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Oct. 2, 2009

DWU alumni prepare to celebrate school’s history, future this weekend

Austin Kaus • The Daily Republic

Robert Parkinson graduated at the top of his high school class in Highmore, and it didn’t take long for him to accept a scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan University.

Now 100, Parkinson — who started college as a self-proclaimed “farm boy scared of his shadow” — said it was a decision that changed his life forever.

“I began to think ‘Maybe I’ve got brains enough to succeed at life,’ ” Parkinson said. “I did and I’ve done very well with it.” The university that Parkinson — Wesleyan’s 2007 Alumnus of the Year — credits for teaching him the keys to success begins its 125th anniversary celebration today, replete with alumni celebrations, reunions and traditional Blue and White Days homecoming activities that include a parade, football game and burning of the “W.”

For Parkinson, it’s hard to believe it’s been 76 years since he graduated from the university where he scooped coal and served as the university president’s driver for 25 cents an hour

“It was a great time, but I didn’t realize how great it was until later on,” Parkinson said. “Wesleyan is terribly important to me.”

History of achievement
Ground was broken for Dakota University in 1884. On April 27, 1885, the university received its charter and graduated its first class on June 24, 1886.

Since adopting the Dakota Wesleyan University moniker in 1904, the school has graduated 16,874 students, many of whom have found the ultimate success in their chosen field.

Ted Roman graduated from DWU in 1956 and served as a cardiovascular surgeon at the Public Health Services in Rosebud and as a resident in general surgery at the Mayo Clinic.

A musician, Grace Cajiuat graduated from DWU in 1986, the same year she received the Bishop Armstrong Peace & Justice Award.

Paul and Donna Christen — whose name graces the Christen Family Wellness Center on campus — found success in the business world, selling First Western Banks in 2008 and donating millions of dollars to charities.

Roman, Cajiuat and the Christens all will be honored with Distinguished Alumni Awards at the Founders’ Convocation at 10:30 a.m. today.

Wesleyan President Robert Duffett said he expects the campus to be filled this weekend with past and present students intent on celebrating the institution’s 125 years of existence.

“This just a time to celebrate our values of learning, leadership … and the lives of people that may have gone out and done great things,” he said.

‘Learning, leadership’
The Dakota Wesleyan University Web site notes that “members of all faiths are welcome and encouraged to experience an education based on learning, leadership, faith and service.”

In Duffett’s mind, those goals have most certainly been reached. And while faith at the Methodist-affiliated university plays a strong role, the primary focus is releasing students into the world armed with a strong and well-rounded education, Duffett said.

“We can do faith and we can do service and we can do leadership, but learning is numero uno,” Duffett said. “We have to cultivate the life of the mind.”

Still, spirituality plays a strong role on campus. Attending chapel was mandatory on campus until May 30, 1970, but Duffett said the campus continues to worship as a community, maintaining “intentional relations with the United Methodist Church.”

“We’re trying to create a culture here that reinforces those values,” Duffett said. “We’re not a university of beer and circus, but of learning and leadership.”

Teacher, salesman and volunteer
Parkinson has remained at home in Glendale, Calif., during this week’s celebration, but said he’s happy to reflect on the time he spent at Dakota Wesleyan and the thousands of graduates who hail from the institution.

During a telephone interview this week, he remembered the days of driving university president Dr. Earl Roadman to speaking engagements. He broke down coal ash on campus so cars wouldn’t be damaged by the refuse.

After graduating from DWU with a degree in history in 1933, Parkinson received his master’s degree in 1935. He taught in South Dakota and at a radio training school in Sioux Falls during World War II before working his way up the corporate ladder at Alcoa Aluminum. He later returned to teaching.

Since his retirement in 1974 — a year that preceded the birthdates of most current Wesleyan students — Parkinson became a “professional volunteer,” working with church, civic education and other volunteer projects near his California home.

But even as he approaches his 101st birthday in November, Parkinson gives Dakota Wesleyan University credit for helping him become the man he is today.

“I just know that for generation after generation, people have come out of there and their benefits have been marvelous,” Parkinson said. “I began to think ‘Maybe I am somebody.’

“The benefits are amazing.”

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Last updated: 10/5/09