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About the Donors

Puncky '73 and Mary Soehren Heppner '76: "Maybe we could commission a public sculpture? Giving Back to UMM"

Often there is a happenstance manner in which ideas have their beginning, and this creative endeavor of an outdoor sculpture on the UMM campus is certainly a fitting example.

We [Drs. Puncky Heppner class of 1973 and Mary (Soehren) Heppner, class of 1976], had long felt that the University of Minnesota Morris was exceptionally influential in our lives as two first-generation high school, and later first-generation college, students. The time we spent at the University of Minnesota Morris was truly transformative in our personal and professional lives. As time passed, our appreciation of our education at UMM deepened, and we wanted to give back in some way to this institution that had given us such a significant foundation to develop meaningful and productive careers.

But what that contribution would be was not clear.

Then one day as we were making the all-too-familiar trip across Kansas from our winter home in Columbia, Missouri to our summer home in Taos, New Mexico. Mostly by chance, we stopped in Hays, Kansas, for a short rest stop. We cannot quite remember if it was the quest for a walk to relieve our car-bound legs, or a cup of Starbucks coffee from the Ft. Hays State University (FHSU) campus, but one or the other led us to the campus on that late March day in 2015.

As we walked around the campus we came upon a sculpture of a jester in front of the Fine Arts Building. The accompanying plaque indicated that the statue had been donated by alumni of FHSU, and provided the names of the alums who had donated the art, and their years of graduation.

That happenstance event immediately started us thinking about several issues:
(a) our love of art, and particularly public art;
(b) how we believe in the transformative power of art, and
(c) how this might in some way also connect with our desire to contribute to the multicultural mission of the UMM campus.

Gradually this idea started unfolding in our minds as we drove the rest of the way to New Mexico. Our ideas were reinforced by the welcoming responses of Mr. Bill Robb in the Office of Development, who also indicated that the then chancellor, Dr. Jacquie Johnson, had hopes and visions of bringing more public art to the campus. So we arranged a visit and came to the UMM campus in the fall of 2015.

In preparation for our visit we wrote a Project Intent Statement that communicated some of our thinking about the sculpture which included in part:

To commission a site-specific sculpture for the UMM campus that would reflect the unique and special "sense of place" that depicts the human experience in the prairie landscape of west central Minnesota. The sculpture would reflect the strength, perseverance, resilience, compassion, and heart of the indigenous peoples on the UMM campus, from the early boarding school, which sought to rid Native peoples of their language and culture, to the present day as students deepen their understanding of Native languages, foster knowledge of Native history through Native American and Indigenous Studies, and provide an inter-tribal campus community of indigenous scholars. Moreover, the sculpture would reflect the transformative power of education in preparing the next generation of all cultural groups to be strong, resilient, and compassionate in their life journeys. Our hope was that the sculpture would honor all of the previous generations whose members have contributed to the positive transformation of the worldview of its students, faculty, and staff to be well-prepared to work in a diverse world
with respect, compassion, and integrity.

As the process continued, we started exploring nationally and internationally known Native American artists who might be commissioned. For example, we visited the studio and sculpture garden outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, of internationally renowned sculptor, Allan Houser (Haozous), and invited the new Chancellor Michelle Behr and Mr. Bill Robb to visit the gardens with us. Although we loved many pieces of Houser's work, we had hoped to commission a Native American sculptor from the upper Midwest, close to the Morris campus. Moreover, we had dreams of the person doing a residency on campus and interacting with students as s/he carved the sculpture. You can imagine how excited we were to read the artist's submission materials of Mr. Duane Goodwin, who had actually been a mentee and long-time friend of Allan Houser, and wanted to work in Houser's style, but to do so in the Upper Midwest.

"I've been carving since 1971, when I first began working with native pipe stone. The year 1973 I started my first formal art education at the Institute of American Indian Arts. There I received training under the famous Allan Houser who later became my mentor and friend. It was then my sculptural interest evolved into a life dream of becoming an artist. Allan's influence and teaching methods became a solid foundation in what would be a lifelong learning experience. Today much of what I teach and sculpt is based on Allan's influence." (Duane Goodwin)

Mr. Goodwin designed a clay model of what he proposed to create and shared his vision with the Sculpture Selection Committee in January of 2018; the committee chose him from a number of talented artists for the commission.

There will no doubt be many other chapters to this story as Mr. Goodwin places and works with the seven-ton dolomite rock from the quarry at Winona, has a blessing ceremony before the work begins, and then spends the summer of 2018 carving his creation of an eight-foot Native American grandmother with her grandson and granddaughter. The spirit of the sculpture might provide strength, direction, endurance, and pride for many at UMM as well as have important roles in many other ceremonies and events on the campus.

As donors, we are so excited to see this idea which started taking shape in 2015 come to fruition. We are so thankful to the Development Office, especially Mr. Bill Robb who has been such a fine steward of our dream, both Chancellors Johnson and Behr for their vision and support, and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Facilities Bryan Herrmann as well as the campus committee for all the logistical work that this type of project entails. We know the sculpture will be a beautiful depiction of the strength and resilience of the Native peoples in the Upper Midwest and are excited to see not only its fulfillment, but also its impact on anyone who enters the UMM campus. We also hope that our donation may encourage other alumni to donate works of art to further beautify an already charming campus!

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