New USD Student Center Officially Dedicated

University of South Dakota President James W. Abbott (at right) speaks to Karen and Ted Muenster’s granddaughter, Olivia, as she helps unveil a plaque Friday afternoon during the dedication ceremony at the Muenster University Center. Also assisting in the unveiling is the Muensters’ grandson, Alexander, standing beside Abbott. (DAVID LIAS/Yankton Media, Inc.)

VERMILLION — The University of South Dakota campus reflects a rich history that can be traced simply by strolling past many of its buildings.

During the dedication ceremony of the Theodore R. and Karen K. Muenster University Center, held Friday inside the new structure, USD President James W. Abbott said it is fitting that the Muenster name graces the latest addition to the campus.

The buildings at USD bear the names of individuals who had a lasting impact on the school, the state of South Dakota, and the nation, according to Abbott — including Robert Slagle, who was appointed president of the university in 1914; I.D. Weeks, whose tenure as USD president from 1935 to 1966 spanned the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War; and Lewis Akeley, who served as mentor to brothers Earnest and John Lawrence. One of the brothers won a Nobel Prize in physics, the other is widely credited with the development of modern nuclear medicine.

“Ted has served our university and The University of South Dakota Foundation long and well,” Abbott said before a large audience that spilled out of special seating set up for the ceremony, with scores of people standing in the main hallway of the university center to witness the building’s dedication.

Muenster and his wife first arrived in Vermillion in 1967 when he accepted a position as director of USD’s Institute of Public Affairs. In 1971, the Muensters moved to Pierre, where Ted served as chief of staff for Gov. Richard Kneip. They returned to Vermillion in 1975 when Ted was named director of university relations at USD.

The Muensters relocated in Sioux Falls in 1978, where Ted served as CEO of Sodak Distributing. He was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1990, and following that campaign, Ted served as founding partner of a Sioux Falls-based national opinion and marketing research firm.

The Muensters returned to Vermillion in 1998, when Ted accepted a position as the first full-time president of The University of South Dakota Foundation.

“Ted launched and directed Campaign South Dakota, a comprehensive capital fund drive with the audacious goal of $60 million  — then the most ambitious fundraising effort in South Dakota history,” Abbott said. “Campaign South Dakota concluded on Dec. 31, 2006, having raised $134 million.”

Those funds allowed the endowment of new scholarships, garnered additional support for USD faculty, and served as a catalyst for the transformation of the university campus, Abbott said.

“It is particularly appropriate that this spectacular structure bear the Muenster name in honor of Ted, his wife Karen, their children, Ted Jr., Mary Katherine and Tom, and their five grandchildren,” Abbott said. “They are a family long associated with and committed to our university.”

The audience was treated to Ted Muenster’s unique sense of humor shortly after he was introduced to speak.

“Realizing that many campus buildings are named for deceased persons, I’m especially pleased to be here this afternoon, or anywhere else for that matter,” Ted said. “It’s a high honor for this wonderful new university center to carry our family name.”

Muenster said school officials deliberately chose to refer to the building as a university center.

“It hopefully conveys that this building is a welcoming place for every member of the USD community — students and their families, faculty, staff, alumni and the public — and not solely for the students although they will be the primary users,” he said, adding that it is a great privilege to be honored on the campus with the likes of individuals who made the university possible.

“I’m proud to be associated with Campaign South Dakota, which was a product of the university’s vision for the future,” Muenster said.

He nearly was overcome with emotion as he noted that his father, if living, would have celebrated his 97th birthday on Friday.

“Born on a Kansas farm, he came of age at a time of the Great Depression and dust storms,” Muenster said, “and like my mother, without the opportunity to attend college, denied to so many of their generation. Instead, they worked long and hard, denying themselves many of life’s rewards to make college possible for my sister and me.

“They would be very proud today to know that this wonderful building at the heart of a great state university bears our family name,” he said.

The 70,000-square-foot Muenster University Center opened in February. Designed by Charles Rose Architects, Inc., of Somerville, Mass., the interior of the facility features a multi-level campus dining area with indoor and outdoor seating, a 500-person capacity multi-purpose ballroom, state-of-the-art conference rooms, meeting areas, a multi-cultural center and offices for the university’s Student Government Association and Student Activities Center.

The building, which houses a new Barnes and Noble campus bookstore, accommodates a variety of student social events, and is a learning laboratory linked to the I.D. Weeks Library.

“This is truly an extraordinary day for The University of South Dakota,” said Carole Pagones, who serves on the South Dakota Board of Regents. “Not many colleges or universities in this country can boast that their student center is as magnificent as this facility.

“Members of the community can be proud of the investment they’ve made in the future of the USD institution,” she said.

“I think I can speak for all students when I say that this last semester was one of the most exciting spring semesters we’ve had on campus for a long time,” said Ryan Budmayr, who just completed his junior year at USD.

He said students were given an opportunity to give input on what features they would like to see included in the building’s design. “As a result, we have a building that all students and organizations can utilize and be proud of,” he said.

“The university center has literally added hundreds of opportunities and activities that cater to students’ needs,” said Erin Alberts, a junior marketing major enrolled in USD’s Beacom School of Business. “Additionally, the ability to interact with students outside of one’s major has improved drastically since there is now common ground.

“It is clear that the Muenster University Center is here for us and we are glad that is officially up and running,” she said. “The facility is something The University of South Dakota should be proud of. It gives USD a competitive advantage as we continue to be a step above concerning student satisfaction.”

Financial support for the Muenster University Center came from student fees, donations from Barnes and Noble Booksellers and Aramak, the university’s food service provider, and private donations, including a $5 million grant from the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation. The Pritzers are the Muensters’ daughter and son-in-law.

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