What’s in a Name?

What does it take for the University to name a building in someone’s honor? Apart from following the policies established by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system about who can be honored when, the decision-making process rests with the University administration. Generally speaking, if a person possesses the rare ability to connect and motivate people, lives a life dedicated to the betterment of education and steadfastly promotes the University’s mission, then that person’s name may find its way onto the short list of those under consideration.

In 2011, Minnesota State Mankato identified two outstanding women who fit that unique profile: Jane Earley and Margaret R. Preska.

Perfect Performance

Jane Earley and Paul Hustoles at the Earley Center for the Performing Arts naming ceremonyOfficially, the Earley Center for Performing Arts was christened on November 12, 2011. But unofficially, the building, which was completed in 1967, has been Jane Earley’s since she arrived to teach English in 1969. From that first fall quarter, Earley has been a constant presence at music, dance and theatre performances. “I have been here for 27 years, I don’t remember a time when Dr. Earley wasn’t in attendance,” says Paul Hustoles, chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance.

Earley became the founding dean of the new College of Arts and Humanities in 1977. She was the University’s first female dean and served in that position until her retirement in 2009, making her one of the longest serving deans in the country.

Rather than following a more traditional career route and seeking a position at a larger institution, Earley chose to remain in Mankato. “I felt the further I moved away from the students, the less I felt I could do for the students,” she says.

Even in her retirement, Earley continues to have a significant impact on students in performing arts. “For as long as I can remember and to this day, at the end of each show, Jane stands near the cast door,” Hustoles says. “Cast members come spewing out and she congratulates each and every one of them. It means a great deal to them.”

The Earley Center for Performing Arts serves as the home to both Theatre & Dance and Music; it hosts dozens of theatrical performances each year in the Ted Paul and Andreas Theatres, as well as musical performances in the Elias J. Halling Recital Hall. In addition, the center houses scene and costume shops, band and choir rooms, a music library, faculty offices and various studios, classrooms and practice rooms.

In his letter of recommendation to name the building in her honor, President Richard Davenport listed Earley’s accomplishments and service to the University and beyond. This statement perhaps summed it up best: “Most importantly, throughout all of her time at Mankato, she has been an endless supporter of not only arts and humanities in general, but performing arts in particular.”

A Living Presence

Margaret Preska has been serving the University community since 1974, first as the vice president of academic affairs and then as president from 1979 to 1992. During her tenure, the first faculty union contracts were negotiated, the Minnesota State Mankato Foundation was established and the University’s enrollment grew by 43 percent.

The Margaret R. Preska Residence Community, currently under construction next to the McElroy Residence Community, will open in fall 2012. The four-story, semi-suite style facility will accommodate 300 students. Aside from its central location, the facility will include study-related amenities such as classrooms, advising offices, computer workstations and private study spaces.

Architect's rendering of the Margaret R. Preska Residence CommunitySo what does it feel like to have a building named in your honor? “Well, it means that I am old,” Preska jokes. “Most of all, I feel very honored that long dreams I have had that students would have a living, learning community and be able to relate in small numbers to the larger University and therefore to the larger world are coming true here because of the way the architects, engineers and University committees have designed the building.”

Preska seems to live her life in the way she dreams possible for students— connecting with people individually, across the University and worldwide. “Dr. Preska has touched the lives of thousands of students who became leaders in business, industry and government,” says President Davenport. “She served the University with distinction, and she continues to share her passion for Minnesota State Mankato throughout the world.”

Although she has long been retired, Preska seems driven to keep going and working. “All my life, I remember most of all wanting to be a good person,” she says. “I think that means serving others. When you find a need and your abilities coincide with that need, there is an obligation to help. Without really thinking too long and hard about it, I just keep going. Way leads onto way.”

That desire to keep going has led the irrepressible Preska into adventures she never would have imagined. “Would you believe I am getting involved in ice hockey? In the sands of Arabia, there is a women’s ice hockey team,” she says. “Of course, I am not an ice hockey player, but we have a University that has a lot of success so I can put people in touch.”

In her quest to serve others, Preska continues to connect people, improve education opportunities and steadfastly promote Minnesota State Mankato around the world.