BY JEFF LAFAVE | @presslafave
It’s the classic rags-to-riches story: But he was the rags, and then worked tirelessly to find IU students the riches.
The birth of the Little 500 race is perhaps as charming as its own storybook legacy: Howdy Wilcox Jr., the race’s founder, “happened upon an informal bicycle race,” per the IU Student Foundation website, on a fall day in 1950 somewhere near Hickory Hall — a historic 10th Street dorm facility now included with the modern, sparkling Union Street Center group.
There are no photographs from Howdy’s fateful stroll through campus that day, but any graduate of IU might be apt to tell you of its majesty: A crisp afternoon amid colorful foliage, crunching under the steel wheels of students’ Schwinn cruiser bikes, perhaps on their way to Kirkwood Avenue, or to read by the Jordan River.
It was the sublime chance encounter necessary to stoke IU’s signature student event.
Howdy, then president of the general IU Foundation, had been urging legendary IU President Herman B Wells to take action on behalf the students to assist their financial situations.
“The IU Foundation simply had no identity on campus, neither with the students nor the faculty,” Howdy said, according to the IU Student Foundation website. “I wrote a letter to President (Herman B) Wells recommending that we form a Student Foundation Committee and charge that committee with spreading the word.”