Message from the President: Birder Hall

May 18, 2012

To our alumni friends:

It was near the close of the Dudley Birder Chorale’s annual “America Sings” concert, at a sold-out Walter Theatre, and our venerable host and conductor was about to comment on the evening’s final medley of songs, from the blockbuster musical “Les Misérables.”

But as Dudley began to speak, he was interrupted by his assistant conductor, accompanist and aide-de-camp, Kent Paulsen. Taking hold of Dudley’s shoulder, Kent said, “Dudley, for once I know something you don’t.”

Kent then introduced me, and I came up to tell the audience about our exciting plans to renovate St. Boniface Church into another performance venue for St. Norbert College. The church, located on the corner of Grant and Fourth streets, most recently served as our bookstore, but it has gone unused since we relocated the bookstore to Todd Wehr Hall in 2010.

Thanks to generous donors, we will spend $1.7 million to do a thorough renovation of the church, which will be used primarily for recitals, concerts by small ensembles, public lectures and so on. The space also will be used for rehearsals for the Birder Chorale, which can number as many as 150 singers.

The renovation will include a general refurbishing inside and outside, and amenities like more bathrooms. But the most important aspect will be the installation of professionally engineered and installed acoustical fixtures to ensure a sparkling sound quality.

It will seat about 200. Work on St. Boniface will begin this July and should be finished by year’s end.

But I digress …

The reason we announced this at the concert was because we had a surprise for Dudley and his many family members and friends in attendance that night.

It was my pleasure to reveal that St. Norbert College’s board of trustees, in grateful recognition of Dudley’s nearly six decades of service to the College, to its students, and to the entire community, had voted to name the renovated church Dudley Birder Hall. The donors to the project were in on the secret, but no one else was.

And for once, Dudley, who knows everything about everything, seemed genuinely taken by surprise. When I made the announcement, the audience was immediately on its feet in a whooping, hollering and prolonged standing ovation. Many were in tears. I turned to Dudley and said, “We were trying to surprise you.” He said, “You got me!” – and flashed that big grin so familiar to us all.

St. Boniface has a long and proud history, which we will of course highlight in the refurbished space. But in consideration of all Dudley has done throughout his career to celebrate and promote sacred music, this feels like an especially apt partnering of an icon with an iconic spiritual space.

And it feels good knowing the next chapter of the church’s life will be a rich one, full of music and joy.

For more on the Birder Hall project, click here for the press release: 
http://www.snc.edu/communications/pressrelease/?i=2038

Tom