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50 years of SMSU stories

MARSHALL — Fifty years’ worth of Mustang memories are thoughtfully and creatively packed into a hardcover book commemorating Southwest Minnesota State University’s 50th anniversary.

Along with countless photos spanning the past five decades, the “Southwest Story as told by the Mustang Family” features 99 individuals — administrators, alumni, staff, students and friends of the university — who shared their experiences. Upon reading the essays, it’s easy to find commonalities – even between people who seemingly have very little in common.

“A lot of times, the experiences are really similar even though all the players in the show have changed,” said Marcy Olson, creative director, designer and project manager of the book. “It’s cool. It’s a good feeling, as we look back on 50 years, to know that we are doing something right and we’re making a difference for students — that has gone out in generations of alumni and it reinforces what we know to be true about who we are. And that’s important.”

Along with Olson, SMSU communications and marketing director Jim Tate and second-year graduate student Rita Fonder played extremely key roles in the creation of the coffee table style book.

“I did most of the contacting of people,” Tate said. “Rita’s expertise was with the photos and the photo identifications. And then as we edited these pieces, we handed them over to Marcy. She’s the one that put it together. It’s a classy publication.”

The essays

The people are the heart of SMSU. The workgroup, consisting of a dozen individuals, including Tate, Olson and Fonder, knew this and took the process of selecting people to share essays in the book very seriously.

“When we started with the workgroup on July 27, 2015, we had to figure out who we wanted to write a piece,” Olson said. “And we didn’t want it to be a history in chronological order. We wanted it to be the Mustang family telling its story in its own words. With five decades, you want somebody from each decade. You want male and female. You want diversity — athletes, faculty, presidents. You had to consider all these things so that you have a very broad representation of our Mustang family.”

In the book, readers will hear from Warren Quarnstrom, who was among the committee members who were instrumental in bringing the college on the prairie in southwest Minnesota to life. There’s also pioneer Jean Replinger, who left her mark all over the SMSU campus.

The publication also includes Lionel, who not only became a standout football player at SMSU, but also met his wife of 39 years and jumpstarted a 40-year career in the hospitality industry as well. There’s also Pathao (Xiong) Vang, one of 14 original Hmong students. Vang shares her story of survival and how she fulfilled her mother’s dream, getting a solid education and graduating from SMSU in 1999. Then there’s Cyndi (Haecherl) Holm, who has been an employee at the university for nearly 40 years. Holm says she spent more time at SMSU than anywhere else and wouldn’t change it for the world.

“We started thinking the book is going to be 128 pages and we’ll have 43 people,” Olson said. “Then we just said, ‘But we have to include this person.’ I said we’re not going to be able to keep it at 128. We started collecting these great stories and we didn’t want to cut them because one story isn’t better than the others. They’re all good. And you want the story to be robust. So we said it’s going to keep growing until we feel it’s as big as it needs to be.”

Cover to cover, the book is 168 pages in full color.

“When we solicited people for the essays, we asked that they keep them to about 450 words, which isn’t a lot,” Tate said. “But most individuals did it. The only person we gave a pass to is the late Dick Jorgensen, who wrote the first book about the early years of the university — how it got here and the politics behind it. We gave him a pass (on word count) because he earned it.”

Olson noted it was vital to capture the stories from several people who were at the institution from the beginning. “It was such an interesting time,” Olson said. “There’s an essay from Lorraine Weverka, who was the first administrative assistant to the president. Their offices were at city hall downtown.”

According to Olson, early faculty had fascinating stories to tell. Some of them included in the book are: Ed Carberry (chemistry professor, started in 1967), Ken Mukomela (business education, 1968), Joseph Amato (history, 68), Hugh Curtler (philosophy, 1968), Eileen Thomas (English, 1969), Mike Sterner (physical education, 1969), Ted Rowe (math, 1969), Lloyd White (German, 1969), Dan Snobl (physical therapy, 1972), Karen Sterner (education, 1973) and many more.

“We didn’t have all the buildings we have now, though we had the library, P.E. Gym and theater,” Olson said. “So the faculty had offices on the top floor of the library. They were sort of all together in one area and they called this a ‘Community of Scholars.’ “

Tate said he thought it was amazing how often Community of Scholars comes up in the book.

“The early faculty really seemed to enjoy the fact that they weren’t separated by programs and departments,” he said. “They commented on the camaraderie that it instilled and that was developed in that early first wave of faculty hires. That was maybe one of the most beautiful things about this book — what individually, everybody remembers.”

Comments from current President Connie Gores as well as former presidents are also in the book.

“We tried to track down all of the living past presidents and collect a story from them,” Olson said. “One of our regrets was that we were not able to track down Doug Treadway. He had moved around and had retired. We eventually found that he had served as a president at a college in Los Angeles, California, area but by the time, we learned that he had recently passed away. It was within the month, so that was sad. It would’ve been great to get his story.”

Readers will also find essays from former students, athletes and coaches. “They might be a graduate from ’72, ’85 and ’99 and they all kind of tell the same thing,” she said. “They say, ‘Somebody made a difference for me, it felt like family, everyone was so friendly or I know I belonged here.’ So that’s where a lot of our language comes from. It’s from what people say about us. We don’t invent it. It’s real. That’s the cool part. When you hear it coming from people who experienced it, you know we’ve got something really special here at SMSU. It’s a great feeling.”

Fonder said she definitely felt the connectedness.

“It was really fascinating, just to see all the stories from throughout the history and just different people’s perspectives, but how yet it’s still similar to my perspective as a student,” Fonder said. “There are things that I experienced with professors and classes or in the community and other people experienced that, too, and it wasn’t just tied to my time here.”

