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A New Era...Dr. Jack M. Ryder: 1974-1989

‌Lila and I are delighted to be with all of you on this special occasion recognizing the 50th Anniversary of Saginaw Valley State University. In fact, at our age, we are delighted to be anywhere at all!  Neither of us expected or even thought it was possible twenty-four years ago that we would be fortunate enough to attend this great event.

We wish we could take credit for all the good things that occurred during my fifteen years as President of what has become an excellent university, but, of course, we cannot.  However, we remember well those people who contributed so much to laying the foundation for the growth, development and distinction SVSU and its faculty, staff and alumni have earned over the years.


We appreciate, even cherish, the relationships we developed with those people who identified with our university’s goals, and provided essential support to our efforts. Since I feel it imperative that you understand the magnificent achievements of the many people who contributed so much, I have prepared a summary of just some of the notable developments, achievements and decisions made by leadership people employed by SVSU, as well as those community citizens who supported our efforts by contributing their time and effort, and often times, fiscal support. While my remarks this evening represent an edited version, a more complete version of my fifteen years of service will be provided to you after the event this evening.


Even before the Board of Control appointed me President of Saginaw Valley College on November 1, 1974, I had learned about the confusion in the public’s mind about SVC, and its relationship to Delta College, i.e., whether SVC was a 4-year baccalaureate institution, or another community college, or even whether it was a private or state college. My vision, which coincided with that of the Board of Control at the time, was for SVC to become a comprehensive regional college offering a high quality bachelor’s and master’s degree education, both in the liberal arts and in the professions. As the first step, I recommended that the name of the college be changed to Saginaw Valley State College. I believe that move would clearly identify the college as one of the 4-year institutions in Michigan’s system of colleges and universities, and thus eligible for continuing state appropriations by the legislature. History, I believe, indicates the strategy worked. 


In 1974, consideration was being given to establishing a bachelor’s degree program in nursing that would be built upon the associate degree programs offered in community colleges, including Delta. I was visited by Dr. Crystal Lange, who headed up the associate degree program at Delta. She made the case for a four-year program in nursing and eventually a master’s degree that should be offered at SVC. After my consultation with Delta’s President, Donald Carlyon, upon my recommendation, the Board of Control appointed Dr. Lange as the Dean of the School of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences. Through her capable efforts, we received support for the new undergraduate program from the State Board of Nursing.


The only thing standing in our way was a commitment by the Governor and the State Legislature. When we received word that Governor Milliken was planning to deny initiation of the program, we were shocked. After frantic work by all of us, with Dr. Lange leading the way, and with the help of our local legislative leadership, Governor Milliken relented and the program was authorized. Nursing was the first of all our academic programs to receive specialized accreditation. Dr. Crystal Lange who later became Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs under Vice President Robert S. P. Yien, put SVSC on the map. Early in 1975, I had my first meeting with the Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.


I was very surprised when the first 15 to 20 minutes were spent by various legislators intensely expressing their negative attitudes toward SVC, even though some of their concerns may have been based upon reality and some upon fiction. Finally, when I was permitted to speak, I told them that I could do nothing about the past, but that I believed, with their help, I could affect the future of Saginaw Valley College. They listened, and ultimately, over the next 15 years, responded generously. Also, in 1975, at my first meeting with the SVSC Board of Fellows, Frank Andersen, a successful Saginaw businessman and community leader, rose to his feet and made his case for the development of an engineering program at SVSC.

He backed up his proposal for a new building to house the program by offering a contribution of $100,000 to the gift already committed for the same purpose by the Wickes Foundation. Frank wanted to get the ball rolling on a campaign for adequate funds. We were still in a recession in the state at that time, and no money was forthcoming for new facilities from the legislature. Frank’s proposal was consistent with the SVSC Board’s and my vision for the college. Along with a study of the need in this region of the state, conducted by a consultant from Purdue University, the engineering program was justified and a campaign for the new Pioneer Hall for Engineering and Technology was launched.


