With a champagne toast and a shower of green and white streamers, a jubilant crowd of 450 celebrated Bemidji State University’s progress toward a $35 million fundraising goal, Sept. 27 at the Sanford Center in Bemidji.
Alumni leaders and university officials announced that $25.4 million has been given or pledged over the past 18 months in leadership gifts during what is known as the “quiet phase” of BSU’s first-ever comprehensive campaign, called Imagine Tomorrow.
The money will go toward a tripling of current scholarship support, enhancing the excellence of academic programs and helping meet a variety of other needs, including technology, learning resources and athletics.
The five-year fundraising effort, formally launched at the annual Honors Gala, now enters its public phase as campaign organizers reach out for financial support from alumni across the country, university employees and the people of northern Minnesota.
“We still have a long way to go, but with your help we have a plan to get there,” said Dave Sorenson, a 1972 BSU alum and retired General Mills executive from Minneapolis who is serving as campaign chair for Imagine Tomorrow.
National Steering Committee chair Mike Roberge, a 1990 alum who is now president of MFS Investment Management in Boston, cited his own life story of receiving help to attend BSU as a spur to his involvement, including a $1 million gift.
“My goal is for students to be able to live the dream that I have lived,” Roberge said.
The gala also included recognition of six annual alumni award recipients and the university’s most generous donors, whose lifetime giving to BSU has ranged from $10,000 to more than $2.5 million.
Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, who leads the 430,000-student Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, was a guest of honor with his wife, Maria Antonia Calvo.
In brief but enthusiastic remarks, Rosenstone congratulated the alumni honorees, thanked those who have contributed to Bemidji State and praised the Imagine Tomorrow campaign as vital to BSU’s continued success.
“These private funds are absolutely essential to Bemidji State University remaining a place of hope and opportunity for generations of students,” he said.
BSU President Dr. Richard A. Hanson spoke of the campaign’s overarching goals, not only in financial terms but also in establishing a network of ongoing support for the university among its many stakeholders.
“It’s about creating a culture of philanthropy – a culture that understands philanthropy as second nature,” Hanson said, “that understands that giving back is the highest order in human existence.”
The gala attracted a blended crowd of Bemidji-area residents and alumni from across North America, perhaps the largest gathering ever for a dinner event at the Sanford Center.
Guests began arriving about 5:30 p.m., dressed in cocktail and formal attire. They were greeted with valet parking by BSU athletes and photographed as a souvenir of the evening.
Following a social hour, the three-and-a-half-hour program included a plated dinner of shrimp and filet mignon, alumni awards, biographic videos and acceptance speeches, and individual donor recognition. The evening culminated in Sorenson’s announcement of progress so far and how it breaks down by category.
With dramatic flourish and numbers displayed on two large screens at the front of the vast ballroom, Sorenson revealed that, so far, $5.67 million has been given or pledged in annual support, toward a goal of $7 million for that category; $2.8 million has been specified for advancing academic excellence, toward a goal of $8 million for that category; and $11.53 million has been specified for scholarships, toward a $20 million goal for that category. Another $5.39 million has been received but not yet designated.