Kent Campus Center Opens

How many different ways can one say, “Wow!”?

That was the challenge on Oct. 19 when Simpson College officially dedicated the $14 million Kent Campus Center.

“Wow!” said President John Byrd, echoing the day’s most frequently overheard comment. “What a great day in the life of Simpson College!”

The grand opening ceremony attracted members of the board of trustees, alumni, current and past students, current and past faculty members, administrators and staff members, along with Simpson cheerleaders and pep band members.

All came together into the Principal Black Box Theatre to celebrate a building that is expected to become the crown jewel of the Simpson campus.

They applauded the generosity of nearly 450 alumni, trustees, faculty, staff and friends who donated to the facility.

The largest and most sustained applause was reserved for members of the James H. Kent family of Muscatine, who pledged $4 million to the project, the largest outright gift from a living donor in Simpson’s long history.

Gage Kent and his family donated $4 million to the Kent Campus Center

Gage Kent addresses the crowd at the Kent Campus Center grand opening celebration

“This is a fantastic experience,” said Gage Kent, spokesman for the family and a member of Simpson’s board of trustees. “It’s just great to be a part of this new campus center becoming a reality. It’s been talked about and planned and worked on so long by so many people, it’s wonderful to see it.”

Kent introduced his father, James H. Kent, who grew up in Indianola and attended Simpson, as well as other members of the Kent family.

The necessity of a new student center was first discussed more than 10 years ago. At one point, Gage Kent recommended that plans to renovate the Brenton Student Center be abandoned and a new student center be constructed.

“Sometimes when you open your mouth you have to be careful, because you open yourself up to delivering on your own expectations,” said Fred S. Hubbell, chair of Simpson’s board of trustees, as the audience laughed.

Kent referred to that moment as well, drawing more laughter: “This is a learning institution, ladies and gentlemen, and I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. My father’s learned not to send me to trustees meetings.”

Rich Willis, ’74, the most recent chair of the campaign to raise money for the new student center, thanked the three people who helped do that job before him: Jim Reed, Jerry Chicoine and Steve Fiterman.

“It takes a lot of dreaming over a 10-year period of time in order to have a dream like this come true,” he said.

“I got more excited about this project every single time I told the story about the fact that this campus did not have a hub, did not have a central meeting place that it needed to have.”

President Byrd reminded the audience of how Simpson students boosted the project in 2006 by agreeing to devote a portion of their student fees to the center, “knowing that they would never step foot in the building as a student.”

Dan Carver ’06, former student body president, said Simpson became his home when he moved in as a freshman. He said he had a library (Dunn), a bedroom (the residence hall) and a kitchen (Pfeiffer).

“There was one thing that was lacking,” he said. “In our college home, we didn’t have a living room, a place that was comfortable…. Now, here we are, and I do have to say: I am really jealous of you guys. This place is amazing. I want to become a student again.”

To current and future Simpson students, he added this: “I really hope that you appreciate the building that so many people worked so hard to bring you. Welcome home.”

JoAnna Freeland, ’13, said that sense of appreciation began earlier this month, when the Student Senate held its first meeting at Kent.

“I can’t tell you how exciting that evening was,” she said. “It’s one that many of us will remember for a very long time. We could never have imagined how much we were missing until now. I know we will use this facility well.”

Byrd said the story of the Kent Campus Center is just beginning.

“So far, it’s a story about a vision for the future, a story about an institution and its values, a story about adaptability. It’s a story about perseverance and commitment and it is a story about legacy and the resolve of one generation to leave something better for the next. The story of this building will continue to unfold in the days and years ahead as lives are changed and lives are made better by the students whose days have been shaped by so much of what happens in these spaces.”

Outside the Black Box Theater, the hum of activity could be heard, as Simpson students ate, visited, studied and headed to their next class. They were making the Kent Campus Center their own.

Board Chairman Fred Hubbell greets members of the Kent Family

Board Chairman Fred Hubbell greets members of the Kent Family

Simpson Community Reacts to New Center 

Geoff Christy, ’92, of Ottumwa, past president of Simpson College Alumni Association: “It’s amazing. It’s the first time I’ve seen it completely finished. Having been on the alumni board for the last 10 years or so and being involved with the board of trustees, I’ve seen it from its conception – the drawings and renderings and models. Now to see it live and in person, it’s unbelievable.”

Kristen Watson of Urbandale, a junior majoring in athletic training: “It’s very cool. There are a lot of new things. The food’s really good, too. It’s a nice alternative to Pfeiffer. There’s already been a lot of students sitting around, doing homework. I think this will draw a lot more students to Simpson, just because there are other options here and there are a lot of things here that other schools don’t have.”

David Richmond, professor of art: “It’s a very well-designed building. The architects did a marvelous job.”

Takiesha Goode of Indianola, a senior majoring in environmental science: “It’s beautiful. They were very creative in the way they designed each room. I’ll come here. It just opens up more space for students to communicate with each other.”

Ron Albrecht, professor of music: “It’s awesome. It’s long overdue and it’ll be a wonderful recruiting tool. It’ll be a great central place to get together for occasions like this. Students have a nice place to go to socialize and do their homework.”

Jacki Harrison Askelson ’97 of Johnston: “This is very impressive. It’s modern and open and you can tell the students are using it right away, which is cool to see. I haven’t been to other small campuses to see what buildings they have, but it does feel like a benefit you would see on a big campus.” 

Grant Rodgers, senior, editor of Simpsonian, senior multi-media journalism, Ottumwa: “I’m really impressed. Having been here two years when the Brenton Student Center was here, I can remember what being in that space was like, especially for events and for concerts. It just didn’t have the energy at all that this place has. I can’t wait for my parents to see it tomorrow. I can’t imagine what it will be like to be walking in here as a prospective student and seeing it.”

Find out more about Simpson’s newest facility and watch the transformation from Brenton to Kent

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