Alumni, friends launch capital campaign

Alumni, friends launch capital campaign Gathering in the shadows of historic Old Main and Slagle Hall, nearly 300 University of South Dakota alumni, faculty, staff and friends joined with university leaders Saturday night to celebrate the advancement into the public phase of Campaign South Dakota, the state's largest ever fund drive.

Campaign South Dakota, which was formally announced at a press conference Friday, is the university's $60 million fund-raising campaign to privately fund increased student scholarships, improve key faculty salaries and alter the face of USD's campus with new construction and improvements to existing facilities. The goal for Saturday's event was to help create momentum as the campaign's fund raising enters its next phase.

Campaign South Dakota fulfills a goal announced during USD President James W. Abbott's 1997 inauguration. Abbott noted the need for alumni support for the success of the fund drive.

"Great universities don't just spring into being. They are built brick by brick, professor by professor, student by student, alum by alum and friend by friend," Abbott said. "I ask you to envision what our university could be; what we, together, could do."

The event became a reunion of sorts with generations of USD graduates attending, including many of the school's most prominent and notable alumni. Guests were greeted with cocktails, served dinner and dessert, and entertained with a multimedia show of the history and future of USD. The group heard from people leading the massive fund-raising campaign, including 1950 alumnus and USA TODAY founder Allen H. Neuharth, Campaign South Dakota honorary national chair.

"I think we are excessively modest about ourselves. I don't think we recognize all the assets of this state and of this university," Neuharth said. "I believe this university stands on the threshold, and is perfectly positioned, to really reach excellence in an ever higher standard that could distinguish it as one of the best small size, publicly-supported universities in the United States."

Neuharth outlined his two keys for success in educational institutions similar to USD, those being faculty and administration and the school's finances.

"I've known the past seven presidents of The University of South Dakota. There is no question Jim Abbott is in the position to be the most effective president in the history of this university," Neuharth said. "I think Jim has a clear vision of where he wants to lead this university and a plan to get there. His emphasis is on getting better not just getting bigger.

"I think USD is destined to become great because this Campaign South Dakota will provide the money to fulfill the dreams of Jim Abbott," he continued. "When this campaign is over, I believe USD will set the standard."

Campaign South Dakota has been raising funds through private donations for almost two years, with nearly $40 million of the $60 million goal raised. Most of those funds have come in large gifts, and Neuharth said the real work lies ahead in the coming years of the fund drive that will run through 2006.

"Now the fundraising turns to the trenches. To the alumni and friends of this university. To the small towns and cities across this state," Neuharth said.

Linda Mickelson Graham, co-chair of Campaign South Dakota, addressed the need for the alumni of USD to give back to the institution that gave so much to them.

"We received a good education here. Good public education. Now it is our responsibility to make those opportunities better and raise the standards for those who follow," she said. "As we think about the significance of the university in our lives, and notice friends and fellow alum, we need to look ahead to the significance that USD will play in future generations.

"To continue to excel means investing in the students, in the faculty and in the facilities," she continued. "These are solid investments. This elevates The University of South Dakota and enhances the regents and the state. Those are rewards for all of us."

Rich Cutler, co-chair of Campaign South Dakota, said the alumni will need to lead by example for the campaign to reach its goal.

"We hold the responsibility to go forward. It's not going to happen without us. We need all of your help. We need your time, your talent, your money," he said. "It's going to be fun. We're going to take a lot of pride in this success and this place will be better because of us."

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