With the help of General Motors, Midland Foundations, Dow Chemical, Dow Corning and other individuals, we raised $2.7 million and completed the facility by 1978. This was a big boost for morale on campus and in the community. Moreover, it tended to allay fears of employees brought on by rampant rumors, at that time, that SVSC was being considered by the legislature for closing and being retrofitted to become a state prison. It soon became clear that fund-raising would have to play a vital role in the development of SVSC. Thus, in 1977, the Board of Control approved a plan for establishing the SVSC Foundation. The Foundation Board was predominantly made up of external members who were leaders in the tri-countries.

In my judgment, without the tremendous interest and altruistic commitment to SVSU on the part of the Foundation and its boards, this university would only be a skeleton of what it is today. The best example of the importance of private sector contributions, including those from Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland, was how we ultimately gained state support for Instructional facility Number 2, which included a new classroom building, science facility, library and major renovation of Wickes Hall.
Due to the recession in the early 80’s, there was little state money for new construction, thus the IF2 project was left in limbo.


Fortunately, Wickes Foundation Chairman, Melvin J. Zahnow, and the rest of the Wickes Foundation Board, agreed to let us use the one million dollars they had previously pledged for the construction of a library to complete only the design for all the buildings of IF2. Therefore, when state funds became available, our project was one of the first in the state to be given the green light for construction. In addition, the legislature included one million dollars for new library acquisitions, the result being a major upgrade of the quality of our library overnight. When Lila and I reminisce about our lives at SVSU, we think of the major expansion and implementation of international exchange programs of faculty and students from around the world, and the resulting enrichment of the university.


We are particularly pleased to see here today, so many international officials, students, and faculty, representing our exchange with various college and universities around the world. We remember our participation in the exciting groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies for Pioneer Hall, Morley Track and Field, Administrative Services Building, Pine Grove Apartments, Brown Hall, Science Building, Melvin J. Zahnow Library, renovated Wickes Hall, Arbury Fine Arts Center, the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Gallery, and, of course the Ryder Center for Health and Physical Education. Of course, we recall the devastating fire which occurred on April 24, 1985, destroying virtually all top-level administrative offices, with one exception: The Registrar’s Office.


Previously we had moved most of the administrative offices housed in Wickes Hall into mobile units to free up space for faculty offices required to service the growing student body. As a result of that decision, virtually all student records remaining in Wickes Hall in the Registrar’s Office were saved.  We take great pride in the development of the very effective Business and Industrial Development Institute in response to a legislative request that state higher education become more involved in economic development. Also, we were able to initiate major improvements to enhance the quality of our student body by offering presidential scholarships to high school graduating valedictorians and salutatorians, and the many other scholarships provided by business, industry, public organizations and individuals.


These initiatives, supported by our contributors, were extremely important to the rapid growth of SVSC.(36) We have not forgotten the faculty initiatives to attract students and enhance their capabilities through such programs as the Honors Program, Writing Across the Curriculum, the academy for Applied Philosophy, Foreign Language Day, History Day, math Olympics, and programs assisting students with weaknesses in basic skills, among others. We remember how much we enjoyed the contributions of the musical groups involving students and faculty: The Valley Woodwind Quintet, Flutee, the SVSU Choir, the SVSU Jazz group and the SVSU marching band. And how could we forget the outstanding success of our student athletes over the years, or the homecoming celebrations of victorious teams winning national championships in track and field, men’s bowling, women’s softball as well as the NAIA golf medalist’s honor, the men’s and women’s basketball and men’s football teams all becoming very competitive with other schools as they enriched the lives of the participants and the spectators alike. 


How proud we were to make the trips to Lansing to attend dinners sponsored by the Michigan Association of Governing Boards, where a member of our student body and our faculty were recognized for outstanding academic achievement. We remember the deep satisfaction we felt when we received full accreditation for both baccalaureate and master’s degree programs, and when a number of our faculty members were awarded Fulbright Teaching Fellowships and when the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations commended the Chairman of the Board of Control, Charles Curtiss, for his attendance at appropriation committee and capital outlay committee hearings, applauding him for his commitment to SVSU.


It was a joyful time when the new library was dedicated, recognizing esteemed treasurer of our Board of Control, Melvin J. Zahnow, and later the celebration we had in 1987 in Governor Blanchard’s office when he signed the bill granting university status to SVSU, Grand Valley, Ferris State and Lake Superior State as a result of SVSU’s leadership. Of course, we will never forget the contributions of all the lovely bronzes that grace our campus.


