Barry McNamara  |  Published October 08, 2023

‘Relationships Are Everything’

Relationships at center of another memorable Homecoming celebration.

It all comes back to relationships.

During Monmouth College’s Homecoming weekend of Oct. 6-8, that was the message shared publicly by award recipients and privately in moments across campus as “forever friends” reunited on the campus where their relationships were born.

Members of the Dew family gather for a family picture before the Alumni Impact Awards. The Dew fa... Members of the Dew family gather for a family picture before the Alumni Impact Awards. The Dew family was named the College's Family of the Year. Within the Dew family were several Monmouth marriages, illustrating the deep relationships formed at the College.One of the alumni who returned to campus even wrote a song about it.

Singer/songwriter Ross Clayton – known to his 2012 Monmouth classmates as Ross Donnan – presented a free concert Friday night, singing a few of the songs he performed last spring on NBC’s The Voice. Clayton also sang his original tune, “Memory’s Edge,” which he wrote based on a Monmouth moment.

“It’s good to be back here,” he told the audience at the start of his one-hour concert. “It’s been a decade. This stage here is the first place I ever performed.”

Check out more than 1,500 pictures from Homecoming Weekend 2023.

Earlier, Clayton led his band members on a mini-tour of campus.

“I can’t tell you how fun it is to be back here,” he said. “It’s easy to see people and the memories come flooding back. I’d show the band spots around campus, and they were like, ‘How much trouble did you get into in this dorm?’ I’m so happy to be back here.”

‘Relationships are everything’

Singer/songwriter Ross Clayton – known to his 2012 Monmouth classmates as Ross Donnan – performs ... Singer/songwriter Ross Clayton – known to his 2012 Monmouth classmates as Ross Donnan – performs during a Friday night concert in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. He sang a few of the songs he performed last spring on NBC's The Voice.Clayton’s sentiment was shared by the scores of alumni who returned for the weekend, which coincided with the first fall-like weather of the season.

An alum who was making his second visit to campus of the year addressed the issue of relationships head-on.

“That invitation changed my life,” said Don “Mac” McKinley ’50 of the opportunity to form the Illinois Gamma chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity in the spring of 1948. “I learned the importance of deepening positive relationships.”

McKinley, who was also back in May for SigEp’s 75th anniversary celebration, was referring to the bonds he formed with his fraternity brothers, but he also began a relationship at Monmouth that turned into a 68-year marriage to his 1950 classmate, Joyce Chatten.

Check out the Homecoming media home page.

McKinley was inducted into the Fraternity and Sorority Hall of Fame, and one of the other Order of Omega inductees – Hilary Hawkinson Stott ’07 of Kappa Kappa Gamma – also married a Monmouth student (Jacob Stott ’09). The third inductee was John Courson ’64 of Tau Kappa Epsilon.

Monmouth marriages were a theme of the weekend, as all three M Club Hall of Fame inductees met their spouse on campus – Michael Blodgett ’11 (Chelsey Widdop ’13), Kendra James ’08 (Brett Peurach ’08) and Luke Reschke ’09 (Shannon Turczyn ’09). Turczyn even presented her husband for induction.

The power of relationships

In his remarks Saturday morning, Blodgett addressed the relationships that Monmouth students form with their professors, coaches and mentors.

“You saw the potential in me, even when I may not have fully seen it in myself,” he said. “Your guidance, expertise and relentless pursuit of excellence have not only shaped me as an athlete, but as a person. You taught me the importance of character and the value of hard work. Your influence extends far beyond the field, and I am honored to have had the privilege of learning from each of you.”

The night before, several individuals were honored during the College’s Alumni Impact Awards. One of them was Roy Sye ’13, recipient of the Young Alumnus Award, who married his Monmouth classmate, Colleen Sinclair ’13.

“I am a firm believer that relationships are everything in life,” he said. “Relationships build trust, and once there is trust, anything is achievable. Ninety percent of the collegiate experience happens outside of the stereotypical classroom setting, which means there is a tremendous amount of time to build and strengthen relationships.”

Sye said it was relationships that defined his collegiate experience, rather than specific grades he earned on exams.