The photos

Fonder took the lead on photos for the book, starting the organizing and scanning process back as an undergrad in 2012.

“We had a lot of photos in the Southwest History Center — Jan Louwagie’s area down there — and those were images that were both printed and these were images taken, a good percentage of them, by Henry Kyllingstad, who was a charter faculty member and worked at SMSU until his retirement in 1981,” Tate said. “There were just boxes and boxes and boxes of negatives, 35 millimeter and then medium format as well. So we invested in a good scanner and took those images and digitized them. It’s a very tedious job.”

Olson said the university photos had been shuffled around over the years. “We had stored all of those things in our office space when we were located on third floor,” she said. “But then we had the fire and everything had to get moved around. But now they found a good home and they’ll eventually be moving to the archives in the library.”

Olson credits Fonder for her “organizational skills, patience and methodology.”

“It was so valuable when it came to putting the book together because we could say, ‘Rita, do you know of a photo that would go with this?’ and she would go and find one,” Olson said. “It was a big job.”

Tate agreed, noting that they “could not have done it without Fonder’s assistance.”

Identifying the people in those photos proved to be another challenge, so the trio turned to social media for help.

“It was tough, trying to take all this visual history for 50 years and organize it somehow and name it somehow so it can be found,” Olson said. “We used social media to help identify people. We’ve done those flashbacks, those throwback albums for a few years now.”

Tate said Fonder really did some nice “sleuth work.”

“I’d get a lead and then I’d contact that person to see if they remembered anybody else from the picture,” Fonder said. “It was definitely a team effort with everybody putting a lot of time in to get the book finished.”

Oftentimes, photos ended up having to be switched out.

“There’d be one that would be too small, so we’d try to find something similar but also tied in with the story,” Fonder said. “Then there were some photos that we didn’t know who the people were. But over time, I got so I could recognize some face. So if they were looking for the first president, Howard Bellows, I could look through a whole bunch of photos and try to find one of him. They we could switch it.”

One of Tate’s favorites photos is of the movillas.

“They were pods of trailers,” he said. “That was the original student housing. They were located over by where Boulder Estates is now.”

Olson has two favorites. One she calls “Macho Man” and is a photo of five guys in a pyramid formation at a football game, and the guy on the top is wearing a cheerleading skirt. “I took that photo,” she said. “It just cracks me up. It had to be from 1995 or 1996, when we were still playing football at Old Mattke Field.”

The other photo most special to Olson is an early aerial view of the campus and town. “You can take such a close look and see what Marshall looked like back then,” Olson said. “You can look down what we now know is East College Drive and see that it’s a rural road. It’s a farm. I was talking to the guy at the print shop and he said he shot his first pheasant out in that field there. There are just really cool things people can remember just looking through the photos.”

The layout and finishing touches

Like a jigsaw puzzle, Olson creatively pieced together the essays and photos, using In Design.

“I wanted it to have a slightly retro feel to it, but be very clearly SMSU with the brown and gold use,” Olson said. “We wanted it to be something you can sit and study and say, ‘Oh year, I remember when the library looked like that.’ There are all kinds of things you can dive into. You can get lost in the book.”

Olson said she knew she wanted to start with the beginning years, but then jump into using familiar people, including Bart Sutter.

“I knew we had some cool photos of the early years, but then I kind of just jumped all over the place,” she said. “I’d realize that these two would work better facing each other, so I’d move pages around. There was a lot of flipping, but it all came together. We’re really happy with it.”

In the thick of the finishing work, Olson said she really began understanding the enormous significance of the project.

“I thought, ‘This is probably the most important project I’ll do in my career,’ “ she said. “So I looked at it that way.”

Olson said the commemorative book has a lot of life in it.

“Somebody who is in this book, they’ll read it, they’ll pass on and their kids and grandkids will keep it and read it,” Olson said. “I wanted it to be really, really good because it’s going to stay with people and their families for years. They’ll say, ‘You have to read grandma’s story in here about how she played basketball when she was a kid. I didn’t know Grandma played basketball.’ So you just want those things to be captured well for people.”

While SMSU life is obviously highlighted, there are other issues detailed as well.

“People can learn a whole bunch of other things about the other eras and what was happening at those times — things in the 60s and 70s,” Olson said. “They talk about world history, so it’s bigger than just us. But it’s mostly our story and everybody gets to tell a little part of it.”

While the trio said they had hoped the book would be finished in time for the Homecoming celebration in late September, they weren’t willing to compromise the quality. “We worked on it a lot in the summer, then August and September, we were all focused 100 percent on that reunion weekend — it took everything everyone had to get that done,” Olson said.

“We really wanted the book done by Homecoming, but we knew if we tried to do that, it wouldn’t be the book we wanted it to be.”

As soon as Homecoming was over, it was nonstop work on the book, Olson said, including weekends and holidays. The final approval was given in November.

“The insides of the book were printed locally,” Olson said. “Then the binding and gold foil was outsourced. The SMSU Foundation paid for the project, the printing of the book, which was very generous. So we didn’t use state funds or have to take any money out of the budget.”

While a great deal of time and effort went into the process, they didn’t want the cost of the book to be high.

“We want people to pick one up and enjoy it,” Olson said. “We ordered 750 books and they’re $35 apiece. It’s the best deal in town.”

The purchase a book, contact the SMSU Foundation at 507-537-6266 or foundation@smsu.edu. People can also choose to pick one up at the Foundation office, located on the second floor of Founder’s Hall.

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