Southeast events provided uplift

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Lost a bit in the news over the weekend was the dedication of the Otto and Della Seabaugh Polytechnic Building at Southeast Missouri State University. The university considered rescheduling the event, but U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who were instrumental in gaining federal funding for the dazzling facility, encouraged university president Ken Dobbins to proceed. Both legislators delivered emotional remarks about the strength and heart of America, and all present prayed and sang in memorial to those affected by the tragedy last week.

Tributes were given to those who made the new building possible. At the top of the list were the Seabaughs, who donated more than $1 million to help fund construction. The elderly Cape Girardeau couple -- both graduates of the university -- stayed seated, wanting the spotlight to shine on others. Bond, Emerson, State Sen. Peter Kinder and former Gov. Mel Carnahan received special recognition along with the board of regents and its president, Don Dickerson, under whose leadership the school has accomplished much.

Except for the tragedy that hung over the ceremony, it was a perfect event. Once the speeches were delivered, the crowd gathered at the front entrance around a robot, which cut the dedication ribbon.

This ribbon cutting, by the way, made possible by the programming of department chair Dr. Ragu Athinarayanan, technology supervisor Scott Wright and scholarship student Ryan Dannenmueller, wasn't a slow, methodical single snip. Instead, it was a virtual dance, with the bulky robot spinning around playfully, popping balloons strategically placed near it, before cutting the main ribbon and then other ribbons to set free a stream of red, white and blue balloons.

If the robot was fun and impressive, the building itself was dazzling, making it perhaps the most gorgeous structure in town. With bright windows and clean lines, it will be an architectural gem for this corner of the state for a long time. More importantly, the equipment inside is state of the art, promising to help make the industrial education there under Dean Randall Shaw some of the best in the country.

Otto and Della Seabaugh may have sat quietly during the ceremony, but their pride was evident. A similar pride could be seen sparkling in the eyes of faculty members, who walked curious visitors through demonstrations of how the equipment, as well as the video-enhanced classrooms, worked. I was proud, too. The building, and the enthusiastic faculty working within it, will be an attraction to our area for a long time.

Another difficult call for the university was whether to play the football game also on Saturday. While I don't think there was a right or wrong choice about playing, I am glad the Indians went forward. In contrast to Major League Baseball and the NFL, which are mainly entertainment businesses, there's something wholesome about most college and amateur sports (outside of the Big Time college programs). They're more often about the kids and parents involved than anything else. In this case, it was also about the crowd. People seemed refreshed to be able to come together, pray in silence, and then cheer. Many I talked to said they "needed" the game. On a side note, a poll on the Web site indicates support for playing the game at about 3 to 1.

The football game was exciting and Southeast played brilliantly at times, only to fall short after leading most of the way. Coach Tim Billings is certainly putting together a talented squad. Even though the Indians lost, the crowd didn't seem down on the way out. They had witnessed a well-played game, cheered, and seen friends. A bit of healing took place.

For a couple weeks, I've been trying to mention the hard work Steve Bjelich at St. Francis Medical Center has been doing for his hospital and the United Way. He proudly unveiled the new family birthplace at St. Francis two weeks ago, a major project for the hospital and region. The unveiling was a classy affair with Bishop John J. Leibrecht blessing the facility, and neonatologist Lynne Willett, director of maternal child health services Jane Sturt, and Dr. Ann Behrend-Uhls talking about how the vision of a family birthplace became a reality.

Bjelich also serves as chairman of the United Way's local campaign drive this year. He has expressed some concern that people in the community, who are opening their hearts to national relief organizations, might forget to donate locally, too. The United Way is an integral part of social services in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City, whose services can't be replaced. I'd like add my voice to those who encourage you to support this important organization.

Jon K. Rust is co-president of Rust Communications.

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