Message from the President: Big Steps Forward for Arts and Sciences

Feb. 27, 2013

To our alumni friends:

It was a week before the dedication of Dudley Birder Hall, the beautiful space that for most of its long life was St. Boniface Church, at the western edge of our campus. We had spent six months and $1.7 million to transform the building into a venue for the performing arts, especially music. Now we were here to conduct a final “dry run” on the acoustics of the renovated space.

About 50 young men and women from our Chamber Singers gathered onstage and sang several choral pieces, enough to verify that the sound was sparkling. Then, for the third number, they did a piece in tribute to some special guests in the audience: the members of the Riverside University High School Gospel Choir. These talented teens from Milwaukee had performed earlier in the day at our Common Prayer.

The Chamber Singers broke into the gospel number “Cornerstone,” and as they got to the rousing bridge – “The stone that the builders rejected, the stone that the builders rejected ... ” – the kids from Riverside stood as one and shouted, their arms swaying in joy and praise. The music was heavenly, but the atmosphere was pure electricity.

Scattered around the back of the house, the acousticians and Dudley and some of our music faculty and I looked at one another, nodding and smiling. It was the kind of spontaneous moment that makes you grateful to work on a college campus.

A few days later, as you may know, Dudley was back for the formal dedication of this same space, which culminated with a choral extravaganza in the Walter Theatre. For the finale, which brought together Dudley’s own chorale and several of our student choirs, there were about 250 singers filling the stage and spilling down the aisles on both sides of the hall, essentially “surround-sounding” the audience. As that number was a ringing version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the effect was nothing short of spine-tingling. If you’d ever wondered what it might feel like to sit in the middle of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, this was it.

Yes, we’ve been doing quite a bit of celebrating on campus of late.

The big news is that our science building has been given the green light by our trustees. Construction on the $39.2 million project will get under way in just a few weeks.

This magnificent, state-of-the-art facility will be called the Gehl-Mulva Science Center, in grateful recognition of the lead donors supporting the project – Paul and Carol Gehl, and Miriam and Jim Mulva. Paul and Miriam are members of the board of trustees, and without their incredible generosity this project would still be out somewhere on the horizon. So next time you see Paul or Miriam, please let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing to advance St. Norbert College.

Construction will be done in phases and will take two years to complete. However, science classes will move into the new portions of the building as they come online. This also means the entire project will be done by spring of 2015, in time for the inaugural Medical College of Wisconsin class, which arrives that summer.

This will be a transformational step for St. Norbert College, in more ways than we can possibly enumerate. It’s enough to make you want to stand up, give thanks, and break into song!

Tom