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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Illinois: Wheaton College makes the most of its historic campus

Courtesy Wheaton College

Being landlocked doesn’t limit Wheaton College, a 3,000-student, Christian liberal arts school surrounded by the town of Wheaton.

With the wisdom acquired during its 150-year history, the college has learned to make the best of what it has by renovating and revising its buildings, and many of the changes it is making appeal to meeting planners.

For example, an old arts building, full of nooks and crannies, has been gutted and is now outfitted with galleries, classrooms and a top-floor lecture hall.

Courtesy Wheaton College

A renovated student union is packed with new high-tech classrooms. And, most recently, a warm-up area and studios have been added behind the stage of Edman Chapel, DuPage County’s largest meeting hall. The addition has made the 2,300-seat facility more appealing to the school’s meeting and conference clients.

“Before, there was no rehearsal or warmup space,” said Lee McGinty, director of Wheaton’s conference services. “It immediately made the chapel more appealing to orchestras, bands and choruses.”

The chapel expansion was key in booking the Salvation Army of Metro Chicago’s 1,200-person conference to be held during spring break this year. The conference will celebrate the group’s 
125th anniversary.

Ordinarily the Salvation Army holds its conference at a convention center, but McGinty and her staff were able to convince the group to try Wheaton because of the changes at the chapel.
The school’s ties to the Rev. Billy Graham also appealed to the group because Graham had served as an adviser to the Salvation Army in Chicago.

Graham was a Wheaton alumnus, and the campus is home to the Billy Graham Center, which stimulates global evangelism, and the Billy Graham Center Museum, which explores evangelism in North America and Graham’s ministry.

Courtesy Wheaton Collge

The Graham connection is also a major draw for religious conferences. It is what causes the Korean World Missions Conference and its 1,300 attendees to come to Wheaton every four years, for example.

Wheaton’s availability as a conference venue is limited during the school year, mainly because of an active student body that keeps buildings and facilities booked up.

Conference bookings are relegated to summers and to spring and fall breaks. Sixty percent to 70 percent of summer business is religious groups, according to McGinty; much of the remaining summer business is sports camps for anything from lacrosse to cheerleading. During the summer, almost 1,300 units of campus housing are available.

For large groups that go to Wheaton in the summer and groups that meet there during school year breaks, the conferencing department works with area hotels to house attendees, according to McGinty.

Being near O’Hare International Airport works to Wheaton’s advantage because of the large number of high-profile full-service hotels near the airport. Most provide shuttle service to the campus, a 12- to 15-minute drive.

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