I believe SVSU has more works of sculptural art on its campus than any campus in the country fulfilling our dream and Marshall Frederick’s as well. The museum is an educational and first rate tourist attraction in the United States and the world. Much of the credit for bringing Marshall Fredericks work to SVSU goes to the late Honey Arbury of Midland, a longtime member of the Board of Control, as well as the Foundation Board. Additionally, I would be derelict if I did not point out that SVSU’s first lady, my wife, Lila, by Board of Control appointment, contributed pro bono, her time and effort to coordinating the development of the Arbury Fine Arts Center and the Marshall Fredericks gallery with the artist and the architect.


Last, but not least, we remember how immensely pleased we were at our retirement party in the Ryder Center for Health and Physical Education. The Board of Control had named that great facility in our honor, for which we are forever grateful. Our pleasure was enhanced when we shared this honor with our good friend, the late Representative James O’Neill when the arena within Ryder Center was named for him. He was an able and highly respected legislator and certainly deserved that recognition for his good work on behalf of SVSU. As Lila and I reminisce about our tenure at SVSU, we take great satisfaction that we had the opportunity to work with so many of you in this room to develop and nurture institutional traditions that still serve SVSU today. Among the many unsung heroes who contributed immensely to laying the foundation for the development of SVSU as an institution of distinction, are the leaders and the personnel in the areas of food service, custodial services, construction and maintenance. The quality of these services often times make the first impression on students and visitors to our campus.


As proud as we are of the facilities and athletic programs at SVSU, we take even more satisfaction in the academic excellence which has been developed and maintained by SVSU’s faculty and staff over the years. First and foremost has been the emphasis on teaching as the primary focus of the institution, promulgated by the first president, Sam Marble and the early faculty, encouraged by my administration and faculty, and further implemented by President Gilbertson and his faculty. We are pleased that all three administrations encouraged faculty in many different ways through sabbaticals, foundation grants, fellowships, credit hour relief, international exchanges and other assistance to enable them to engage in research and community service as secondary elements of contribution to strengthen our institutional commitment to the state and Nation.


We can all be proud of our SVSU alumni who have enriched the quality of life in their communities, providing leadership and initiative in their professions on behalf of all our citizens. We firmly believe that together we built a solid foundation for the future of a growing and dynamic university. It is abundantly clear, from the good work of SVSU’s current president, Dr. Eric Gilbertson that our efforts were not in vain.


He has built upon our foundation with the same kind of support we enjoyed, and has developed an even more dynamic university… a university growing and changing in all respects to meet the needs of this region, state and Nation. Among his many achievements has been the establishment of academic chairs providing outstanding academic leadership in various academic units. This is nothing short of phenomenal. When we left in 1989, we had no such chairs established. Furthermore, he has been instrumental in construction and renovation of new academic facilities,student housing, athletic fields, and at least two major additions to the Ryder Center which is a magnificent asset for the campus and the larger community.

You cannot imagine how thrilled Lila and I were to learn this past spring that, once again, the Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation led the way by endowing a Chair in Nursing, providing outstanding leadership for SVSU’s first doctoral program preparing nurses with the degree of Dr. of Nursing Practice. As President Gilbertson and his wife, Cindy, look forward to their upcoming retirement as the longest serving President and first lady in the history of SVSU, and currently in the State, they can be justly proud of SVSU’s tremendous achievements, just as we are proud of them for their leadership on behalf of this common cause.


On the occasion of this celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Saginaw Valley State University, Lila and I want to thank the members of the Board of Control, and all the great people who worked with us for the privilege of serving you and Saginaw Valley State University. Moreover, we want to thank all the members past and present of the faculty, staff, administration, students, alumni, and all community citizens who have served on the boards of control, the SVSU Foundation, the Board of Fellows and all other advisory bodies, for your continuing commitment to the goals of SVSU, and for your service to SVSU. Our experience working with all of you has enriched our lives immeasurably.

Just as Lila and I love the United States of America as the greatest Nation the world has ever seen, we love Saginaw Valley State University for all it has been and for all it will become in the future in service to this state, our Nation and the world.

Happy 50th Anniversary!