'Great leader, great mentor, great friend'
• Cunningham Hall dedication recognizes Dr. Janet Cunningham's commitment to NWOSU
January 27, 2023
"She served as the 19th president of Northwestern for 16 years. In all, she served the university in various positions for 40 years until her retirement in June of '22. Dr. Cunningham is also the second alum and the first woman to serve as president of this university," said Northwestern Oklahoma State University President Dr. Bo Hannaford. He gave opening remarks for the Cunningham Hall Dedication Ceremony Friday morning, Jan. 20.
Despite cold, blustery weather, a large crowd gathered in the spacious lobby of the newly renovated women's residence. As guests entered the east door, they were greeted by a large portrait of Cunningham who retired as NWOSU president in June 2022. Warmed by a fireplace, the lobby is filled with tasteful groupings of plush, upholstered seating and small tables. For the event, photographs on tabletops depicted the building's construction and progress throughout the years.
The facility accommodates approximately 300 students in its three levels. Students enjoy three-room suites that include a private bath and shower. "Every surface was touched there during this renovation – flooring, furniture, showers, everything," said Hannaford. "It's just a wonderful facility."
The renovation was intended to be completed before classes began last fall, but construction experienced various delays. Students planning to live there were moved to Coronado Hall across the street during the interim.
"I want to say how exciting it is for me and the administrative team to be able to honor ... (Hannaford paused to gain control of his emotions) Dr. Cunningham. The impact she has made here is endless," he said.
"But more importantly, if you know her, and I know all of you do, she had a passion and love for her students, for faculty and staff, administrative team and this community," Hannaford added. "She's a great leader, a great mentor, a great friend – she's our family, and she'll always be."
Regents Connie Reilly and Jane McDermott
Two regents from the Regional University System of Oklahoma (RUSO) spoke during the dedication, Connie Reilly and Jane McDermott.
Reilly, who chairs the RUSO regents and is from Okemah, spoke first, "I'm going to go first, and then I'm going to let Jane take over. We're not going to do a comedy routine ... we could but we're not.
"I think Janet Cunningham was appointed the year before I was appointed to the board. So as I've said before, Janet and I grew up together. Janet, it's been one of my biggest delights to have the opportunity to get to know you."
Reilly said she visited the dorm with Cunningham as the remodel began, and she was very impressed. "I always said that President Cunningham, throughout her 16 years, always made her decisions based upon the students," Reilly said. "Now I will say, I think a little tiny bit of this renovation was inspired by, and I hate that we've lost him, Mike Mitchel (former regent) because at every regents meeting, Mike would say, 'What about the dorms, Janet? What about the dorms?'"
In conclusion, Reilly said, "I know President Cunningham is the kind of person, she's retired from her career, but President Cunningham never retires from life, and I know that she's making a huge impact on her family and her community, and I know she will continue at one point to make a big impact on higher ed like she already has. And I know that she will continue, even though she has retired, to impact the lives of thousands of students here Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Look at this dorm!"
As she stepped to the podium, McDermott began, "I want to say on behalf of all the girls that ever lived in South Hall, 'Yay!" Several in the audience responded with cheers.
McDermott, who lives in Alva and is vice chair of the RUSO regents, said the university "should have named this Cunningham Hall a little sooner. What a wonderful, wonderful day; and what a beautiful upgrade to something that, if these walls could talk, they would tell a lot of wonderful stories about our wonderful lives here at Northwestern.
"We are proud to be here today, and more importantly, we are proud to be Rangers."
Keeping her comments brief, McDermott said, "I can't talk too much or I'm going to act like Dr. Hannaford."
Matt Adair, Shayna Miller
"It's long been said that a house is made of brick and stone, but a home is made from love alone," said Matt Adair, NWOSU director of housing. "Well, Cunningham Hall is certainly a home. It's designed and inspired to offer modern elegance, beauty and amenities in a welcoming, supporting and encouraging environment." He introduced a resident of Cunningham Hall, Shayna Miller, a senior English education major from Tuttle to explain what the renovations mean to the students.
Miller spoke about moving back into the hall after staying in Coronado Hall temporarily. "New buildings come with fun surprises. When we first moved over to Cunningham Hall, the fire alarms went off at least twice a week for at least two weeks. This means two things. One, our new fire safety system definitely works, and two, our students will definitely know what to do in case there should ever be an emergency."
She said the renovations and updates to Cunningham Hall make it feel more like home. "Hearing the laughter and joy from the residents as I'm doing rounds or heading to class is a reminder of how lucky we are to be a part of such a tight-knit community who cares for its students," she said.
"Dr. Cunningham, thank you for your years of service to this school and the example you have set for those who follow you," Miller said. "You have very big shoes to fill. We are so happy that you are getting time to spend with your family. We definitely miss you on campus."
Dr. Janet Cunningham
As she surveyed the crowd, Cunningham struggled to speak. "I don't know if I'll get through this ..."
She began by introducing all the family members in the audience, thanking them for their support over the years.
Pointing out the architects and construction manager who handled the building renovation, she commented about the work involved in financing the renovations, getting the most possible from ARPA funds and other sources. She complimented them on how much they accomplished for the money.
"I am so humbled and honored to have this building named after me. It's so fitting that a lot of girls will get the opportunity to attend college and have this be their home," Cunningham said. "I can't think of anything that could make me happier than this."
She said South Hall, now Cunningham Hall, was built in 1965 and girls moved in during 1966. She asked the audience to think about how long the building has already served. "You know, some places might have torn it down and started over but we made it better," she said.
Dr. David Pecha
NWOSU Executive Vice President Dr. David Pecha expanded on what Cunningham said about financing the renovation, "It wasn't quite as easy to put all those number together."
He said there was "a huge significant savings" in renovation instead of building a brand new facility. "When the building was built in the '60s, this was a very structurally sound building, as many of our buildings are on our campus. So as you look at the renovations, what President Cunningham had at the heart was not to cut corners that the girls would see when they moved in here," he said.
"I think we have a building and facility here that will serve several generations of folks down the road."
Following the program, everyone moved toward the hallway leading to resident rooms where a ribbon cutting ceremony was held. Those present were offered tours of some of the rooms, guided by Cunningham Hall residents, so they could see more results of the renovation.