The day after the last home football game in 1996, a $20 million renovation of NU’s stadium began. Opened in the fall of 1997, the new stadium was christened Ryan Field, in honor of the Patrick G. Ryan family. Mr. Ryan is the chair of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees and has been a member of the board since 1978. The 1959 graduate of Northwestern is the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Aon Corporation in Chicago. His wife, Shirley, a 1961 Northwestern graduate, is chairman and co-founder of Pathways Awareness Foundation and is chairman of the Chicago Community Trust. She has been a member of Northwestern’s Women’s Board since 1978.
The Ryan family made the major gift to the Campaign for Athletic Excellence, Northwestern’s fund-raising drive for athletic facilities. Mr. Ryan also led the 1982 athletic fund-raising campaign that resulted in new facilities for Northwestern basketball, baseball and other sports.
The renovations of the stadium included new seating, the replacement of artificial turf with natural grass and an enclosed three-tier structure on the stadium’s west side that includes the stadium club. Also, an end zone facility housing the football locker room, sports medicine and equipment rooms was constructed.
As part of the $20 million Campaign for Athletic Excellence, a full-scale multipurpose indoor practice facility was constructed. This facility, named for former NU Board of Trustees chairman Howard J. Trienens, was opened in the fall of 1996.
Gridiron interest has helped NU’s stadium return to its status as a leading center of Chicagoland football, a position it held in the ’40s and ’50s when more than 40,000 people regularly attended Wildcat home games.
The old stadium, built in 1926, was named for William A. Dyche, former vice president and business manager of the University. A graduate of Northwestern, Dyche served as mayor of Evanston prior to his appointment as business manager in 1903. In 1905, he directed construction of the original wooden stands which had a seating capacity of 10,000.
By the early 1920s, football’s popularity had outgrown the wooden bleachers, and Dyche spearheaded the planning of a 45,000-seat stadium to be erected on the site of the old field. He proposed to the board of trustees that the project be financed by a bond issue. The original estimate of $800,000 soared to $1,425,000 by the time construction was finished in Dyche’s 23rd year as business manager.
In 1949, the stadium was enlarged by a horseshoe enclosure at the south end, increasing seating capacity to 49,256.