“The relationships I made at Monmouth allowed me to take risks, ask questions … and instilled confidence in me as I navigated a new career in the business world,” he said. “There is a debt here that I can never repay.”

The other honorees were Brig. Gen. Chris Lawson ’88, Hall of Achievement; retired John Deere Co. executive Richard Yahnke ’66, Distinguished Alumnus; worldwide wildfire consultant Chuck Bushey Jr. ’73, Distinguished Service; political science professor Andre Audette, Hatch Academic Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching; and the Dew family, Family of the Year.

Within the Dew family were several Monmouth marriages, including Clairus Dew ’38 and Elizabeth Johnson ’41, who were married for 76 years, and the alumnus who spoke on behalf of the family, Larry Dew ’66, who married classmate Judy Burmeister.

Audette spoke about relationships from the other end of the spectrum, presenting the faculty side.

“We want our students to know they are loved and supported,” said Audette, listing that objective as one of five he gleaned from the best-selling book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Others, he said, were to indulge curiosity and sense of fun, explore everything, sharing is caring and include everyone.

“The relationships I made at Monmouth allowed me to take risks, ask questions … and instilled confidence in me as I navigated a new career in the business world,” he said. “There is a debt here that I can never repay.”
– Roy Sye ’13

Lawson referenced that support, which was critical to him in his formative years.

“My family came from nothing,” he said. “But I was invested in by the faculty and the coaches. I was surprised someone was that interested in me.”

Influential members of the campus community for Lawson included professors James De Young and Bridget Keefe, coach Roger Haynes and mentor Steve Bloomer ’83.

Reschke detailed how professors such as Ken McMillan, Mike Connell and Dick Johnston not only kept him on track academically but showed up for his track meets to cheer him on, and Bushey gave credit to faculty members who were on campus a half-century ago.

“Monmouth College is where I began the groundwork for my professional career,” said. “In particular, Dr. (Milton) Bowman, thank you for getting the ball rolling. Man is a social being, and I’m thankful for the social skill set that was provided by Monmouth College.”

Other Homecoming events

During a Friday afternoon ceremony at Monmouth cemetery, a headstone remembering Champion Miller and his wife, Juda, was unveiled. Regina Johnson, director of the College’s Champion Miller Center for Student Equity, Inclusion and Community, researched Miller as a Monmouth student. She said two words came to mind at the fulfillment of what has been a 23-year journey – “overwhelmed and surreal.”

“I’m floored and humbled by the response to the headstone project,” said retired College historian Jeff Rankin during his remarks. “This headstone is here to educate and inspire future generations.”

One of those generations was represented by a group of students from Monmouth’s Immaculate Conception School, which made up part of the crowd of more than 75 people. That was followed by the rededication of the Mellinger Office of Development and College Relations.

Slightly larger crowds turned out at April Zorn Memorial Stadium for a pair of traditional Homecoming events. At Friday’s Spirit Shout, the Homecoming court was announced. Izzy Gimm ’25 of Liberty, Illinois, was named princess and Jackson Bergren ’25 of Monmouth, was named prince. Vivica Graham ’24 of Aurora, Illinois, was crowned queen, and Sencere Brent ’24 of Peoria, Illinois, was crowned king.

Saturday afternoon, the Fighting Scots football team continued its pursuit of a Midwest Conference title, defeating Grinnell College 69-6 to improve to 3-2 on the season and 3-1 in the conference. Monmouth collected a school-record 720 yards of offense.

On Saturday evening, the Concert Choir, Chorale and Chamber Choir gave “A Homecoming Concert: Featuring Music from the American Heartland” to an enthusiastic audience, and on Sunday music professor Solee Lee-Clark gave a recital to rededicate the Dahl Chapel and Auditorium’s Ardell Organ. Members of the 2023 Homecoming court were announced at Friday night's Spirit Shout, held at April... Members of the 2023 Homecoming court were announced at Friday night's Spirit Shout, held at April Zorn Memorial Stadium. From left: Vivica Graham ’24 of Aurora, Illinois; prince Jackson Bergren ’25 of Monmouth; king Sencere Brent ’24 of Peoria, Illinois; and princess Izzy Gimm ’25 of Liberty, Illinois.

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