More than 700 current and retired faculty and staff members turned out today to give retiring Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift, and his wife, Sue, a fond farewell and attend the dedication of the Builders of the University Plaza. The event also served as the institution's inaugural Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day.
People began gathering in the University's Stratton Quadrangle, just west of the new Plaza, which features the names of 2,009 past and present employees with 15 or more years of service to the institution. The crowd filtered in and out of the festivities that took place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.-some staying only a moment or two, while others lingered, enjoying the breezy summer weather, lunch, camaraderie and memories.
When speaking about the Chancellor, warm sentiments and well wishes were expressed: "He gave me a hug on Monday," said Michael Shaw, professor of inorganic chemistry through the College of Arts & Sciences and chair-elect of the department. "I'm going to miss him." Shaw will be eligible for inclusion on the wall next year. Of his 14 years at the University he said, "SIUE has been the place that gave me the best opportunities to succeed in a career. I was happy to join a department with a young faculty and the equipment to support research."
"His leadership has taken the University from where we were 10 years ago to where we are now," Shaw added. "We've faced tough economic times and his stewardship has allowed us to provide the best opportunities to our students, which is why we're here."
Becky Cooper from the Office of the Registrar has been with the institution for all of Vandegrift's eight years. She is sad to see him go, but wishes him well, "I think he was very good for the University. It's always been a very positive mood during my time here. Hopefully, the new chancellor will keep that positivity going."
Staff Senate President Mike Hamil said he thinks the chancellor has served the institution well during his stint. An employee for nine years, Hamil said he aspires to one day be on the wall and felt it was an honor to be involved in planning the inaugural employee appreciation event.
Returning to campus were numerous retired employees, including recently retired Denise MacDonald who worked in the photo services department for 27 years. About the wall, she said: "I'm so excited about it. I think it's a wonderful tribute and honor." She was employed at the University through the tenure of several chancellors. "He's the reason I retired. When he announced his retirement, so did I. I love Vaughn and Sue. He is definitely my favorite chancellor."
Kyle Stunkel, who retired a year and a half ago after nearly 25 years of working at the institution, was staff senate president at the time Vandegrift came to the University. Now working on a third SIUE degree-a master's in Social Work-she attended the festivities, commiserated with former colleagues and remembered the projects she worked on with Vandegrift. "It's so sad," she said. "He and Sue are the nicest people. They will really be missed."
Names appear as two per plaque on bricks that construct a winding wall that blends flawlessly with the campus buildings and structures. Campus architect Rick Klein designed the work, which stands as a testament of thanks to those who have dedicated their time and effort to the University's success.
"It looks like it's always been here," said Beth Giese, assistant director of University Marketing and Communications. Giese has been at the institution for seven years.
Previous SIUE Chancellor Nancy Belck attended the event, as well as the University's new leader, Julie Furst-Bowe, who takes the helm as SIUE's eighth chancellor July 1.
During his last official public appearance as the chancellor, Vandegrift thanked the University's current and retired employees for their service and commitment to the students and the institution. He also offered a few words of encouragement and advice to Furst-Bowe, "Be a good steward of the University." He then ended his remarks with an enthusiastic roar: "Go Cougars! Go Big E!"