we need St. Norbert College

As part of my campaign for city council last spring, I spent a weekend knocking on doors in the neighborhoods around St. Norbert College. I met a lot of good people, many of whom enjoy life near the river and life near the hustle and bustle of a college campus. I also met many students who rent houses near the college; some were quite curious about how the city council does its work.

But I was surprised to also hear a few negative comments about the college, especially from one particular household. This neighbor just didn’t seem to have enough bad things to say about the college. Why does the city always give the college whatever they want? Why did the college remodel its cafeteria when it only hurts downtown restaurants? Why can’t college students look both ways when they cross the street? In the interest of full disclosure, I was quick to tell this gentleman that I’ve worked at St. Norbert for 8 years, but that didn’t seem to matter. In the end, nothing I said was going to satisfy him.

It’s not my style to use my city council web site to plug my employer. But I want to take this opportunity to tell you about a couple of recent events that I attended that are great examples of why St. Norbert College is good for our community.

Last Friday night, Tricia and I took our daughters out for our annual dinner and a show. Our three daughters are all college age, and it gets harder every year to plan time away, so going out for an evening together as a family has a become a neat little tradition for us. We started our evening with a simple dinner at Gallagher’s Pizza downtown. Their buffet on Friday evenings is fantastic. Then we headed over a couple of blocks to see The Sound of Music at the Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts on campus. What a fantastic show!

We’ve seen a number of shows at St. Norbert College over the years. This summer marks its 50th year of Music Theatre, and The Sound of Music lived up to the tradition and excellence that we’ve come to expect from a Dudley Birder production. If you’re familiar with this musical, you know that you can’t pull it off without attracting some talented young performers, and that they did. From the character of Liesl on down to Gretl, every single one of them had the voice of an angel. And Kasey Hott, a newcomer to the area who performed the lead role of Maria, was perfect.

It’s easy to give credit to the actual performers. But you can’t overlook the reputation and status that St. Norbert productions carry, without which the performers wouldn’t show up.

Knights on the Fox

Secondly, my sister is in town visiting from Washington, so last night, Tricia and I took her to Knights on the Fox, a free outdoor concert series in its tenth season at St. Norbert. In many ways, Knights on the Fox is a perfect event for a community like ours and I’ve always liked how St. Nobert organizes it. They have a stage on the shore of the Fox River with a music act performing from 6:30 to 8. They sell burgers, hot dogs and all kinds of snacks and beverages. Or you can bring your own food or cooler full of beverages or whatever you like. Just bring a couple of soccer chairs, grab a spot on the lawn by the river, and enjoy. And best of all, it’s free. And as if that weren’t enough, they do it on Tuesday nights for 5 weeks each summer.

That’s five opportunities each year for folks in the area to see a great, top notch concert, right here in De Pere, without driving a long distance, and without spending a dime. Just think about that for a minute. How many small cities or towns in northeast Wisconsin can say that?

St. Norbert College has been around for 114 years. Not only does the college give us entertainment opportunities like what I’ve described (and I’ve only scratched the surface), but the fact that there are 2,000 students living in the city each year means that there are also parents and families of those students who visit our area for major events like move-in day, and commencement. This of course is very good news for our hotels, restaurants and businesses. Their economic impact is also boosted by other benefits like the conference and banquet facilities available for local events, and the 500+ jobs held by faculty and staff. And if you want to get specific about it, the tax dollars generated by all these visitors and activities helps us with municipal expenses like maintaining our roads, improving our parks, etc. De Pere is a special city, and we need the college.

Unfortunately, I know first hand that some people just don’t see the value of St. Norbert College to our city. Whether that’s you or not, I hope you’ll give the college a chance to put a smile on your face. Do you have plans next Tuesday evening? Pack a sandwich and a chair, leave your wallet at home, and come down to the campus for the final night of Knights on the Fox for 2012. And be sure to let me know what you think.