Inauguration means prep work at SMSU

MARSHALL – The campus of Southwest Minnesota State University is getting a thorough spring cleaning for the inauguration ceremony of Dr. Connie J. Gores at 2 p.m. Friday. The ceremony will be held in the R/A Facility and the reception in the student center are open the public.

Laura Bottin, building services manager, has had her team cleaning the campus and R/A Facility to “make sure everything is sparkling,” she said. “We are getting into those corners we don’t do on a regular basis.”

Bottin has a staff of 11 to help with the event set up, but she said “many more helping hands from anyone who has free time” will be pitching in.

“It’s a campus-wide effort,” Bottin said. “We are dusting and cleaning windows this week, and Thursday is devoted to setting up the R/A Facility.”

Bleachers will be pulled out, a stage erected, chairs for the participants and attendees set up, and flag stands arranged to showcase and honor the diversity that will be represented at the event. The Upper and Lower Sioux agencies will be represented, and 26 countries’ flags will also be carried and displayed by international students wearing traditional dress “to represent SMSU’s diverse student population,” Bottin said.

With the inauguration ceremony comes a lot of tradition.

“This is history happening on Friday,” said Marcy Olson, who works in the marketing and communications department and is one of the inauguration ceremony committee chairs. “This has been a real learning experience for me.”

“It’s a time to think about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going,” Olson added. “That’s why we chose the theme ‘The Prairie. The People. The Possibilities.'” The prairie theme will be represented in almost every aspect of the event, including the language used in the ceremony. It will feature excerpts from “Horizontal Grandeur,” an essay by former professor and Minneota native Bill Holm.

Olson helped choose the gifts for the delegates, family and special guests.

“Delegates will get a copy of ‘Farming Words: The Harvest of Literature at a Prairie College’ edited by Bill Holm and a brown journal,” Olson said.

Family of the president and special guests will receive a handmade vase decorated with prairie grass from Tokheim Stoneware created by SMSU alumni Gene and Lucy Tokheim.

“It’s a gift that represents the area and the university,” Olson said. “Simple but elegant.”

Everything, including the order that delegates will enter the event, is dictated by tradition. Delegates will wear academic regalia and walk in based on the date the institution they are representing was founded. Dr. Emily Deaver will lead the procession. She will represent the oldest institution at the ceremony, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., founded in 1693. There will be 35 official delegates from all over the country representing their alma maters at the ceremony.

“Thirteen of the delegates are SMSU faculty and staff,” Olson said. “The former president from Winona State (Dr. Judith A. Ramaley) is coming all the way from Portland.”

Even the food served at the delegate lunch and reception will reflect life on the prairie. Laurie Varpness, catering director, says that they “took the theme of the prairie” into consideration with the menu. Duck breast, fingerling potatoes, apple slaw and a lingonberry sauce (to reflect the prairie’s Scandinavian heritage) will be served at the delegate lunch. The reception will include local fare.

“Schwan’s ice cream will have a station,” Varpness said. “We will also have international items like sushi, egg rolls and spring rolls to represent our diverse student body.”

“It’s a time to honor our past and celebrate our future; it’s a fresh start,” said Mike VanDrehle, director of alumni relations, who is in charge of the ceremony. “Lining up people and making sure we have everyone where they need to be. It definitely takes a group effort to pull something like this off. Bill Mulso, Marcy Olson, and Chris Anderson (inauguration committee chairs) really put this all together.”

With the final preparations happening today, everyone involved is excited to see their work come to fruition on Friday afternoon.

“I will be in flux for the day,” Bottin said. “Last minute changes are part of our job. Head counts, something that needs to be added to the stage, more flag stands…”

“Volunteers will be helping with lineups, and student ambassadors will be posted to help direct and make people feel welcome,” Olson said. “It’s been pretty exciting. We have done so much work in-house.”

When asked what they were looking forward to most on Friday, Bottin and Olson said being able to “stand back, be proud and enjoy the day.”