Always a Mustang
Connie Gores congratulated ‘for a job well done’
The music stopped for just a moment inside the Southwest Minnesota State University Ballroom Monday evening.
That’s when Ross Anderson put down his saxophone and made an announcement.
“We would like to dedicate these next two tunes to President (Connie) Gores,” Anderson told the audience. “The first one is an old Dixie tune called ‘After you are gone.'”
And the music by Anderson and band partner, Pete Lothringer, started up again. Just like it has so many times over the past years. The two-man band has been a fixture at many SMSU galas, receptions and social gatherings. On Monday, the two played once again — but this time it was for Gores’ retirement celebration.
Anderson also explained to the audience during his announcement that they played at Gores’ inauguration reception more than six years ago.
When the music stopped again, it was time for others to express how they feel about the outgoing SMSU president.
With Gores sitting at the front table, Ralco President Brian Knochenmus walked up to the podium, grinning ear to ear.
“No reason to be nervous,” Knochenmus said before he laughed. And then he got serious
“You are a connector. You have done so many good things,” he said. “Connie has been so inspirational, not just for the university. I think that’s one of the real values she brings to us as a community. She is a connector. We know you are going to bring that same energy to your family. That is going to be a very important and a gift to them as well.”
“She came here with gusto and she’s leaving with gusto,” SMSU Provost and Vice President Dr. Dwight Watson told the audience.
“I have to say congratulations for a job well done,” Minnesota State system vice chancellor Ron Anderson said. “Connie has been a wonderful part of the Minnesota State system both here and Winona. You can’t work for Connie and not know her passion for students and the mission of the institution. That is something we will always remember about you and the work you have done here and as well in the system.”
Jerry Bly, who is a 1971 SMSU graduate and current president of the university’s foundation board of directors, talked about how the six years went too quickly for him.
“It’s been just a heartbeat from your inauguration. Many of us had the pleasure of sitting there that day. It just seems like it’s gone too fast,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure. So on behalf of the foundation a sincere thank you for your timeless, timeless hard work to make this university — through your leadership — become more and more a Mustang family.”
Bly also announced that the foundation was going to contribute a minimum of $1,000 to the President Connie Gores endowed scholarship.
“I know that number is going to grow because we handed out pledge cards to all of the board members today,” Bly said.
One of the students who attended the event, David Shittu, walked up to the podium and reminisced about his first couple weeks at SMSU in 2015.
“It was super cold outside. I’m from Nigeria, never seen anything like this before,” he said. “I was in the cafeteria and I was trying to get some stir fry and somebody walked up to me. She was like, ‘oh yea, that’s so good. Ask them to put in extra spice because I think you like spice.’ And I said, ‘how did you know that?’
“I go back to my table and I said I just met this super funny lady. ‘(Another student) oh yea, that’s the president of the university. Two weeks later I found her again on Twitter,” Shittu said, which drew laughter from the audience.
“So it’s really been an honor to know you. Get in conversation with you. I know a lot of students have said the same thing too. It’s been an honor for just the advice you give me.”
Gores told the Independent at the start of the reception, that she was “really happy” to see so many community members. And that reception reminded her that she will be leaving SMSU and the community soon.
“I’ve been going full speed ahead. I haven’t been thinking about the fact I’ll be leaving the community and leaving the university. It’s starting to become a little more real. It’s kind of bittersweet,” Gores said.
She said she plans to get in her car on July 1 and drive to North Carolina to be near her two daughters and two grandchildren.
“Then I’m going to take a self-funded sabbatical and just take a little break — six, eight months — to catch on some sleep, do some thinking and being with my grandchildren. Then I’ll decide what’s next.”