New Student Center Will Be More Than Just a Building

Mike Orth, Undergraduate Student Government executive vice president

Magical: That was the only description I could summon when I first walked up to the Anderson Student Center, after having passed through the new lower quadrangle and the John P. Monahan Plaza for the first time. It was a brisk Friday night in early September. A high school football game was roaring away on Palmer Field, a place once hidden from the rest of campus but now connected. I said with a smile to my friend, “Welcome to the new St. Thomas.”

Seeing the plaza and student center up close for the first time was not only exciting, it was emotional. Over the past year and a half I have witnessed this student center come to life – not by simply watching the construction but also through observing and listening to the people who dreamed it and ultimately made it happen. I have learned that this is much more than a building. It is an icon that represents our St. Thomas community.

As a representative on the Undergraduate Student Government, I had a unique opportunity to work with other students in giving feedback on the new building. After sitting on countless student focus groups and meeting with Student Affairs staff members, I received a rather unusual email last October from Jane Canney, vice president of Student Affairs. She asked that I and a few other student leaders join her for lunch with Julie Woulfe, the benefactor of Woulfe Alumni Hall in the new student center. With curiosity, I accepted the luncheon invitation.

Julie, a resident of Danville, Calif., had flown to St. Paul to visit campus and view the construction. When the other student leaders and I sat down to lunch, Jane was quick to start the conversation. She asked Julie about her late husband, James Woulfe ’43, for whom Woulfe Alumni Hall would be named. Julie was delighted to talk about him. Any nervousness she had quickly vanished as she spoke about the person she loved and the man who inspired her to give back.

James Woulfe made his living by working at a car dealership for most of his life. At the same time, he was deeply passionate about giving back to those institutions that gave so much to him. He often made significant contributions to a variety of Catholic organizations while doing his best to remain discreet about his giving. More than anything, St. Thomas was very special to him, and it was in this spirit that Julie made a contribution on behalf of James to the Anderson Student Center.

While speaking about James and his willingness to give so much, Julie's words had a profound effect on everyone in the room, and I began to reflect on what this new student center meant. In part, it represents the ideals of giving back that James and Julie so deeply cherish. But it also represents the hard work of many people like Jane and Dr. Mary Ann Ryan, executive director of campus and residence life, who have dedicated years to this masterpiece. They and many others have worked with students every step of the way to build a center tailored specifically for students.

After the luncheon, I began helping Dr. Ryan give presentations about the Anderson Student Center to groups around campus. Whether speaking to an audience or having a chat with a friend over lunch in the Grill, I never get tired of talking about this wonderful new building and the people who made it happen. More so, I never tire of the excitement and joy it brings to those who listen.

When this new center opens in February, may it be a reflection of our St. Thomas community and its incredible devotion to its students.