A lovely place to call home
President Tom Kunkel
It was the Friday evening of Commencement weekend, and Deb and I were about to attend the Dudley Birder Chorale’s annual “America Sings” concert (with about 725 of our closest friends!) at the Walter Theatre.
But it was a little early to go in yet, and besides, it was a classic late-spring evening in Wisconsin. The temperature was about 70 degrees, there was the gentlest of breezes, and the blue of the cloudless sky was just turning that special shade of turquoise it does once the sun slips toward the horizon.
As we sat down on the semicircular stoop in front of Main Hall, Deb and I couldn’t help but notice that dozens and dozens of other concertgoers had the same idea we did. It was simply too beautiful to be inside.
Campus looked especially smashing, with its gardens in bloom and emerald carpets of grass running out in every direction. We were reminded again that this is a magical time of year around here.
Of course, the same could be said of early spring, when the flowering trees are all in bloom. Or early fall, when the leaves on those same trees are putting on a Technicolor display. Or after the first snowfall of the year, when the blanket of white is still pristine. Or in early summer, when thousands of people – old, young and in the middle – crowd around the gazebo stage on our waterfront to take in another great Knights on the Fox concert.
I wasn’t around to know what was going on in Father Bernard Pennings’ head when he settled on this particular spot, a prominent bend on a stately river, for his new college. But we can be sure of one thing – he selected one of the most picturesque locations in all of northeast Wisconsin, then or now.
There are many perquisites to being employed by a college, but certainly high on the list is being able to go to work every day in an environment so fully enveloped in beauty. This is no accident, of course. For as long as colleges have existed, they have tried to cultivate a physical aesthetic to inspire the intellectual aesthetic. That’s one reason why the still-lamented Father Anselm Keefe was so determined to plant this campus with every species of tree native to Wisconsin – as a living botany laboratory, certainly, but also out of the Norbertine notion of beautifying the place you call home, wherever and whatever it is.
Nor do trees and grass and flowers take care of themselves. We have a talented and dedicated grounds crew. They patrol the place with a great and constant vigilance. There is pruning, weeding, watering, mulching, mowing to be done … it never ends. The head of our grounds department, Dean Kumbalek, surely wearies of presidential nudges about this flowerbed or that overgrown hedge. But if he does, he’s too politic to say so.
Finally, there’s the tremendous care that goes into the look and design of every building on campus, whether we’re remodeling or starting anew. Colleges and universities tend to adopt one of two architectural philosophies. They either choose a single style and basically stay with it, or they simply let the facilities they build reflect the times in which they’re built, resulting in an eclectic mix.
There’s nothing wrong with the latter approach, of course, but for many people – including me – the former is preferable. Around here, red brick says St. Norbert, it says warmth, it says college. It says home.
July 8, 2012