Michel La Poutre and Peter Colon (both now 61) started their economics studies back in 1979. However, they did not get to know each other until four years later when they both joined the Eurekaweek committee. “A call was posted in Quod Novum (the forerunner of Erasmus Magazine, ed.) that the university was looking for volunteers to organise the Eurekaweek”, Colon recounts. “I thought it would be fun to be on the committee; gain some experience and get to know new people. It would also look good on your CV.”
La Poutre, chair of the committee: “In 1983, I switched to Business Administration. I had half a year left before my new studies started, so I had loads of free time and was involved in all sorts of things, including working at the legal advice centre and as a student assistant as well. Being chair of the Eurekaweek was something else I could do”, he adds.
Budget under control
The committee was made up of five economics students who did the work voluntarily. “We were given a small room in the Erasmus building basement, where typewriters and a telephone were located, and that was it”, Colon explains. They were supervised by a student dean. “We presented our plans and budget to him on a regular basis”, La Poutre recalls. “But other than that, he just trusted that third- and fourth-year students had enough common sense and a sense of responsibility to organise the week for around two thousand students.”
Some years, Eurekaweek got completely out of hand financially. “Luckily for us we had it under control. That’s what you would expect from economists”, La Poutre says with a wink. “But there was definitely a lot of money involved. I really don’t know how much anymore. Do you still have an idea, Peter, how big the budget was?”
Colon: “No, I’d have to hazard a guess now, maybe 100 thousand guilders, something like that?”
Cultural evening and aerobics
The committee members had the freedom to devise and pursue their own ideas, says Colon. “The cultural evening, for example, was mainly my idea”, La Poutre goes on to say. “I went to Henk Mali, then chair of the Stichting Kunstzinnige Vorming (Foundation for Arts Education), to discuss the programme – he was one of my father’s best friends. He came up with the idea of organising a very large opera by Robert Wilson, which would be performed together with renowned musicians such as Philip Glass and David Byrne. The opera was originally meant to be performed as part of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, but that never materialised. It was an ambitious global project and utterly avant-garde.”
La Poutre personally thought the performance was wonderful. “But apparently half the students were not into it. They walked out during the performance after the interval when Robert Wilson addressed us in an amusing yet rather stern tone and asked us to stop being so noisy or leave the room”, he says with a laugh. Back then, Quod Novum did give them a compliment because they had ‘dared to take a gamble by not just organising risk-free parties, but also presenting a unique slice of avant-garde’.
Colon: “We also had some lighter programmes that were really popular, such as an outdoor sports day that included aerobics on Friday afternoon at the Kralingse Plas. The instructor showed up in a colourful 80s gym outfit with purple leg warmers, a headband and all the trimmings.”
Johan Cruijff and Jan Tinbergen
Not only did they offer several special programmes, they also had some very special guests, namely: Johan Cruijff and Jan Tinbergen. The two do not remember much of Tinbergen’s speech, but they do remember the speech Cruijff gave. “It was a pretty special year for Johan Cruijff because he made the switch to Feyenoord. He talked about his time with Barcelona, when all sorts of things went wrong. He urged everyone there: make sure you arrange your affairs properly and make proper agreements. Peter and I are now self-employed entrepreneurs so we wholeheartedly follow the advice of the great philosopher Johan Cruijff.”
Connection to the city
The University had two locations in those days, Woudestein campus and Hoboken. “Our mission was to link these two locations together and open up the city to students,” La Poutre goes on to say. “We wanted students to not only wander around Kralingen, but also mix and mingle all around Rotterdam.”
That was why a visit to Blijdorp Zoo was on the programme. “That turned out to be the most expensive part of the programme. We weren’t able to get a deal with them and it frustrated us that the zoo was not willing to cooperate. We persevered in the end, even though we had to buy tickets for two thousand students, considering that Blijdorp is a symbol of the city”, Colon recalls. “It’s so nice to see students walking around the zoo with Eureka bags. I think they had a great time there.”
Did it all by themselves
The two men look back on Eurekaweek with fond feelings. “It was an incredibly intensive period, we did everything ourselves: stapling the booklets, filling the bags, making sandwiches”, La Poutre recounts. Colon adds: “I remember that while Michel was on stage addressing the new students, I was in the kitchen with the other committee members preparing lunch. Can you imagine how many sandwiches we had to make for two thousand students?”
They were understaffed, but that did not spoil the fun. “There were only five of us and we had to be able to find each other quickly amongst the sea of new students. So, we bought Hawaiian shirts at BlueTiek-in, a clothes shop in Oude Binnenweg, which we then wore on busy days”, Colon explains.
La Poutre laughs: “Oh, those red and white shirts with all kinds of flowers on them. Yeah, fantastic. You could spot them from the other side of the campus.”
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Almost forty years later, the contact between the committee members has faded a bit, Colon confesses. By coincidence, he bumped into La Poutre a few years ago through his work. They do follow the other committee members on LinkedIn, but are no longer in regular contact.
La Poutre: “It has been quite a while since we met up, Peter. We should grab a beer soon!” Colon: “For sure!”