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Oct. 4, 2010

DWU homecoming was ‘a wonderful weekend’

Ross Dolan • The Daily Republic

And then they were gone.

After a week of non-stop events to celebrate its Dakota Wesleyan University’s 125th anniversary, tired alumni are headed home. It was quite a party.

“We had alumni from 32 states here this week,” emcee Don Jorgensen told the cheering crowd Saturday night at the Corn Palace. Recently named South Dakota Broadcasters Association’s “Broadcaster of the Year,” Jorgensen, Class of ’87, was a member of the football team during his years at Wesleyan.

The crowd warmed up with music from the home-grown DWU group, The 1966 Highlanders, and then Jorgensen introduced The Village People, which featured alum Jeff Olson.

The group, with their trademark cowboy (Olson), Indian, construction worker, biker, cop, and soldier characters, enthusiastically pumped and sweated their way through non-stop choreographed numbers from the disco era.

The audience appeared to take its time processing the music, but the slack disappeared from the crowd’s collective jaws when the People launched into their raucous, flag-wav- ing number, “In the Navy.” Sailor hats magically materialized and entire tables of alums began dancing, marching and saluting in rhythm. When “YMCA” — the group’s final and climactic number — began the place went nuts. “We love you Jeff,” yelled classmates to Olson. “I love you too,” he said, waving to the crowd. He and fellow band members shook hands with the audience, and Filipe Rose (the Indian) handed out feathers to fans. The day began with the traditional Blue and White Days Parade and its “Through the Ages,” theme down Main Street, with numerous floats and bands from around the region. The oldest alumnus to ride in the parade was Juanita Kindon of the DWU Class of 1933. Crowds briefly re-fueled at a buffalo barbecue outside the new Joe Quintal Field Stadium, then filled the stands to support their Tigers. With a 3-0 record coming into Saturday’s game the Tigers were favored to win the contest against the Midland University Warriors.

The first two quarters saw the offensive efforts of both teams stymied by resolute defenses, and teams left the field tied 7-7 at the half.

At halftime, the audience was introduced to former footballers and cheerleaders from past Tiger teams. DWU track star Dave Ackerson, Class of ’72, was inducted into the DWU Athletic Hall of Fame.

The game, played in impossibly perfect fall conditions, ended on a sour note as Midland refused to be the sacrificial homecoming goat.

Up by three points with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Tigers quarterback Jonathan Bane floated a pass that was picked off by a Midland defender and returned 61 yards for a touchdown. Several minutes later the Tigers came close to reversing the disaster, but came up short by inches.

The week was really about the alumni.

A theme commonly heard was that DWU somehow manages to create unusually close bonds among its alumni, with some of those bonds translating into lifelong friendships and more than a few marriages. Ken Ketel, now a Rapid City businessman and a member of the Class of ‘62, directed the Kugel Reunion Choir, which performed at several events. The choir is named for the late Bill Kugel, a longtime music professor at Wesleyan.

One member of choir was Pat Ptak, Class of 1959, a former teacher who attended the weekend with her husband, LaValle. They now live in Cave Creek, Ariz.

Ptak said the choir met Friday for rehearsal and “clicked” as the years just rolled away.

“We had 58 to 60 people,” Ketel said, “and every one of those people are still involved in community or church choirs. Some built careers as music teachers and choir directors.

“It was a wonderful weekend and it was very well organized,” he said. “Jackie Wentworth and the alumni office did a great job.” Lori Essig, DWU vice president for university relations, said “We were absolutely thrilled with the attendance. The goal was to have 1,000 alumni attend, and I have to say we came pretty close.”

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