By LENZY KREHBIEL
Hundreds of alumni, students, community members and visiting dignitaries feted the 125th anniversary of the dedication of Seminary Hall Wednesday morning.
“Most of us already know that this is a big day,” Northeastern State University president Steve Turner said. “The 125th anniversary of any public building in Oklahoma is kind of a big deal.”
The oldest building on NSU’s campus, Seminary Hall is the second site of what was the Cherokee Female Seminary, the oldest institution of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi River. It is also among the oldest buildings on any Oklahoma college campus and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
The first Cherokee Female Seminary, located at what is now the Cherokee Cultural Center, opened in 1851 and burned down on Easter Sunday 1887. Its replacement was dedicated two years later.
None of the Cherokee Female Seminary students are still alive, and the one remaining living link to the building’s 1889 dedication – a black walnut tree on the building’s southwest side – is dying.
Although the building officially has been owned by the state of Oklahoma for 105 years, it still holds a special place in the minds and hearts of many Cherokees due to its ties to previous generations and as a symbol of the tribe’s commitment to education. When the Cherokees operated the male and female seminaries prior to Oklahoma statehood, more than half of its budget went to education.
“A lot of our elders wouldn’t talk about the Trail of Tears because of what it stood for,” said Cherokee Tribal Councilor and NSU graduate Joe Byrd. “But they’d talk about their experiences at Seminary Hall. “The foundation of who we are as Cherokee people, as a tribe, is education.”
As part of that family reunion and in honor of the Cherokees’ historic commitment to education, Turner formally announced a new donor-funded scholarship Wednesday during his closing remarks.
Starting with the fall 2014 semester, a fund will be available to help students who would otherwise have to withdraw due to an unexpected fiscal emergency, such as a change in employment status or a spike in childcare costs. University faculty, staff, housing managers, and other students who might be aware of such a situation are encouraged to provide referrals.
“For some of our students, a single crisis can cause them to withdraw and possibly never return,” Turner said. “Having a fund for such situations, NSU anticipates being able to intervene and help a student with a small scholarship that will keep them in school.”
The Light the Way scholarships are part of a bigger comprehensive fundraising campaign that the school plans to launch later this year. The efforts will go toward a variety of areas on campus, including technology, financial aid, construction and renovation and increasing the number of endowed chairs on campus.
“One hundred twenty-five years ago, all strata of Cherokees were welcomed here: both the affluent mixed bloods and the full bloods from the more rural traditional communities,” keynote speaker and NSU alumnus Jay Hannah said. “The building’s framers understood that education must be afforded to all. That must be the case even more in the future.”