What a year for our mighty little College by the lake! When I enthusiastically accepted the role of major gift officer in Institutional Advancement earlier this year, I could never have imagined what we would soon face as a campus community. Nor how quickly I would come to hold such deep respect and conviction for the work of my colleagues and our leadership.
Here’s what I did know: the Chequamegon Bay is my heart’s true home. My family has many generations of history on Madeline Island dating back to 1857 and I’ve been lucky to spend most of every summer there.
Admittedly, I had only a cursory knowledge of Northland College and its enriching value to our region over the past 128 years. I knew the Wheeler name and the story of the Protestant mission at La Pointe, as our family’s cabin sits at the bottom of Old Mission Hill.
It was only when David Saetre, emeritus professor of philosophy and religion, suggested I read Nathaniel B. Dexter’s Northland College: A History that I fully appreciated the link between my Madeline roots and my new post. Now, I imagine Reverend Wheeler sleeping under island stars, dreaming Northland into being.
What I’ve come to understand in my first months on the job is just how many layers of meaning form Northland’s bedrock.
As major gift officer, I am a point of contact for our donors, working to maintain the relationships established by my predecessors in advancement and to create new ones. In January, I began meeting with several of our supporters in person to hear their stories of connection. Some are proud descendants of early alumni for whom a Northland education offered a path to success at a time when opportunities were limited.
Generations later, our vanguard commitment to environmental studies would attract new waves of committed supporters who still champion Northland’s mission and ideals.
I was looking forward to my first spring on campus when the COVID-19 crisis began. It was surreal to watch our students pack for home and say their goodbyes with snow still on the ground. Since then, I’ve spoken with parents who express their heartfelt thanks for the care and concern of our faculty and staff as we transitioned to a new reality, creating innovative online classwork and maintaining close ties amid the disruption. Last week, a generous gift arrived with a handwritten note reading, “Thank you to every person at Northland for all you do to educate our children on the right path.”
I could fill every page of this newspaper with stories of what Northland means to the people who love it. It’s a privilege to spend my days connecting with our supporters, learning more about our history through their experiences, and sharing my pride in our continued evolution. Like so many others, I’ve found my true north here.