Anna Dellinger, Features Editor
As students experience on most breaks, such as the recent Fall Free Days, there is no place like home. Old friends, favorite haunts and mouthwatering meals welcome anyone returning home for the first time in a while, and Bison Hill is no exception.
Homecoming is a reminder that OBU has become a second home to many students and faculty over the years. Lori Hagans, executive director of the OBU alumni association, has been a part of planning OBU Homecoming for almost 20 years.
“For many, this is a very special place… where they truly found God’s calling on their life; a place where they made lifelong friendships; were academically prepared for whatever they chose to pursue,” Hagans said.
“Homecoming is an opportunity to reunite with classmates, reconnect with the campus they loved and see firsthand the changes that are taking place on Bison Hill.”
This week is packed full of activity for students, faculty and alumni (refer to page 1 for a full schedule of events), but the OBU Alumni Association is always looking for new events that will appeal and engage alumni.
“Anytime we can make our alumni feel welcome to return to Bison Hill, it is of importance to maintaining relationships,” Hagans said.
While anyone connected to Bison Hill is affected by Homecoming, maintaining ties with alumni is a major purpose of the week.
“It provides the opportunity to connect face to face with their classmates,” Hagans said.
“We have also added Academic Reunions which provides the opportunity to connect with current faculty and students and hear firsthand what is happening at their alma mater. Overall, it is an opportunity to come back ‘home’ for a very special weekend.”
Homecoming isn’t just for those that know Bison Hill as home: the Shawnee community is also invited to attend the many activities of the week. Dr. Will Smallwood, senior vice president for advancement and university relations, said the week of homecoming is a great benefit to Shawnee as a whole.
“Every hotel room is sold out for the weekend, and restaurants and retail stores record increased sales,” Smallwood said.
“Between alumni returning for Homecoming and Bison football fans attending the game, more than 6,000 individuals descend upon Shawnee. Not only is OBU an important economic entity in Shawnee, Homecoming… serves as an economic boost for the community.”
This year also affords some opportunities for alumni to see Ford Hall even during renovation. Smallwood will join Dr. Chris Matthews, dean of the Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts, in giving “hard-hat” tours on Friday, Oct. 27.
“During Homecoming, it is my privilege to smile, welcome alumni to campus, listen to their stories of Bison Hill and communicate how their experiences are, in so many ways, exactly like the experiences of students today,” Smallwood said.
The longest standing homecoming tradition is Harvest Court: the first queen was crowned in 1921. The tradition is even older than Homecoming itself, which was first officially held in 1922.
As many traditions as Homecoming holds, the most popular at OBU are likely the class reunions. Each year, the OBU Alumni Association puts together five-year reunions, and many different classes are honored and brought together. This year the reunion will celebrate with the classes ending in 2 or 7, such as 1992 or 2007. However, all alumni are always welcomed and encouraged to attend.
This year, Homecoming is a bit earlier than usual, being held in the last week of October. Throughout its history, Homecoming has been held at various times of the year. The tradition of Homecoming being the second weekend in November was established in the 1950’s and carried through 2016. The OBU Alumni Association board of directors held discussions for about 3 years prior to it being brought to the various departments on campus for discussion in 2016.
Also, Hagans said, a couple of alumni surveys found that many that responded stated that October or November would not affect their attendance, and others responded that it would help them be able to attend.
Attending Homecoming at a new date is not possible for everyone, however. Christi Brewster, a 1992 OBU alumna, is unable to attend her 25-year class reunion due to the change.
“If it had been in November, we could’ve made it, but this weekend we already have four other things going on,” Brewster said.
In recent years, though, Brewster has attended Homecoming with her husband Chris, also a 1992 OBU alumnus.
“The things we came back for were for Chorale or for a reunion. One year we came back because they asked [my husband] to pray at the luncheon. Most of my chorale members would come back if we had a big celebration,” she said.
Even though Homecoming only lasts a week, its preparation is a year-round task for the alumni office. Save the Date postcards, class invitations and brochures are a few of the things mailed to alumni throughout the year.
“There is a lot of behind the scenes activity: preparing mailing lists, homecoming program, working with award recipients, preparing work schedules for the alumni board and staff, enlisting alumni artists for Art on the Hill and much more,” Hagans said.
All of the work that goes into Homecoming is for more than just an event: it is to continue building on OBU’s legacy.
“It is part of the legacy and history of OBU; also, it is this weekend where we honor alumni award recipients,” Hagans said.
“Recognizing them for their accomplishments, making their alma mater proud. In many ways, continuing to carry out the OBU mission.”
Sandra Meyer has taught in the music department at OBU for 35 years, and though she is now retired, she still attends many music and theater events. While she can’t make it to Homecoming this year, OBU has impacted her life in many ways, she said.
“[At OBU] I developed in many ways as a professional, as a Christian, as a person – in all respects,” Meyer said. “I was surrounded by many wonderful faculty that were and still are friends. Some of my favorite hymns I learned at OBU.”
Meyer has also seen the legacy and tradition of being a Bison through teaching.
“It’s been fun to have generations of the same family coming through OBU,” she said. “It was kind of a shock the first time I taught the child of a former student.”
Proving Meyer’s statement to be true is third generation 1987 OBU alumna, Debbie Stone, whose daughter Jackie also attends OBU.
“To me, being an OBU alumni means that you’ve always got a place that you can go back to,” Stone said.