Annual Founders Celebration showcases the impact of philanthropy on the UMSL community

by | Sep 22, 2023

Nearly 300 people attended the event, which served as an opportunity to thank alumni and other donors for their continued support of the university.
The Touhill's Terrace Lobby decorated and filled with people for the 2023 Founders Celebration

Nearly 300 people attended the annual Founders Celebration at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The evening served as an opportunity to thank alumni and other donors for their philanthropic support. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Red stars emblazoned with the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ 60th anniversary logo were laid out on the floor of the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center and marked the path the audience followed Thursday evening as they made their way into this year’s Founders Celebration.

More than 250 alumni and other supporters joined faculty and staff members and a few students at the 32nd annual event and were treated to cocktails and an array of food. They also got a taste of how their philanthropic gifts are being used to strengthen the university as it celebrates 60 years of serving students and the St. Louis community.

KSDK Sports Director and UMSL alum Frank Cusumano speaking at a lectern at the 2023 Founders Celebration

KSDK Sports Director Frank Cusumano served as the master of ceremonies during Thursday night’s event.

KSDK (Channel 5) Sports Director Frank Cusumano, a 1984 graduate and former UMSL basketball player, served as the master of ceremonies for the evening, when the university also honored its newest class of Distinguished Alumni.

“As alumni, we are the living testament that UMSL transforms lives,” Cusumano said as he kicked off evening’s program in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. “The faculty and staff here guided us, inspired us and led us as we took steps to better our futures for ourselves, our families and our community.”

UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and University of Missouri System President Mun Choi echoed that sentiment in their own remarks.

But what so many of those alumni and other donors have done to give back to the university through their time and financial contributions plays a critical role in helping the university continue to make an impact on the lives of current and future students.

“As donors, we ensure that students and future alumni are equipped to take those same steps with the resources and programs that they need to succeed,” Cusumano said.

The Founders Celebration included a series of videos highlighting the impact philanthropic support has made.

In the first, attendees heard from students Benjamin VandenBrink in finance, Dora Bell in communication, Troy Roettering in education, Mylz Barrington in criminology and criminal justice, Nino Cipriano in graphic design, Jameah Collins in accounting and Momo Kikuchi in political science about the impact scholarships have made on them as they’ve pursued their educations and taken advantage of other opportunities, whether competing in intercollegiate athletics, studying abroad or landing an internship in Washington, D.C.

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and Chancellor Emerita Blanche Touhill at the 2023 Founders Celebration

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik (at left) stands with Chancellor Emerita Blanche Touhill during the reception at the 2023 Founders Celebration.

“Going to school is not easy, whether you have the support or not,” Collins said in one testimonial.

“Adding the financial burden is even harder,” Roettering added in another.

“It’s hard to balance life, work, academics and excel,” Bell said.

“Definitely, when you’re trying to concentrate in a classroom, you don’t have to think about your school bills,” Barrington said.

“Having financial support is really what makes everything possible in my life,” Kikuchi said.

Attendees also learned about the physical transformation coming to the Thomas Jefferson Library and St. Louis Mercantile Library – one part of a $100 million Transform UMSL initiative to redevelop the campus over the next four years. The Transform UMSL projects are being funded through a mix of public and private support, and the university has already raised more than $13 million, or about 40% of its $33 million goal in philanthropic donations.

A third video used the story of 2020 graduate Kalynn Clinton to showcase how the award-winning Bridge Program equips students for college success.

Clinton, for whom UMSL has become a family tradition, enrolled at UMSL in 2016 after taking part in the Bridge Program as a high school student. She went on to earn a BSBA in supply chain management along with a minor in information systems and technology and a certificate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College.

Today, Clinton works as a TECDP Program Project Management Lead Analyst at Cigna and is pursuing a master’s degree in information systems and technology.

Students wearing UMSL sweatshirts and T-shirts stand on risers and sing on stage under the direction of Associate Professor Jim Henry

Associate Professor Jim Henry leads a group of UMSL students as they sing “Thank You for Being a Friend” to help close the 2023 Founders Celebration.

Current students Meredith Stroud and Jalen Walker-Wright helped thank members of The Goode and 1963 Legacy Societies while specifically recognizing the new and advancing members of the Chancellor’s Circle, whose members have made a commitment of $100,000 or more to the university.

“What truly ignites my spirit is the inspiration I find in each one of you here tonight – students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters,” Sobolik said, and added, “It is each and every one of you who is not only carrying forward the legacy of UMSL but also setting the stage for the next exhilarating chapter in our journey – a future where we will continue to transform lives for the next 60 years and beyond.”

She soon after dismissed the audience to the Terrace Lobby for a reception but not before calling open the curtains on stage to deliver one more message of gratitude through a choral performance by students under the direction of Associate Professor Jim Henry. They sang a rendition of “Thank You for Being a Friend” with a specially written second verse.

“Thank you for bein’ a friend,” they sang. “It’s so good to celebrate again. It’s been sixty years, and the Tritons are going strong. We’re looking to the future, as we honor those who’ve come before. Mem’ries made, they will never ever fade, so tonight we’ll say once more, thank you for bein’ a friend.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik