SMSU alumni show support with window signs

Submitted Photo Lori Engebretson, left, and Karen Kaas hold the sign indicating that SMSU employs 118 alumni. These signs are popping up all over Marshall as a result of a Chamber initiative, spearheaded by Karen VanKeulen.

Karen VanKeulen was sitting around with Alumni Director Mike VanDrehle chatting about the university’s 50th anniversary when they began to brainstorm.

VanKeulen is a 1987 alumna with a degree in Hotel Restaurant Administration and a minor in Business. She is the Events and Partnership Coordinator for the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce. Karen and her husband Pat are huge SMSU supporters, and can be seen at many university events.

“Initially, we talked about how the paper does those ‘Go Mustangs’ and ‘Go Tigers’ signs that people can cut out of the back page of the paper and display in their windows,” she said.

“We continued to talk, and got the idea of a sign that businesses could put in their windows, indicating how many SMSU employees work there. That’s what started this whole thing.”

“This whole thing” is an idea whereby businesses can post how many SMSU alumni are employed at a particular business (see photo).

“We had them printed, and then started handing them out. People are taking photos of their SMSU alumni, with the signs. It’s an awesome way to show support for the university’s 50th anniversary, and it also shows how important SMSU is to the business community.”

As the photos come into the Chamber office, they are posted on its website. We, in turn, have been sharing those photos on our Facebook page, SMSUtoday.

Who would know, for instance, that the Marshall Middle School has 32 alumni working there? VanDrehle said Lakeview School in Cottonwood has at least 30. The Post Office took a picture, along with other businesses, like Hoffman & Brobst, Marcotte Jewelry, Marshall Workforce Center, Minnwest Bank, Prairie Home Hospice, Centrol Crop Consulting, Boerboom Ag Resources and the City of Marshall, to name just a few.

Southwest Minnesota State University employs 118 alumni.

“In our office, at the Chamber, over half of the employees are SMSU alumni,” said Vankeulen. “People are grabbing onto this, and it’s something that shows support for the university, and is something that can be left up all year long, too.”

About eight or nine years ago the state system — Minnesota State — did an economic impact study regarding SMSU within the region. They found — and this was a long time ago, remember — that SMSU’s economic impact was $141 million.

That’s economic impact. It is not human impact. “Just think of it. Had all of these people ended up here if they didn’t go to SMSU?” she asked.

A good question. SMSU has its high-profile alumni, people like actor Isiah Whitlock, Jr., poet/writer Barton Sutter and artist Terrence Fogargy. But what these signs help bring home is the number of alumni who work in businesses up and down Main Street Marshall, and other communities within the region. They stayed in the region, or returned, and are community leaders and do so much good in a variety of ways. They don’t get the recognition, perhaps, but they are integral parts of their communities and have one thing in common — they are SMSU alumni.

Just a reminder that today is Founders Day at SMSU. A short program will be held at 12:30 p.m. in the Alumni Plaza Area. President Connie J. Gores will give remarks, followed by a reading off the mayoral proclamation regarding Sept. 25-30 being “SMSU Week.” A cake reception will follow, and those in attendance are invited to sign the 50th anniversary Charter.

All are invited.