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During Homecoming, Monmouth alumni express gratitude for 'the gift of presence'

Barry McNamara
11/04/2017
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College alumni reminded the campus community that “the gift of presence” is what helps make their alma mater such a special place.

That was the message they delivered during the College’s 2017 homecoming weekend.

In accepting her honor as the College’s Distinguished Young Alumnus – presented during the Nov. 3 Alumni Impact Awards ceremony – Kelli Wefenstette ’07 said the connections she built at Monmouth set her up for her success.

“I loved talking to my professors – going into their office to talk about what we were reading or studying – and talking for an hour or more,” said Wefenstette, who was honored for her community development efforts in Chicago. “They never said they were too busy. They never told me to leave. I’m so appreciative for that gift of presence they provided, and I carry that with me today in my work.”

Wefenstette was among more than 1,500 alumni and friends who returned to campus for the College’s 92nd homecoming weekend, held Nov. 3-5. The weekend included reunions from the Class of 2017 through the Class of 1977, award ceremonies, the parade and crowning of a king and queen, and a celebration of the sesquicentennial of Quinby House, the College’s presidential residence.

And for the first time in more than 40 years, homecoming included the annual Turkey Bowl football game between Monmouth and Knox College. The Fighting Scots won the 129th edition of the sixth oldest college football game in the country, blowing out the Prairie Fire 52-10 at April Zorn Memorial Stadium.

‘Where Students Are First’
One of the award recipients who followed Wefenstette to the podium on Nov. 3 shared the professors’ side of the “gift of presence” – physics professor Chris Fasano, who received the Hatch Academic Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching.

“It’s a pleasure to be at a place where students are first,” said Fasano, who joined Monmouth’s faculty in 1998. “We want our students to be successful people, not just successful thinkers.”

Fasano told the story of rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard, who in the course of his exhaustive research would often be alone in the desert as dawn broke.

“Goddard would talk about morning in the desert, when the impossible not only seemed possible, but easy,” said Fasano.

Alumni honored during Homecoming weekend have accomplished many things their 18-year-old selves might have deemed impossible – research on coastal wetlands (Eugene Turner ’67); a leadership role within the U.S. intelligence community (Susan Sandner Gibson ’81); informing and entertaining millions of radio listeners every week (Lon Helton ’72); and winning a national championship in track (Blake Boma ’05).

The Monmouth Foundation
A common thread award recipients repeated was the foundation laid at Monmouth College by its caring community of faculty, staff and fellow students.

“Monmouth College gave me the ways, and the template, to move forward,” said Turner, an internationally recognized expert and researcher into coastal land loss. “Our collective well-being depends on learning to get together and communicate with clear thinking and an awakened heart. Monmouth College helped me understand that.”

Gibson said that Monmouth gave her “curiosity and courage.”

“Monmouth felt different from the other schools I visited,” said Gibson, who last year was appointed inspector general for the National Reconnaissance Office by President Obama. “It was a very supportive environment, and it encouraged curiosity. In turn, that curiosity builds courage to try even more new things.”

Boma, who won his final collegiate race to capture the national championship in the 400-meter hurdles, said during his M Club Hall of Fame speech that he is “forever grateful” for the support he received at meets from his professors, and also that gift of presence from family members, who traveled all over the Midwest to watch him compete.

“This is an incredible honor that I will always reflect on with great pride,” said an emotional Boma.

Basketball and baseball star Steve Glasgow ’02, who grew up on campus as the son of Hall of Fame coach Terry Glasgow, shared Boma’s sentiment and said he was being inducted into “a hall of my heroes.”

Helton, who is one of the best known voices in country music, said the opportunity for hands-on experiences set Monmouth apart.

“You get to do things here,” said Helton, who has hosted Country Countdown USA since its inception in 1992. “You get to get your hands dirty and be involved and get things done. Every time my wife (Anne Buckhouse Helton ’73) and I come back here, we realize how important Monmouth was to our lives.”

Also honored at award ceremonies during Homecoming weekend were Jeff Miller ’84, Distinguished Service Award; the Jones-Austin-Campbell families, Family of the Year; Nicole Auclair Baker ’04, M Club Hall of Fame; and three inductees into the Fraternity and Sorority Alumni Hall of Fame: Cathy Axline Williams ’50, Ralph Whiteman ’52 and Michael Cortina ’95.

During the Spirit Shout, held Nov. 3 at April Zorn Memorial Stadium, Thomas Burkhead of Hampshire, Ill., was crowned homecoming king and Callie Cook of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was crowned homecoming queen.