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Published: Wednesday, 9/12/2012

UT alumni true pillars of new pavilion

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

A year ago, this whole thing was a single sentence in a 23-page strategic plan for the University of Toledo's Alumni Association.

"Find a place on campus to erect a recognition site," it said, or words to that effect.

Since January, the alums found it, funded it, and finalized it.

What the Alumni Association will dedicate Thursday night and open to a throng for Saturday's football game against Bowling Green is not a stone tablet with a few names on it. It is a stone monument, some 13,000-square-feet worth, to all those who came before and an invitation to those who will come after.

There are lots of names on it, from lead donors William and Carol Koester, to those who "bought" pillars in the pavilion, to those who sponsored benches, to the 500-plus who paid for pavers almost too nice to walk on.

There is SSOE, the local architectural firm that donated its services in memory of one of its founders, Al Samborn, Class of '39. There are familiar UT benefactors, Chuck and Jackie Sullivan, whose gift funded the open-air plaza.

Yes, lots of names, and lots of plaques, all inscribed with the donors' own words. The Koesters' plaque -- Bill is a 1959 graduate of the College of Engineering -- includes this thought: "The ultimate way to measure a great university is by looking at its alumni."

That being the case, UT's alums have done themselves and their school proud. This new pavilion will become a focal point of every campus tour or visit.

This really isn't a sports story, although the pavilion's place atop a rise on the northwest edge of the Glass Bowl makes it a football game-day destination that is expected to draw upwards of 5,000 guests this Saturday. It is more a love story with a couple nonsecular miracles worked in.

According to longtime UT alumni director Dan Saevig, not one penny of the privately funded $1.2 million price tag was raised prior to this year, and the first spade didn't touch the ground until mid-June. Yet some 700 guests at Thursday's dedication should see a finished product.

"We expected to spend all of this year raising money and, best-case scenario, start building in 2013," Saevig said. "There was such an enthusiasm and such an immediate outpouring of support that we realized, 'Hey, we can do this now.' The construction workers and tradesmen have been at it seven days a week for weeks, and it's going to be done.

"Something like 60 of the men and women who worked on the project are coming to the dedication on Thursday. One of the stonemasons told me, 'We do a lot of neat things, but not many as nice as this.' "

You'll have to see it for yourself. When you do, take time to read some of the donors' plaques. Many are touching testaments -- a few by first-generation college graduates -- to family, sacrifice and love of school.

Saevig agrees they are similar to what you'd expect to read from graduates at many universities, except for one thing.

"I don't know of another alumni group in the country that has done something like this," he said. "This is something for the university to be proud of. I always say you can hold our alumni up there with people from the Ivy League schools or the Pac-12, you name it."

The Sullivans, on their plaque, point out that "But for this hometown university many of its alumni would not have been able to afford a higher education."

While that remains true, UT has grown to become far, far more than that hometown "Bancroft High." And it is the alumni who help prove that. Their new monument certainly does.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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