This column by Betty Mills appeared in the Bismarck Tribune Oct. 13, 1999, just after the Alumni Center dedication.
NDSU Alumni Take Wonderful Care of School
Two new buildings were dedicated during homecoming last week on the campus of North Dakota State University,
in Fargo. An engineering building and the Alumni Center will both add significantly to the education of students
who pass through their doors and to the future of the university itself.
Interestingly enough, the Alumni Center was built entirely with private funding, $3.5 million of it, and many of the donors were there for the ribbon-cutting. One wall on the second floor contains sketches of those who gave at least a million dollars, graduates all of what was once derisively called the cow college.
There's still a lot of room here for more pictures, someone said. No doubt, as the years go by, those spaces will be filled.
The center is an attractive building, blending in with the other campus architecture and constructed with the typical North Dakotan attitude about being useful as well as good looking. In addition to offices for the Alumni Association and Development Foundation, there are several handsomely furnished conference rooms, since this center is intended not only to serve alumni but to add to the capacity of the university to provide educational opportunities for diverse interests.
There is plenty of gracious space and clusters of comfortable seating arrangements, so that it is easy to envision gatherings of old grads, back on campus for a festive occasion, meeting there in the setting that was built by them and for them.
And a lot of them were there the morning of the dedication, some easy to spot in sweatshirts emblazoned with Bison emblems or in green sports coats that had nothing whatever to do with golf tournaments. Others, stadium tickets in hand, were deep in conversation about the upcoming football game, and one small, gray-haired man was introduced to me with the phrase, You maybe won't believe this, but he played football for the Bison. I believed him, but not without visions of a modern Bison fullback dancing briefly before me.
There will be many such Bison replays in that building in the coming years, as well as talk of careers and families, of old friendships and renewed commitment to the institution that launched their adult lives. Or, as one alumnus put it, It made me believe in myself.
Among the major donors for this building, there was a scattering of younger graduates, but primarily they were from my generation, children of the depression, veterans of World War II and Korea. Many were second-generation Americans, frequently the first in their families to attend college.
For some, their college credits were accumulated in sessions sandwiched between the seasonal demands of farming. After all, this is our land-grant college, established by the federal government to promote and improve agriculture in the state through education and research, which it most certainly has done.
If, in earlier years, it was the country cousin, collegiate home to the kids wearing work boots and wardrobes out of mail-order catalogues, it has assuredly come into its own. That pride is reflected in the loyalty of its alumni and in the national recognition of its graduates and its football team.
It seems strange to me, now, that I never considered going there, where so many of my cousins did, as did my brother, briefly, and my sister. That such major decisions are sometimes made through youthful whim is not a notion to bring peaceful rest to parents.
As I watched the joyful reunions of old classmates, I felt a few pangs of regret for the might have beens, but also enormous pride as a North Dakotan in all the university has given to its students and in what it has become.
If college graduates sometimes grow weary of the letters that pursue them, often before the ink has quite dried on their diplomas, we should all hope that the alumni associations of this world continue to pursue and promote, and that we, the targets, forgive their elegant nagging. They have accomplished much, these organized alumni-scholarships, buildings, curriculum improvements and an understanding on campuses everywhere that the university continues to be important to those who have long ago left its classrooms.
Sure, these donors enjoyed the hoopla and the tax breaks but basic to their generosity was the belief that they were giving back a share of what had come to them as a result of their years at the university.
It is, in the modern vernacular, a win-win situation, a heartwarming example of the theme line for an early weekly soap: All that we put into the lives of others comes back into our own.
Reprinted with permission from the Bismarck Tribune. Betty Mills is a freelance writer. She has written a weekly column for the Bismarck Tribune for 16 years.