By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News
Former governor Tom Vilsack remembers the feeling of magic that overcame him 40 years ago when the people of Mt. Pleasant reached the $200,000 mark, raising twice as much money as they set out to build Mapleleaf Athletic Complex. At the time, he never thought he would feel such intense joy again.
He was wrong, however, feeling that magical moment again with the birth of his children and at their high school and college graduations; feeling it again when he got to welcome his grandchildren into the world; and finally, feeling it Sunday afternoon when Iowa Wesleyan University (IW) met their goal of raising $1 million at Retro Radiothon.
?Forty years ago, I was at the beginning of my career,? Tom said to the people gathered at Rubble Arena Sunday at 2 p.m. and over the KILJ airwaves. ?This community was incredibly supportive. I owe them so much. Today is not about me. It?s about the community who proved once again how special it is.?
The 40-hour event was conceptualized months ago by Tom and his wife Christie Vilsack along with the administration of the university to raise money and support for continued education. As KILJ General Manager John Kuhens and News Director Theresa Rose signed off yesterday, March 25, it was clear the fundraiser was about more than the money.
As the clock struck 1 p.m. Sunday, marking an hour left of the radiothon, anxieties ran high. As chairs were set up in Rubble Arena, viewers kept their eyes trained on the screen displaying the fundraising total, and listeners bended ears to see if the university would meet their goal. With an hour to go, they still had about $150,000 to raise.
Donations weren?t coming to a crawl though. Meg Richtman, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, said they were barely keeping up with the calls for donations that were flooding in.
Those in attendance at Ruble Arena weren?t just sitting on the sidelines either. Al and Melinda Huisinga, who had already increased their family endowment to the university at the Retro Radiothon kickoff event Friday night, challenged listeners to rally around their grandchildren and donate in honor of the future of the university.
Al was talking with his daughter when she said her children wanted to get involved with the fundraising efforts. So he decided to make a donation in each of their names.
With 15 minutes left of Retro Radiothon and donations made in the names of listeners? grandchildren, Tom said that might just be the magic potion they needed to cross that $1 million mark.
At seven minutes to 40 hours, owner of KILJ Paul Dennison said ?stop the clock? ? not because the radiothon was coming to a close but because he said they would continue until they reached their goal.
Kuhens, who had pulled an all-nighter Friday and stayed on air until midnight Saturday, looked skeptical. Tom assured, ?We?re moving in the right direction.?
When it came to one minute to go, however, they still had approximately $30,000 to raise.
That?s when CEO of Lomont Molding Jason Bender stepped forward, donating $50,000 from Lomont at the last minute and pushing the radiothon over the edge. As Bender finished his announcement live on KILJ those at the arena erupted in applause.
?I?m overwhelmed by the enormity of this gift,? IW President Steve Titus said. ?Not just the enormity, but what it means to the radiothon.?
As an alumnus of IW, Bender said he takes great pride in the amount of IW graduates who work with him at Lomont and the donation was on behalf of all the Lomont employees.
?It takes more than businesses to build an economy,? Bender said. ?Part of that is having a university in our backyard and that separates us from other regions in Iowa.?
Titus said the university was aware that Lomont was prepared to help IW get to where they needed to be this weekend.
Meeting the $1 million fundraising goal is just a beginning for those who had spent the past 40 hours making phone calls for donations, participating in various events throughout the weekend in Rubble Arena, and sleeping less than a few hours throughout.
?It?s nice to see people step up and another generation step forward,? Christie said as the radiothon concluded.
As Titus thanked everyone who donated and Kuhens and Rose for their dedication to IW and KILJ, he took a moment to recognize the Vilsak?s accomplishments and thank them for using their notoriety to benefit IW.
?I think everyone realizes this is the most well-known couple in Iowa,? Titus said. ?The last thing they had to do was say yes to Iowa Wesleyan ? They have helped me be a better leader for this university by helping me understand what it means to be a good university in this region.
?These 40 hours have nothing to do with the past,? Titus continued, saying that this is an example of the university focusing on their strengths rather than talking about what they don?t have.
?This is a moment when history will look back and say this is when things changed ? create together a new level of excellence we can?t yet imagine,? Titus said. ?It just begins today.?