SPRINGFIELD — Former Southwest Missouri State University professor Pat Pierce received an unusual present for her birthday, a copy of Senate Bill 98 signed by Gov. Matt Blunt.
The university’s president, John Keiser, surprised Pierce with the honor at the bill-signing ceremony that will change the school’s name to Missouri State University. The retired music professor celebrated her 80th birthday with Southwest Missouri State University’s centennial celebration.
Pierce said it was exciting to have her birthday on the same day as MSU’s.
The former professor has witnessed several milestones of the university. She came to the university in 1954 and celebrated its 50th anniversary the following year. Pierce was still working at the university when it changed its name from Southwest Missouri State College to Southwest Missouri State University. Thursday’s name change was the fifth for the university.
A longtime supporter of the name change, Pierce said she was excited about it and the university’s growth.
“When I came here, we only had 3,000 students on campus,” she said. “Our music building was a small cottage. We called it the termite palace.”
Five years later, the university built a new building, replacing the ‘termite palace.”
The many changes that the university has gone through are seen in its names, Blunt said to the university’s celebrants.
“Each name reflected the role this institution played in our higher-education system. But it occurred to me that the name is trying to catch up with the school, rather than the school trying to catch up with the name,” he said. “In this case, Missouri State University is an accurate reflection of the role this campus already fills in our higher-education system.”
In both of their speeches, Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, and Keiser singled out the governor for his support of the name change.
“We’ve had governors support this before, but we’ve not had a governor get out there and tell people they were supporting it before,” Champion said.
Keiser even joked that the university had already accepted Blunt’s newborn son into the class of 2023.
Keiser said the name change was a “team effort,” recognizing not only Missouri lawmakers, but everyone who “made a phone call, sent a letter, went to Jefferson City or otherwise helped in the name change.”
Earlier that day, about 1,500 students, faculty and alumni were invited to celebrate the centennial of Southwest Missouri State University with cake and a photo in front of Carrington Hall.
Director of Operations Shelly Duran made sure the cake was ready to serve during the photo. While cutting up one of the three white 8-foot-by-4-foot cakes, she said the cakes could feed at least 2,000 people.
After the photo was taken, students ran to be first in line for a piece of the enormous cake. Duran and other staff directed traffic as a crowd formed around the table.
After the crowd thinned out, Duran was able to take a break from serving cake.
She said the centennial celebration was great to be a part of because it meant being a part of the university’s history.
Football coach Randy Ball came with his team for the picture to support the name change and the centennial.
“I think the university is definitely deserving of (the name change), and they’ll do a great job of representing the name,” he said.
Even though Ball has been with SMSU for six years, the coach grew up and went to school in Columbia. As for a rivalry between the university and MU, Ball said he does not think the name change will increase it.
Freshman Katie Walker said, “I think it can create a good rivalry. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”
Walker’s T-shirt revealed a sign of the future. Her SMSU T-shirt had an “X” taped across the first “S.”
Keiser said a name change task force created “a list of details anticipating the name change,” including changing signs around campus. All the signs should be changed by the time the school officially changes its name on August 28.