GetHeadline="Inauguration Weekend 2006 - A Winona Visit"
Fall 2006 Currents > Inauguration Weekend 2006 - A Winona Visit
Inauguration Weekend 2006 - A Winona Visit
By Mary (Connelly) Flaherty Ď67
When I learned WSU was inauguration the school's first female president, Dr. Judith Ramaley, for some reason or other, I decided to attend. I had visited a few times over the decades, and kept up with the Winona Currents detailing the many changes that have gone on. It has a much larger student body now, it is a laptop U., expanded programs across the board; but mostly I still remember how it was then, back in the long, long ago day, 1963, when I began my freshman year there. How different so many things were, especially in the realm of what was possible for women then...It definitely was a man's world, perhaps simply put what was open to women was what men didn't care to do. Yes, there were women on the faculties in institutions of higher education, but they were for the most part limited to education and nursing, usually at smaller salaries than male professors and never heads of departments. New challenges to that were erupting at Winona State, and all over the country, which I sorely welcomed to a world too caught up in the grip of senseless habit. On the administrative side, about the most a woman could ever hope for was to become Dean of Women; how absurd, how entrenched this was all through all the same growing pains the rest of the country went through on American campuses everywhere, all for the better. Perhaps many of these struggles are eternal, but they are open now, now longer denied or postponed, finally subject to equal academic, social and political considerations.
Mostly I wondered with all the changes over the decades, not the least of which was expanding from 2,000 students in 1963 to 8,000 today, were the sensibilities of that small college now only a faded away sense of itself. I set out on this journey speculating what could possibly feel familiar. Would I yet today be able to sense the old spirits of those who came before me and somehow identify in someway with all these so new and different days? Had Winona State outgrown me, would I no longer fit, was I left behind, like ancient school annuals, dusty on the shelves, relegated simply to history, in the library section nobody visits anymore.
So I began the drive, this time from Iowa, up to Rochester, and when I turned east on Highway 14 I knew where I was again, on my way once more, back to Winona. Traversing the endless, mostly flat fields of Minnesota felt good, it seems change comes slowly in farm country. Time sets a different pace in the little towns along the way, too. This time of year the lovely, good earth is somewhat hesitant - uncertain - was it too soon to burst forth in glorious growth again - was winter really gone. When it seemed this landscape was all there was ahead I camp upon an abrupt opening in the earth, the beginning of a descent where the road dropped downward 4-500 feet or more, just like Alice in Wonderland. There I was again, immediately in another place, what seemed to me like mountains the first time I ever saw them, or surely at least foothills. All this felt the same again today. These bluffs, as I learned to call them, are still covered abundantly in endless woods, a forest primeval. Just like that very first impression, again, I didn't see how I could possibly be in Minnesota anymore, reminiscent of Dorothy of Oz fame.
Round and round, up and down, this road winds; a tiny village along the way, perched at the edge of the road with little lawn space of their own to claim. Finally the descent ended on a broad, flat valley below, where the town of Winona lay. Here, too, the mighty Mississippi River still boastfully flows on in endless competition with the bluffs for the title of the greatest natural wonder to behold in this vast expanse, this very special place. I took a quick spin through the campus before I checked into the motel. I saw the mix of the new and old buildings, how the streets I once drove through the campus on were now green spaces. It all looked inviting, even though it was early spring, and the grass was barely coming out of its winter lethargy, and the flowers and the fullness of the trees were even more reluctant, still waiting for warmer days and nights.
I went to the joint Cotter High School, and Winona Percussion Concert on St. Theresa campus this evening, it was delightful. Seeing Lourdes Hall now the residential college at Winona State was certainly impressive even in the dark, and brought a smile and sense of pride as I thought to myself, "Good for you, Winona State." My motel was right below Sugarloaf. On the drive along the lake back floodlights shone on the loaf like a beacon, which brought another sense of home to me. This place was still a part of me, and perhaps I was still a part of it, and all that was good. I thought ahead a bit, about what tomorrow might bring.
The inauguration wasn't until the afternoon, so there was time to leisurely wander the campus. I stopped in the bookstore and in a nearby hall there were study tables with rocking chairs for the students. Since I now like rocking chairs this was very homey and inviting, down right cozy. I had lunch at the Smaug, taking my time to read the Winonan. I also contemplated what the new president was like, might I see one of the retired professors that may still be around that I knew so long ago. It seemed an ordinary day to students, visiting, studying (now with the ubiquitous laptop), and certainly the clothes styles were not of the 1960's. The students were friendly, just as they were then; things began to feel right.
Laptops were not the only way information was shared. A student rushed into the Smaug and as loud as she could, said, "Listen up everybody." And everybody did as they munched on: shades of yesterday. She told everyone to remember the Winona Idol Show that would be in Somsen Hall auditorium that very night. Later I was to see another low-tech method of communication was still used here when I read the same message printed in chalk on a sidewalk. I'd sure go, if my energy levels held out. Once I finished reading the Winonan, I concluded that the quality of this paper was as good as far bigger schools. All this so far was so good.
