By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor

Hundreds of supporters of higher education gathered in the Ritz-Carlton at 6:30 p.m. on October 5 to celebrate the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ success. The 26th annual Founders Dinner event celebrates and honors members of UMSL: faculty and staff awards, distinguished alumni awards, E.Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy and more.

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi highlighted the importance of support from UMSL alumni and friends of the university. Choi said, “These [donors] are not luminaries because of their titles, the number of homes they own, or the cars they drive. They are luminaries because of the lives they have touched. The small gesture has affected their students, colleagues, and others…. That person is making a difference in humanity.”

The $75 dollar ticket price included a dinner with the program starting at 7:15 p.m. by asking attendees to fill out quotation cards with a fill in the phrase “_____ people choose UMSL.” Later in the program, it was revealed that UMSL marketing and communications asked that question last year and ranked the top ten responses. The campaign was called the Choose the Word campaign to instil pride on campus. Top ten responses were dedicated, motivated, driven, diverse, hard-working, ambitious, engaged, and inspiring. Attendees were asked to stand if they put one of those top ten responses on the cards. Some of the top words were printed on coffee mugs and placed on all the tables for attendees to take with them.

Dedicated faculty and staff who were honored on campus at the State of the University Address were asked to stand and be recognized for their achievements. The UMSL Alumni Association had several milestones this year as they celebrated their 50th anniversary of the first graduating class and creation of the alumni association. The celebration asked the first graduating class to come back and wear golden robes and walk across the stage again at graduation. The Alumni Association also celebrated fundraising $1 million dollars in an endowment.

Jennifer Jezek-Taussig, associate vice chancellor of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving, presented awards to the six honored alumni. Jezek-Taussig said, “Thanks to their extraordinary accomplishments make us all proud. They have each made a difference in their own way: in business, in the community, and especially at UMSL. Their success shines a bright light on our university.”

The 6 Distinguished Alumni honored at the 2017 Founders Dinner. Photo by August Jennewein.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recipients were Gary S. Jacob, BS Chemistry 1969, chairman and CEO of Synergy Pharmaceuticals, Inc; Sandra D. Marks, BSBA marketing 1981; senior vice president of Clayco, Inc.; Brian M. Owens, MB music performance 2008, soloist and artist in residence at the St. Louis Symphony; Joseph A. Stieven, BSBA finance 1982 and MBA business administration 1985, CEO of Stieven Capital Advisors, L.P.; and Rita R. Swiener, BA psychology 1970, founder and executive director of Santa’s Helpers, Inc. Antionette D. Carroll, BS media studies 2009 and MA communications 2012, President and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab received the Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

Sammi Risius, junior, media studies, attended Founders Dinner for the first time this year. Risius was invited by Curt Coonrod, vice provost for Student Affairs and dean of students, as a student representative because of her campus involvement. Risius said, “It was a great experience to see all the faculty, administrators, and sponsors that dedicate their time and money to our campus. It was great to see that people love and believe in our school.”

Several alumni and friends of the university were honored for their donation efforts. This year there were 1,843 Pierre Laclede Society members who have donated at least $1,000 to the university providing flexible resources. Two couples were honored for reaching the $5 million milestone: Joe and Mary Stieven and Kirk and Maureen Richter.

The event ended with a performance by Abigail Stahlschmidt, senior, liberal studies. Stahlschmidt attended UMSL when she was 15 on a full-ride music and academic scholarship studying under Julliard-trained violinist John McGrosso and his colleagues of the Arianna String Quartet. She is a singer, songwriter, violinist, and professional model.