Alumni center opens doors to Homecoming weekend crowd

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center at Southeast Missouri State University officially opened for business this weekend, kicking off Saturday's Homecoming festivities with the first university event hosted at the facility at 926 Broadway.

Their first task? Feeding 240 hungry alumni.

The All Alumni breakfast was held in the Barbara Hope Kem Statuary Hall, amid nine plaster reproductions of classical sculptures that were moved from Memorial Hall to the newly renovated university building.

Statuary Hall was the nickname given to the main corridor of Academic Hall, where the statue collection spent five decades before 1959, when they were scattered across campus to make space for offices and classrooms.

The statue collection was given to the then-Cape Girardeau Normal School by the late Louis Houck, an area businessman and member of the university's board of regents for nearly 40 years. Houck paid $1,888.25 for the collection after seeing it at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.

Wayne Smith, vice president for University Advancement, gave a special dedication of the new statuary hall, a spacious auditorium where the statues guard the perimeters from atop pedestals, in honor of its namesake, the late Barbara Hope Kem.

Kem, a Cape Girardeau native, attended Southeast for one year in 1955 before meeting her husband, Lawrence "Rudy" Kem, at Kent Library. Kem's family contributed to the renovation of the hall.

Also honored was the class of 1957, which celebrated its 50th reunion this weekend, and whose combined efforts helped raise $100,000 to restore and relocate the statues to the new Alumni Center.

Aleen Vogel Wehking and Earl and Margie Holland were the major contributors of the more than $1 million it cost to renovate and convert the former First Baptist Church to the new Alumni Center, Smith said.

"Everything, from the paint on the walls to the floors, has come through gifts to the alumni center," he said.

The building now houses alumni services and university advancement, and next week university relations will be moving into the upstairs offices.

A walk through the new facility feels more like a museum tour than one of a university building.

Plaster reliefs adorn the walls, in keeping with the Greek Revival architectural style in which the church was first built in 1926. Antique dressers and vases are in nearly every room, and Oriental rugs protect the refinished hardwood floors from scuffing.

Many of the interior furnishings were donated by Don and Rubye Kraft, said Janelle McCrite, gifts processing specialist.

During homecoming festivities, university staff gave tours of the new alumni center.

"Several women said 'Oh, I got married in this church, and I just had to see it one last time,'" McCrite said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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