‘People like all of you’

SMSU Founders Day celebration puts spotlight on those making a ‘difference’

Photo by Jenny Kirk Warren Quarnstrom, an original committee member who was instrumental in helping establish the institution, was the second to sign the 50th charter on Monday.

MARSHALL — A special Founders Day celebration took place on Monday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a college on the prairie in southwest Minnesota — an institution now known as Southwest Minnesota State University.

The well-attended event was held in the Alumni Plaza area on campus and served as an official kick-off for Homecoming Week activities.

“It was on this day in 1967 that the faculty, staff and student gathered for out first convocation of what was then Southwest Minnesota State College,” said Bill Mulso, vice president for Advancement and Foundation executive director at SMSU. “Today, we come together to honor our past and reaffirm the pledge that our charter faculty staff and students made 50 years ago — to pledge our talents and abilities to the never-ending development of this fine institution.”

SMSU President Connie Gores declared that the special occasion was made “even more special because of everyone who gathered here” on Monday.

“People have always made the difference at Southwest — people who care about one another, people who care deeply about this fine institution and people who make a difference every day,” Gores said. “People like all of you.”

Gores added that she was pleased to have exceptional guests present for the 50th anniversary.

“We have members of the Charter Class of students, faculty who taught here in the early years and staff members who have supported our students at every step in our journey,” she said. “We also have community members who had a vision for a college on the prairie and worked tirelessly to make that dream come true.”

Warren and Ardella Quarnstrom were recognized for their contributions to the university’s founding.

“I was on the original committee to get a college in southwestern Minnesota,” Warren Quarnstrom said. “We wanted it, of course, in Marshall.”

The Quarnstroms moved to Marshall in 1955. Within the year, there were conversations over coffee that sparked the idea of founding a college.

“A group of local business people got the idea for it and there was an obvious void for colleges in southwestern Minnesota,” said Warren Quarnstrom, a longtime lawyer in the area. “We started the process in about 1956. The legislation was passed in 1963.”

Over the course of 10 years, Quarnstrom said the project considered several options.

“It started out, the efforts were to get a junior college,” he said. “Then at one time, there was consideration given to becoming a branch of Mankato. What finally happened was the four-year college. It all worked out very well, obviously. It’s nice seeing what we have now.”

Ardella Quarnstrom said the community of Marshall was fortunate to be selected as the site for the new college 50 years ago.

“Worthington had a junior college and they wanted it,” she said. “Montevideo wanted it. Redwood Falls had the prettiest area and they wanted it. They all had all kinds of reasons. It was so exciting when we were chosen as the site. Then we did go crazy.”

At first, very few of the neighboring communities wanted to back Marshall. Eventually, other towns began to offer their support.

“Five cities finally got together,” Warren Quarnstrom said. “It was Redwood Falls, Marshall, Tracy, Granite Falls and Slayton. They all pushed for legislation to establish a college in southwest Minnesota without naming the site. Then later, the selection committee chose Marshall as the site.”

Ardella Quarnstrom said Worthington was deemed too close to the Iowa border the community’s push fell short.

“Of course, we had land and we had water (in Marshall),” she said. “We also had a big committee that worked hard.”

Warren Quarnstrom added that Marshall was a larger town and had more housing and part-time employment opportunities available, which helped sway the decision in Marshall’s favor.

“We’re happy to have had a small part in this and we’ve been repaid many, many times for the effort we put in,” he said.

Additional praise was offered by Gores at the celebration.

“He handled all the legal matters associated with our founding,” Gores said. “Please join me in thanking a dear friend of the University, Mr. Warren Quarnstrom and his spouse, Ardella. We are so fortunate to have them in the Mustang family.”

Before calling on David Sturrock, Marshall City Council president pro tempore, to read a proclamation, Mulso praised the city of Marshall.

“On behalf of the many alumni faculty, staff and most importantly, students, I want to thank the city of Marshall for its unwavering support of SMSU over the years and for being a tremendous partner and advocate for this great institution,” Mulso said.

Then on behalf of Marshall Mayor, Bob Byrnes, Sturrock shared the proclamation:

“Whereas Southwest Minnesota State University is celebrating 50 years as an institution, having opened its doors in September of 1967, and

Whereas, during its short yet distinguished history, Southwest Minnesota State University has contributed in many ways to the city of Marshall, the region of southwest Minnesota and beyond, and Whereas, SMSU as an institution was founded on the hopes and dreams of visionary leaders concerned about higher education opportunities within the region, and

Whereas, Southwest Minnesota State University was a forerunner in accessible and inclusive education, a tradition which continues today, and

Whereas, alumni of the University contribute to the betterment of their communities throughout the region and the world, and

Whereas Southwest Minnesota State University has contributed to the academic, artistic, athletic and overall quality of life in southwest Minnesota.

Now, therefore, be it resolved that I, Robert J. Byrnes, Mayor of Marshall, do hereby proclaim the week of September 25-30 as Southwest Minnesota State University Week.”

After a large group photo was taken, charter students, faculty and staff were invited to sign the 50th charter immediately following Gores.

“The charter reads: ‘We, the undersigned Southwest Minnesota State University students, faculty, staff and alumni, reaffirm the pledge made by charter students, faculty and staff in 1967, to use our talents and abilities to the never-ending development of our fine institution,'” Gores said. “May we, as our counterparts sought to do 50 years ago, perform our tasks to insure those who follow will know their path by the lamps we have established. With great pride for the past and dedication to excellence in the future, we affix our names during the 50th anniversary Homecoming week, September 25-30, 2017.”

Everyone in attendance was given the opportunity to sign the charter and also enjoy a slice of cake. Gores encouraged people to honor the past, celebrate the present and envision the future — together — throughout the week and beyond.

“As we embrace the significance of this milestone and this point in time, I invite everyone to share their Mustang stories with their families, friends, neighbors, fellow students and co-workers, today and in the future — share what this place has meant to you and how it ha changed your life and made a difference. Let’s make sure that our message is carried far and wide,” she said.