University Singers perform at UMSL Jubilee Kickoff

UMSL chorus ensemble University Singers perform Feb. 1 during the UMSL Jubilee Kickoff at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photo by August Jennewein)

It was a family affair. They arrived in twos and threes. Others had more than four in their groups. And they all came to celebrate an institution that had made a difference in their lives.

More than 1,600 people celebrated the official Jubilee Kickoff for the 50th anniversary of the University of Missouri–St. Louis last Friday evening at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The atmosphere was electric with dignitaries lining up to offer their congratulations, champagne, chocolate, fireworks and the people who came to share their stories. 

“UMSL was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said alumna Mildred Simmons, BSBA 1978. “I was the first person in my family to go to college. I received a grant in my last year here then worked for Congressman Bill Clay. I retired from The Wall Street Journal. UMSL was just a blessing.”

Simmons is an active alumna and says she often talks to young people about her experiences and what UMSL means to her.

The Feb. 1 event featured historic displays with photos and recollections of UMSL’s earliest years through today along with a sneak peek at two buildings expected to be completed in the next few years. Refreshments included a special release Irish red ale from the Ferguson (Mo.) Brewing Company.

KSDK (Channel 5) sports anchor and alumnus Frank Cusumano, BA communication 1984, served as official emcee, and alumnus Shep Hyken, BA communication 1982, a noted author and nationally renowned motivational speaker, inspired and entertained the crowd. Following the program, champagne and desserts were served and the Fabulous Motown Review, led by alumnus Steve Schankman, BGS 1991, got hundreds of people up and dancing. Fireworks in the valley outside the Touhill caught everyone’s attention.

Throughout the evening, people visited the multiple memory stations to recollect with one another and tell their stories to volunteers. Those stories can be found on the Jubilee website.

James Westbury, the only living member of the group of Normandy, Mo., residents who laid the groundwork for the creation of UMSL, was a sought-after star at the event. He was with a crowd of family and friends including his son and daughter, both of whom graduated from UMSL. He recollected the bond issue vote in 1958 that raised the money to buy the Bellerive Country Club on Natural Bridge Road in Normandy.

“Our biggest selling point was we were going to use it for higher education,” Westbury said. “ We weren’t sure what it was going to look like at that point, but there was no public higher education in St. Louis, the biggest city in the state.” (What’s now Harris-Stowe State University offered only one degree program at the time.)

He added, “I remember the night before we opened the University of Missouri-Normandy Residence Center in 1960. Ed Potter, a member of the Committee of 28 who was in charge of the center, said, ‘Do you think anybody will come?’”

Westbury laughed, looked up and said, “Well, Ed, wherever you are, now you’ve seen what we did. It was great.”

Sandy Kelly Sippy graduated from Normandy High School in 1962. She attended the University of Missouri Residence Center (the two-year precursor to UMSL) on the grounds of the old Bellerive Country Club and then the new University of Missouri–St. Louis her second year.

“It was college in a country club,” she recalled. “I was on campus when John Kennedy was killed. We all ran into the building and hung around the radio waiting to hear the news. UMSL provided me the opportunity to go to college and it was pretty neat to be a part of something so new.”

Sippy went on to the University of Missouri–Columbia to finish her degree in German.

Alumnus Mike Pawloski, BA psychology 1993, only had to reach back 20 years for his memories.

“I remember a lot of good times just hanging out,” he said. “The Wednesday Noon Live concerts. I used to skip classes to watch the bands. It didn’t help my GPA but the memories … priceless.”

Those memories continued all night long.

“It was a great period for me,” said alumnus Anthony Wippold, BA political science 1974. “No one event really stands out. I just made a lot of good friends. One in particular, Jay Cundiff, who graduated in 1973. He came from the Kansas City, Mo., and moved back after graduation, but we’ve remained friends all these years. What I took away from UMSL were these friendships, which were just as valuable as my diploma.”

Do you have a UMSL story? Share it with others at: Visit UMSL on Flickr to view a set of UMSL Jubilee Kickoff photos.

Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel