The floral “M” in the Campus Drive traffic circle is a campus fixture. Visitors and recent graduates alike make it a point to document their time at the university with a photo taken in front of the “M.” But how did this campus icon originate?
In honor of the United States’ 200th birthday, the university instituted a campus-wide beautification initiative. Physical Plant constructed the “M” as their project. Charley Jantho, the Director of Physical Plant, and Bob Hafer, the Assistant Director for Operations in the Department of Physical Plant, are credited with the creation of the concept. With the project being overseen by UM staffer James Adams, construction was begun and finished during the 1976-1977 academic year.
The grounds crew, or “M-Crew,” became the caretaker of the landmark by planting and maintaining the flowers–a job which they took very seriously. According to an Outlook article, the week before the 1986 Homecoming, a miscreant stomped through the “M,” wrecking the begonias the M-Crew so painstakingly planted. Showing their dedication and protectiveness, the crew raised $100 of their own money to use as a reward for any information leading to the arrest of the culprit. The “M” had already earned a special place in the university’s heart.
A year later, the Class of 1987 raised money to illuminate the “M” as their class gift. In an interview with the Diamondback, senior Michael Palmer said, “Lighting the ‘M’ will get a visible representation of the class gift giving tradition we are trying to promote. It will be a symbol of what campus is — a special prominence as the flagship campus of the University of Maryland.”
Due to a concerted and ongoing effort, Palmer’s observation still rings true more than thirty years later. The illuminated “M” has become one of the iconic symbols of the campus, distinguishing the University of Maryland from other institutions of higher learning across the country.