AU Class of 1965 leaves its legacy

Construction continues on the Hill Welcome Center as workers near completion of the lower level foundation walls.

For many members of the Aurora University Class of 1965, the 2010 Homecoming celebration sparked an enthusiasm for AU that has become contagious. That year, the classmates came together to celebrate their 45th reunion. They shared stories, reminisced about their experiences as AU students and seemed to pick right up where they had left off so many years ago. And, they initiated plans for their 50th reunion that will impact the university for years and years to come.

When reunion chairs Fred Bornkamp, and Tori (Ballew) Reynolds, began to contact classmates in early 2009, encouraging them to return to campus, the spark was ignited. “Fred and Tori became crusaders for the Class of 1965, calling classmates and encouraging them to come back,” said Don Van Dell. “Word began to spread; classmates were rallying.”

The buzz that started in 2009 took off when the class came together in October of 2010. “For many of our classmates, this was the first time back to campus since graduation and it was a complete surprise to see so many exciting things happening on campus,” said Carol (Schwarzhans) Bragg. “We could see for ourselves that the values that were important to us—citizenship, dignity and showing an interest in who students really are and what they’re looking for—were still alive on campus today.”

For Bragg, Van Dell and their classmates, there was a tangible connection between the Aurora College of their era and the Aurora University that serves students today. Van Dell points to the activities taking place at the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action as grounded in the past, with an eye to the future.

“When we were students, we participated in Tuesday night devotionals and discussions at faculty homes; those same discussions are happening at the Wackerlin Center in the evenings today,” said Van Dell.

“When we were students, we were engaged in the civil rights movement; when I visit with students today, they are also invested in issues of social justice.”

The connections that members of the Class of 1965 began to see between their time on campus and the AU student experience today inspired a desire to give back as part of their 50th reunion celebration in 2015. “Aurora College provided life-changing experiences for many of us and led us both personally and in our careers. We wanted to make a contribution to show our appreciation for what we had as students,” said Van Dell.

Together, the Class of 1965 reunion committee decided to undertake a major challenge: They would raise $100,000 to name the living room in the Hill Welcome Center now under construction on the AU campus. “When we made our announcement to the class at the Alumni Awards Dinner in 2012, there was a notable gasp in the audience. I don’t think that anyone sitting there thought that raising such a sum was possible,” said Van Dell. “But, there was an even louder gasp when we announced that we had already secured $84,000 in commitments from classmates.”

In just over a year, well before their 50th reunion, the committee had gathered the support they needed to name the living room in the new center after their class. “The living room in the Hill Welcome Center will be a place where people can gather, share stories and get a sense of the history of the university. The space is a reflection of the camaraderie that we felt as students and coming back as alumni,” said Bragg. “We’re thrilled that we can be a part of the continuing feeling of hospitality at AU.”

Construction on the center began in fall 2013, and the lower level foundation walls are nearing completion. Next, the first floor footings and foundation walls will be installed, the lower level steel will be erected and concrete floor planks will be placed over the lower level.

When completed, the Hill Welcome Center will serve as the central gathering place for prospective students, alumni and current students. The building will house space for classes, meetings, dinners and receptions, and will extend the tradition of hospitality for which the university is known.

For more information, visit alumni.aurora.edu.