Alumni Center opens Saturday

By Tom Bukowski

Exactly 364 days after construction began, the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center opened to the public Saturday.

Hundreds of NIU alumni and their families, along with students, faculty, staff and DeKalb residents ventured into the 40,000-square-foot facility starting at 11 a.m.

Grilled hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs and bratwursts were provided by the Holmes Student Center. Attendees purchased memorabilia in the center’s store, enjoyed grilled food and admired the center’s library.

Marcia Dick, a library tech assistant at Founders Memorial Library, made sure the center’s library was her first stop.

“The new center is absolutely beautiful,” she said. “It looks like a cathedral at night, with the lights all lit up.”

A video presentation created at last year’s groundbreaking played on several video screens and speakers throughout the center’s conference rooms.

During the open house, attendees were given opportunities to purchase a brick to be placed in the center, sign up for a drawing for the Alumni Association-sponsored Costa del Sol and Morocco vacation and sign up to take part in the Huskie-2-Huskie alumni networking program.

John Malkowski, an alumnus who received his master’s from NIU in 1982, was enamored with the center.

“This is such a nice, open environment, and this is a lovely event they’re putting on for NIU alumni today,” he said. “The center’s aesthetics are great – nice, neutral tones. Also, these are some very nice bathrooms.”

Malkowski jokingly said if his daughter had not gotten married a year ago, he would have had her wedding take place at the Center, where people can rent out the entire first floor for events and occasions.

Malkowski had one concern with the center, though.

“I’m worried about what this center would feel like in the middle of August,” he said. “The windows and layout don’t seem like they would be able to handle direct sunlight very well.”

A dedication presentation expressed gratitude to the 2,200 alumni who each donated $1,000 or more and the designers and construction company. Among those who spoke were Robert Fioretti and Howard Blietz, members of the alumni association board and NIU president John Peters. Alumnus Dennis Barsema, who donated $2 million, and NIU faculty involved in the project also spoke.

Peters said the center was the most beautiful in the country – “and I’ve seen a lot of alumni centers,” he said.

Ruth Ashelford Pollock, one of the chief donors to the center, also commented.

“I hope my contribution will help instill respect and dignity for our fellow man,” Pollock said.

Peters was impressed by the turnout at the center’s dedication ceremony.

“The turnout is better than I could have imagined,” he said. “The alumni not only built this building as a testament to the school’s accomplishments, but also for future generations.”