The Iowa State Center began as the dream of James H. Hilton, who graduated from Iowa State University in Dairy Science and served as University President from 1953-1965. He proposed the idea of an educational/cultural/athletic complex at the 1954 fall faculty convocation.
Clifford Y. Stephens, another Iowa State University alumnus, led donations with a one million dollar gift toward the Center’s construction of a performing arts auditorium. C.Y. Stephens’ gift came from the dream that he shared with Hilton. He felt passionately that a person’s first great need was the opportunity to get an education and believed all students should have an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the fine arts, which he considered necessary for adequate living. Thanks to their fundraising efforts, the Iowa State Center was constructed without using any state funds.
The New York Philharmonic Orchestra opened Stephens Auditorium in the fall of 1969 with a five-performance, week-long festival. Hilton Coliseum opened in 1971 followed by Fisher Theater in 1974 and Scheman Building in 1975.
At the dedication of the building in 1969, C.Y. Stephens’ widow expressed her hope that “within the walls of the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium, countless persons will experience a newborn appreciation for the performing arts in the decades to come. There could be no more fitting tribute to the memory of my husband who discovered his love for the theater as a student on this campus more than four decades ago.”