being one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation,” says Manager of Marketing and Sales Barbara Kakiris, pointing to Kenyon’s early Gothic architecture combined with
more modern green-certified structures. Once guests arrive, she says, “they have no need to leave.”

That’s because onsite visitors can access a full range of services such as dry cleaning and laundry, a market, post office, food-to-table dining programs, a library and computer labs and a slew of facilities such as classrooms, overnight rooms and a $72 million athletic center. “It’s kind of like a retreat,” affirms Kakiris. “You can get away from the main hum of the city but still have everything you need at hand, so the focus becomes on your event and not the miscellaneous distractions.”

The largest space available is Rosse Hall, which can host 612 people, but at hand are also smart classrooms, art studios, galleries and even a craft center. “Our facilities are in various types of buildings, some look like little homes, but inside all are equipped with great A/V, sound and technology,” Kakiris says, a far cry from what the campus used to look like when famous alum Paul Newman attended.

Silver Lake College of the Holy Family (Manitowoc, Wisconsin)
Being on the edge of Lake Michigan has it perks. “Guests can enjoy our spectacular public beaches, go charter fishing or scuba diving and see one of the many famous shipwrecks,” says Hollie Marcola-Pichla, event and conference coordinator for Silver Lake College. “Also nearby, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum is the Midwest’s largest where kids and adults can tour the nation’s most completely restored WWII submarine, the USS COBIA.”

In actuality, Manitowoc (between Milwaukee and Green Bay) is considered the Maritime Capitol of Wisconsin, but when it’s time to dock, there’s much more to look forward to inside the campus’ walls. “The Franciscan Center for Music Education and Performance Hall is our crowning jewel at the moment,” says Marcola-Pichla. The brand-new facility offers an atrium with seating for 200, floor-to-ceiling windows, natural lighting and a fireplace; a performance hall with state-of-the-art sound and lighting, a 25’ x 25’ screen and seating for 500; and a conference room fit for 25 guests. The school’s main campus also offers classrooms of varying sizes (up to 150), lodging for 150 during the summer and a versatile cafeteria.

The list of resources has helped Silver Lake acquire a number of groups, says Marcola-Pichla, including a high-grossing Scholarship Gala, medical summits, performances by the Manitowoc Symphony Orchestra and, new in 2014, the Alice in Dairyland Conference.

University of Nebraska (Lincoln, Nebraska)
You can’t find more middle ground than the University of Nebraska, which makes it highly appealing for national events. “Lincoln has a regional airport and is located on the interstate, providing easy travel to our city,” says Tony Rathgeber, conference services and events manager. The nearby Omaha airport (just an hour away) also helps, which has given the school an advantage to book big business like the International Thespian Festival and the Special Olympics National Games in 2010.

The campus is host to a number of distinguished spaces including the Memorial Stadium, the Sheldon Art Museum, the University of Nebraska State Museum and the Lied Center for Performing Arts. “We are also within walking distance to the Pinnacle Bank Arena that can seat an audience of up to 15,900 and provide extra entertainment,” says Rathgeber.

Back onsite, facilities range from hosting 5 to 5,000, none more interesting than Elephant Hall. “It’s probably the most unique campus location we could book for an event,” says Rathgeber. The venue is an actual exhibit in the University of Nebraska State Museum, and features real mammoth skeletons and beautiful murals. It can accommodate up to 75 people in banquet-style seating or up to 250 for a reception.

Also of note are adult-friendly accommodations for up to 1,500 people in suite-style residence units, each with bathrooms and living areas. With so much to offer, the university makes sure to make the booking process seamless, says Rathgeber. “Meeting planners work with one contact to arrange residential rooms, meeting space, catering and anything else they need while on campus.”

Tip: Find your perfect unique venue in the Midwest (or anywhere!) with new, advanced search options on and (Canada) that let you browse by region.

Get Connected

Bethel College
(574) 807.7629

Earlham College
(765) 983.1294

Hope College
(616) 395.7222

Kenyon College
(740) 427.5101

Silver Lake College
(920) 686.6173

University of Nebraska
(402) 472.5063