The Inaugural Ceremony began in the middle of the afternoon, it was a bright day and the winds were friendly, so the parade of dignitaries lined up outdoors for the processional. Everyone seemed so happy to be there, as if at a festival, and that is how they marched into Memorial Hall. Inside watching all this, really did bring a broad smile out in me. There was faculty and staff in their academic attire, banners, visiting delegates of all kinds, academics, political, and religious. Beautiful music by the WSU Symphonic Wind Ensemble & Chamber Orchestra and Concert Choir added the appropriate air of excellence this event deserved. But most impressive of all in this dignified processional were the many, many foreign students, dressed in their beautiful native costumes, carrying their native flags and their native pride. Winona State has come a long, long, way.
These things always go on so long, always a couple of long-winded speakers, yet it must be so, for this is a very special occasion. I listened closely to Dr. Ramaley's speech as the new president, but once I was distracted, as were many around me, by the hilarious predicament a little mouse found itself in. Scurrying this way and that across the floor, confused way past its worst nightmare, facing an endless sea of chairs and human shoes, no direction seemed to offer hop to the poor little thing. Legs up and down the aisles jerked freakishly out of its way. No one had the heart to step on it, for it was a baby mouse far away from safety of its little cubbyhole. The muffled giggles spread like a wave across the back section of the audience. Everyone hoped this wasn't going to be noticed by any dignitaries. Finally a brave young woman valiantly used her cap and program to capture the critter, quickly removing the distraction. Letís hope she released the youngster, to its everlasting gratitude, in a much quieter spot where it could hide until it was safe to get back home, when all the lights were out and all the monster people were gone.
In times like these, a reception is held, and this happened at the library right after the ceremony. My hope to see an old familiar face didn't happen but the new faces were all just as energetic and enthusiastic, and the food was bountiful, to say the least. Time slipped away, no need to venture somewhere for a meal, so off I went to Somsen Hall, for the Winona Idol Show at 6:00. It was such fun, the students fell right into the spirit of it and it certainly beat a Friday night with nothing going on. That's how it was 40 some year ago, too. Even the basketball coach, who had a busy day ahead of him, participated as one of the judges. The students were most helpful to this old lady, making sure I got up the stairs safely and was comfortable in my seat. Lots of old memories in this place; many more still being created. Time was no barrier, the link was there. These were the same students in spirit that I knew so long ago. I left early, I can't keep up that way I used to and as I left some students told me to try and make it to the parade tomorrow. This was the first I heard of that, they said just show up on Huff St. by 10:00; I said I would.
Leaving the campus I found a few of the remaining purple, helium balloons that had decorated the sidewalks, the streets, and the buildings on the campus earlier in the day in honor of the big event. There must have been several thousands of them, but by now, of course, they were all gone, souvenirs to the students except for a few overlooked ones. So I got mine, too, figuring they would come in handy for whatever tomorrow morning was all about. The few I rescued were caught in inconspicuous places: a basement window well, wrapped around bushes, behind a staircase. It was just right of an old gal like me to fiddle around, unwrapping the entangled strings. Patience gets easier as you age and not much is embarrassing, either, whether in the day or nighttime.
Now the next morning took a little doing as I'm not the student I used to be, but I did get to Huff St. just before the start time for the parade. This was the other big celebration going on at Winona State as the basketball team had just won the NCAA National Championship in division II! A first! So of course, it's time for a parade, and this one was far from the first improvised one at Winona State. The players, the coaches, even Dr. Ramaley, were all riding in open cars waving to the crowds; the weather was just right, perfect for a parade in the early spring. I cheered and raised my bunch of purple balloons high into the air each time one of the cars went by. One of the cheerleaders when she marched by gave me a pom-pom to add to my balloons.
There was a humble float made of the simple fun kind of thinking that was and still is a tradition at the school. It consisted of two basketball hoops on a flat bottom truck and several students walking along side of it who kept bouncing basketballs to the crowds and they responded with a continual stream of shots. Then there was the calliope and fire truck that probably made it to all Winona parades, looking and sounding wonderful. Finally at the end there came a beautifully decorated float in the shape of a steamboat, also surely a Winona standard, called the Port of Winona, with a small band atop of it playing lively music. There was the mascot, prancing all over the parade route, and of course I got my required hug with him. How wonderfully hokey it all was, and I was swept right up into it all. How full of memory making for the current students that they will remember in warm reflection over their lifetime - these are their good old days.
The reception for the team and coaches in the gym was exciting. This was another pivotal achievement in Winona State history. I couldn't stay long, for today also required a long drive back home. I'm so glad I came. It turned out to be so much more than the inaugural ceremony. Hail to thee, Winona State, I still fit in, just as that first day I stepped onto this campus so very long ago, and I always will. That's my gift from a grand, old, small college, no matter how big it gets. I wonder if my granddaughter might want to visit here one day.
Last Modified: Monday, November 26, 2007 14:35 by Rhone Richard