Legacies come in many different forms. Some are tangible, such as a business or a construction project. Some are harder to define or point out. Both are equally important and enduring.
The Zachary family’s legacy is education—a continuing thirst for knowledge and eagerness to put what they’ve learned into practice. That’s quite clear from all the successful careers and advanced degrees that family members have collected as they’ve pursued such diverse fields as medicine, law, construction and nonprofit leadership.
It’s also quite clear from the long string of decisions to begin their educational journeys at Minnesota State Mankato that this University has had a tremendous impact on the family.
Since the first Zachary attended Minnesota State Mankato in the late 1950s, more than a dozen family members have followed in his footsteps, either attending or graduating from the University. Most of them continued on to other universities and other degrees, utilizing the education and skills they gained here to carve out successful careers.
“Mankato did so much for one family,” says Steven Zachary ’81. “Ever since I went there, I’ve recommended it. The things you find out in college, and the people you meet there, you know and are friends of yours for the rest of your life.”
It all started with Ben Zachary. Ben, who graduated in 1959, was a star football player. He was so good, in fact, that he was invited to play with the Baltimore Colts after graduation. Instead of pursuing a professional football career, he chose to stay with his field of study— teaching. He went on to earn two master’s degrees and become a principal in the Burnsville school system.
Ben passed away two years ago, but family members recall him saying that the University should change its name to “Mankato Zachary State University,” because so many members of the Zachary clan started there and went on to do great things.
Ben’s brother Lou followed next, studying at Minnesota State Mankato before going on to earn a Ph.D. and become a professor at Augsburg College and Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
For Ben’s nephew Steven, the decision to attend Minnesota State Mankato was made in part because his older brother, Dennis, had started classes there a year earlier and seemed to really enjoy the campus. The two brothers became roommates and played on the same football team. Dennis graduated in 1980 and went on to the Mayo Medical School; Steven graduated in 1981 and subsequently earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota.
Steven became licensed to practice law in both Minnesota and Arizona, where he currently resides. For a time, he worked for the state of Minnesota in the civil rights arena, then moved on to a career in corporate America and eventually became a minister. He credits his time in Mankato with preparing him for success in each of his careers.
“The main thing [I took away] is just the experience and the support that I received from the professors there, which really gave me the background and the foundation and the confidence to succeed at law school,” he explains. “When I went to the University of Minnesota, it was ranked 16th in the nation. If I didn’t have that confidence from Minnesota State Mankato, I probably wouldn’t have been able to succeed.”
Steven’s niece Erin Roberts (nee Zachary) was one of several family members from the next generation of Zacharys to attend the University. The Mankato native said she originally made the choice because it was close to home, but she enjoyed her experience so much that she stayed the full four years. She earned her undergraduate degree in corrections in 2008 and a master’s degree in public administration in 2013. She channeled what she learned into her current position as community engagement manager for the Mankato YWCA.
Although the family tradition was well established by the time Roberts started looking at schools, she said there was never any pressure to follow in other Zachary footsteps. However, she did hear encouraging stories from different family members when they recalled their time at Minnesota State Mankato.
“Once I chose Mankato, it was cool to know that my dad had gone there, and my uncle had gone there, and all these other people had, too,” she says.
Roberts says one of the best parts of the University experience for her was the blend of small-town feel with big-city education. “I felt like you got a big school education on a small campus,” she says. “It made it really easy to be able to work and go to school, and also easy to meet people. All of my professors always knew my name.”
For Roberts, the fact that so many family members attended Minnesota State Mankato isn’t the most impressive part of their legacy. It’s the fact that so many family members attended the University and went on to great things afterwards.
“We all went to Minnesota State Mankato and had a great experience, which is apparent since everyone moved on to other degrees,” she says. “Obviously, it did well for us because we were able to continue on. It was a great foundation.”
Alexis Bell is the latest of the Zachary clan to attend Minnesota State Mankato. Originally from Maplewood, she said that she chose to come here to study mass media because it was close enough to home to provide some security while being
far enough away to let her grow and become more independent.
Bell planned to graduate last December, but she’s surely not the last of the Zachary family who will choose Minnesota State Mankato in the years to come. The University has become part of the Zachary legacy, an unwavering foundation that prepares each graduating family member to grow and thrive. It’s only a matter of time before another generation of Zacharys joins the Maverick family and adds to an already impressive legacy. —Grace Webb