As a development officer I have the privilege of visiting alumni, family and friends of Saint John’s University not only in the state of Minnesota but in other areas of the country as well, including Iowa, Wisconsin, Utah and Michigan. My intention is to meet with alumni, provide updates from campus, hear their stories and help connect them to Saint John’s in their areas of interest. This could be anything from volunteering, financial support, attending events, referring students or simply sharing their affection for Saint John’s.
I visit Wisconsin most often, given its proximity and the large number of alumni; and across the state I’ve discovered a varied history of activities. In Milwaukee, for example, there is an active chapter of involved volunteers, and for years they have organized socials, stand‐ups, Johnnie send-offs and receptions for the president. At the other end of the spectrum, I attended a social in Wausau this fall. That night we figured out it was the first event in 26 years! Of the 14 attendees, there were graduates from the ’60’s, ’70’s, ‘80’s and 2000’s. The common thread was their love for Saint John’s and sharing great stories of time spent on campus. Before the evening was over there were several people already making plans for the next gathering.
It is amazing how often I meet with alumni who come from families that have attended Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s for generations. The ties to these great legacy families are strong, and the commitment to the two schools spans generations. In other cases, alumni may be the first in their families to attend college. Still others attended Saint John’s for a while, but for one reason or another did not graduate. But it doesn’t matter, because once you’ve attended Saint John’s, you are a Johnnie for life, regardless of the length of time spent on campus.
On one visit to the Appleton area I met with David and Sarah (Welle) Anderla of the class of ‘87. Several generations of the Welle family have attended Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s, and their son is currently a junior. If their daughter decides to attend Saint Ben’s in the fall of 2017 she will be the 50th member of the family to attend!
Among the most memorable of my visits was one in the small town of Cameron, located about 50 miles north of Eau Claire. There, at the Crossroad’s Café, I met with Robert Ebner, class of ’46. We had a nice conversation that touched on growing up in Wisconsin in the 1930’s and 1940’s, his family business, his service in World War II, and his yearly travels to Mexico. To my surprise he had actually heard of Bahia De Kino, the small village where I lived and worked with youth for a few years prior to coming to Saint John’s. We also discovered that we shared a common bond: we both miss the food from that quiet seaside village!
That day I thanked Robert for his support for Saint John’s, because in the course of 37 years he has made 42 gifts to the Student Fund, to the Abbey and to a previous capital campaign. I asked what, in his experience, led to such continued generosity. In reply he offered a simple explanation. “Saint John’s meant a great deal to me, and the relationships I formed there helped set a foundation for success in my life.”
But there is one more piece to this story. Robert left Saint John’s to join the war effort after only one semester! Robert is living proof that you don’t need to be in Collegeville for very long to become a Johnnie. Whether a student is on campus for a few months or all four years, chances are good that the experience will be transformative. You’ll be a Johnnie for life!