SMSU’s 50th homecoming

I may not have graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University, but there are times I feel like I am part of the college. I started out my career at the Independent covering education news, and that included SMSU. I’ve been to several theater productions, music concerts, some lectures and author visits; attended a planetarium show or two; visited professors in their offices; covered a few graduation ceremonies and even attended a basketball game. Living and working in a college town has done that to me. So when SMSU celebrated this past week with its 50th anniversary homecoming, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement.

Admittedly, I only got to the events over the weekend. Saturday morning it looked like it was going to rain on the parade. It did rain that morning as I quickly hit the farmers market, but fortunately it stopped around the time folks started gathering downtown and up Main Street to watch the homecoming parade. The advantage of living near downtown is I only had to walk a few blocks to where the action was. A good-sized crowd was already lining the streets. I made my way down Main to the Daily Grind where I ran into some friends. Ross was going to be in the parade with the Marshall Area Stage Company. That was unit 36 in the parade, so I had a while to wait.

It turned out to be decent weather for the parade (what is it with me and weather?); it wasn’t too hot or too cold. Several of the SMSU clubs had floats, and even the keg-rolling crew from back in the early ’70s made an appearance. Normally, I’m taking photos at the parades or only staying for a short while. This time I stuck around until the end. And just when you thought the SMSU parade was over, a few last units came down the street.

Saturday was a busy day everywhere, including the restaurants. It wasn’t too bad in Perkin’s after the parade where a few of us had lunch. Plans were made to check out the theater department’s gathering of sorts around 4 p.m. In one of the hallways near the Black Box Theatre, there’s photos from the various shows, from the late ’60s and early ’70s to present day. Ross was in three productions in the early ’90s — “Hamlet,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “The Foreigner.” He played the title role in “The Foreigner,” and he was the “poster boy” for the program cover and the poster, which is among the years of posters in the theater lobby. A large group photo of theater alum was being taken at 4 p.m. on the Main Stage.

Isiah Whitlock Jr., SMSU theater alum and actor, was in town this past weekend as well. He’s known for “The Wire,” “The Mist,” and Cedar Rapids,” among other things. So it was cool to see several decades of the SMSU Theater Department represented in one photo. After the photo was taken, several folks were still hanging around, telling stories and sharing memories. Whitlock even talked about how he only had one line in “The Crucible” and was trying to figure out how to deliver that line. We learned there were a few promo shots from “The Foreigner” in the Fine Arts and Communications Department office. I was wondering if there were any photos of the show. It was also fun to see Ross back in the day (he hasn’t changed too much in appearance).

We headed down to the SMSU all-school reunion at the Red Baron Arena. Ross did attend SMSU on two different occasions, so I tagged along as his “plus one.” It was 6:15, so there weren’t a ton of people there yet as they were at the football game. The game was being broadcast on the big screen, so we kept up with the action on the field. We enjoyed some food, said hi to a few folks and basically stuck around the tables designated for the theater, fine arts, band, etc. Ross did a short stint in the SMSU marching band. He was helping others try to identify people in some of the theater photos, much to the delight of the theater faculty. So many people have graced the stage or helped out with tech in the SMSU theater. I’ve seen a generation of SMSU theater students, starting in 1999. A lot have gone on to teach college theater themselves, been in television commercials or onstage in the Twin Cities, Chicago, etc., directed plays, and other opportunities.

The weekend didn’t end there. On Sunday, we took in Southwest Minnesota Orchestra’s “An All-American Celebration — SMSU at 50” concert, which featured the music of Aaron Copland, Robert Whitcomb, Peter Lothringer and John Williams. It was an enjoyable concert and it was fun to see SMSU alum and 2017 Graduate of the Last Decade Alumni Award winner Ryan Ross perform the Copland songs, along with his wife, mezzo-soprano Sian Cameron. The concert also included the SMSU Chorale, and it was a lovely afternoon of music. A good ending to a special week for SMSU.

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