The Spartan Line: Connecting Spartans in Chicago to the Capital region

On Friday, Nov. 26, something out of the ordinary happened at the East Lansing Amtrak Station. Though the Blue Water Line arrived from Chicago at its regularly scheduled time, it looked anything but regular when it pulled up to the platform. That’s because one train car was completely encased in Spartan green and white, with "Spartan Line" written boldly across its body. And once it stopped, a gaggle of excited MSU alum tumbled out, eager to spend a fun-filled weekend in their old stomping grounds.
"It was a lot of fun," says 2012 Communications Graduate Ellina Stein, 22. "People were walking up and down the aisle, and they had an MSU card game. There was a wide range of ages, from parents, to younger people, as well as some people who graduated in 1970-something."
The Spartan Line is a new Prima Civitas Foundation (PCF) initiative with a goal that is pretty well summed up by the tagline on the side of the branded train car: "Go green. Go white. Go forth. Come home."
"This was a really an idea that was started by our CEO, Steve Webster," says PCF’s Tremaine Phillips. "We kind of all came around the table and started thinking about ways we could attract the 25,000-plus residents of Chicago who are alumni of MSU."
The premise of The Spartan Line is that it gives these Chicago-based MSU alumni a convenient and fun way to zip back to East Lansing for events. After all, the longer they stay connected to the Lansing area, the more likely it is that they consider their former home as a possible future home. PCF worked with several partners to make the program happen, including the university, the MSU Alumni Association, MSU Athletics, the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, LEAP and other organizations interested in keeping Spartans local.
From Stein’s perspective, however, all the emphasis was on the fun.
"I wanted to visit friends and go to the football game, and come back home for a little bit," says Stein, who was born and raised in New York. "It just made it so much easier because I don’t have a car in Chicago, and to have it mixed together with the football ticket – it’s perfect."
In addition to a ride to and from Chicago and tickets to the MSU vs. Northwestern game, Spartan Line riders were treated to a morning tailgate and an exclusive, sneak peek tour and reception of the Broad Art Museum on Saturday.
"That was gorgeous," Stein says. "They kind of closed it off and we had some drinks and appetizers and we got to walk around and see the exhibits. It was amazing. It’s like something you’d see in Chicago.”
Though Stein didn’t know any of the other riders before she left, it didn’t take long before she befriended some of the other Spartans on the train, whose graduation dates spanned from 2012 to 30 years ago. (See a cute-as-the-Dickens video of the youngest Spartan Line passenger singing the MSU Fight Song here.)
"A couple of the girls and I have already exchanged numbers and are planning to see a movie together," she says. "It’s like being a part of the Spartan Family. As soon as you find out someone is from Michigan State, you’re like best friends."
Just because fun was Stein’s primary motivator for taking the Spartan Line doesn’t mean PCF missed their mark. Though the 2012 grad is just beginning her career in Chicago and was born and raised in New York, she’s deeply committed to the MSU community – and she sees the Spartan Line as a great way to maintain that connection.
"One of the most important things to me is staying connected to my university family,” she says. “One reason I chose Chicago is that it’s close to Lansing, so I can always come back."
She’ll get her chance do that again with the Spartan Line in the future. Phillips says planning for the next voyage is underway.
"We’re looking at some big events coming in the spring of 2013, even some in Chicago," he says. "We’re thinking of bringing East Lansing students to Chicago for an MSU-oriented event."
About 30 riders came out for the inaugural Spartan Line run, and Phillips hopes to see that number grow for future events.
"For a first event, we thought that was a success," he says. "We got great feedback from those who participated. They said they would love to do it again and bring friends and family. We know that we have struck a nerve."
One thing is for sure. Whenever it is, for whatever event, MSU alumni like Stein will be ready and eager to hop on the Spartan Line to reconnect with East Lansing.
"Any opportunity to come back to East Lansing, I jump on it," she says. "It still feels like home."

Natalie Burg is the development news editor for Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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