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A Future Built on a Strong Foundation

Photo of Ambrose Hall

June 2017 | by Craig DeVrieze ’16 MOL


They followed closely in the footsteps of a generation described as "one of towering achievement and modest demeanor," and were pretty great in their own right.

They were St. Ambrose alumni such as James McLaughlin '47, '76 (Hon), I. Wier Sears '51, '80 (Hon), Raymond McLaughlin '53, Jim Hagen '56, '93 (Hon) and community leaders and friends of St. Ambrose like John "Jack" Bush '94 (Hon), John Figge '79 (Hon) and Margaret Tiedemann '78 (Hon).

With the support and participation of their spouses and families, and in partnership with countless other alumni and community supporters, these civically engaged philanthropists helped build the St. Ambrose of the present.

They led or assisted campaigns that helped fund the library, the Rogalski Center and the Center for Health Sciences Education at Genesis.

They aided the renovation of Christ the King Chapel and helped modernize classrooms and laboratories in such iconic campus buildings as Ambrose and Lewis Halls.

They were founding members of The President's Club and the Bishop McMullen Legacy Circle. They were early benefactors to the Ambrose Annual Fund. They endowed scholarships that helped thousands of students earn degrees and helped build an endowment that keeps the university financially strong and educationally vital.

"Through their leadership and assistance, this university grew into the 21st century," said Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose. "We are strong and still growing because they recognized our value to future generations and contributed their time, wisdom and philanthropy to our cause."

Today, however, as St. Ambrose readies to open the new Wellness and Recreation Center, a fresh generation of supporters is, by necessity, taking the torch.

The 80,000-square-foot facility is the priority project for the Building Our Future campaign, and is the largest single capital project in university history. It is an important addition that will attract new students and help keep them healthy and fit.

Yet the true foundation for the future — the blocks upon which Bees not yet born will stand — is a new generation of alumni and community supporters who are helping St. Ambrose build on the legacy of preceding generations.

***

Aaron Quick '96 saw the early beginnings of two decades of amazing campus growth when the library opened in March of his senior year.

"And that was the tip of the iceberg," he said. "After that, new residence halls were built and the Rogalski Center and now the new Wellness and Recreation Center. That's in 20 years, man. It has really changed — for the better, obviously."

Christ the King ChapelQuick lives in St. Louis and re-engaged with St. Ambrose in the past five years, after first launching and then selling a start-up business.

Now a private consultant for equity firms focused on the healthcare industry, Quick saw friends reaching back to support their own alma maters and realized a link to both his past and future was missing in his busy life.

"Life evolves," he said. "Frankly, the first several years out of school, you don't have that sense of connection. You're trying to get by. But then you start to see how strong your relationship to your university is, and that's a cool thing on many levels.

"I have been successful and a lot of that is owed to my St. Ambrose experience," he said. "You start to realize how much it did impact your life. That it is part of who you are. You are shaped by that experience."

That realization and his reconnection was sparked, in part, by an invitation to participate on the President's Advisory Council, one of dozens of volunteer opportunities made available to St. Ambrose alumni in recent years.

Creating those opportunities to re-engage was intentional and strategic.

As the university prepared to launch the Building Our Future campaign, Vice President for Advancement Jim Stangle '82 said it became clear the effort could not succeed by heavily relying on the generations that supported past campaigns.

"We have roughly 25,000 alumni and half of them graduated in the past 15 years," Stangle said. "These new alumni are a group we were long overdue in reaching out to. The sooner we start communicating to them about how they can help, the better-served St. Ambrose will be in the long run."

To re-energize young alums, the Advancement Office worked with all three academic colleges and various academic departments to create alumni advisory councils that help shape curriculum and experiential learning opportunities. It teamed with the Admissions Department to build ways alumni can help recruit prospective students and enlisted the Career Center and other campus departments to pair alumni mentors with students interested in career advice.

Former athletes were brought back into the Fighting Bees athletics family to serve in an advisory role and/or as team captains. The Alumni Engagement Office, meanwhile, developed new opportunities for alums to assist and promote events such as Homecoming, Bee Happy Hour and the Wine Festival.

"Alumni are a resource, but not just financially," said Campaign Director and Associate Vice President for Advancement Sally Crino '01 MBA. "They are a resource with their wisdom, their job experience and their career advice. It is all of that, and the whole networking piece, that helps our graduates get a leg up as they enter the workforce."

At last count, 654 alumni and SAU supporters were filling 844 volunteer positions, and helping St. Ambrose build its future in myriad ways.

Stangle said focusing on the future also means being transparent about the need for financial assistance in meeting the campaign's $18.5 million goal. The response has been phenomenal, with well over half of the more than 500 new volunteers having made their first significant donation to St. Ambrose. Of the 170-plus donors who contributed gifts of $10,000 or more, 55 percent were new major donors.

"We really think it's working," Stangle said. "It is starting to bridge a big gap."

***

Quick said bridging a generational divide between himself and today's St. Ambrose students has been a bonus benefit from his reconnection.

"When you connect with that new generation, you understand that these are the people who are going to shape our workforce and our world, and they have a different perspective than I do," said Quick, who also is co-chairing a pilot program that pairs alumni mentors with future-focused students. "It's enjoyable and it's educational. It's an advantage for me from a business perspective because hopefully I am in tune with what they are thinking."

Quick also has been pleased to learn today's students still appreciate the touchstone elements of a St. Ambrose experience that meant so much to him 20 years ago: a strong sense of community; easy interaction with readily available faculty; and the steady support of a close Ambrosian family"The core values are still there, and I think when you get out into the world, those values come through," he said. "That's why if I were hiring, I wouldn't hesitate to give an Ambrose grad the first shot. I believe in the culture and the beliefs of St. Ambrose."

That culture, not surprisingly, is the very thread that brought 1950's era alumni back to the fold in the 1970s, when St. Ambrose President Emeritus Ed Rogalski, PhD, '08 (Hon) was asked to help what was then called the Development Office expand its base of donors.

Rogalski said successful alumni such as Jim Hagen, James and Ray McLaughlin, Michael Marks '53, Dick Hollembaek '50, Jerry Hiegel '49, '79 (Hon) and William Sueppel '50, as well as many others, were waiting to be asked and eager to help.

"It was their love for the place and certainly something in their experience that caused them to feel a need to give back," he said. "It was easy for them to give back and I think it was born out of their experience and how much public service meant for their families and for them."

In retirement, Rogalski has been pleased to see a sincere interest in helping build the future from the now 30- and 40-somethings who graduated under his watch.

Stangle, meanwhile, has welcomed the enthusiastic ways the current generation of SAU students has responded to campus-wide efforts to show how philanthropic support is aiding their experience and education.

That wasn't a hard message to convey this past year, as the impressive focus of the current campaign grew from the ground on the north end of campus. Deeply immersed in our Ambrosian culture, recent graduate Alexsandra Najda said she and her classmates were open to the message long before the first shovel of dirt was turned.

"This senior class felt really connected, and members of the Class of 2017 senior leadership team already are planning how much we're going to donate next year," said Najda, an honor student from Chicago who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History in May. "That's a way to stay connected and also make a big impact on the future."

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