December 8, 2006
Carol J. Schlueter
Nine years ago, Tulane began planning to renovate and expand its 47-year-old University Center on McAlister Drive. Martha Sullivan was there when it was a dream on paper, but now she calls it a dream come true.
The former vice president of student affairs at Tulane, Sullivan was in the crowd of well-wishers at the formal dedication ceremony for the new Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life on Wednesday (Dec. 6). Many people in attendance had a hand in completing the innovatively designed center for study, events, entertainment, shopping and dining on the Tulane uptown campus.
It was after Scott Cowen arrived as president of Tulane University in 1998 that the University Center project got the financial boost that it needed, when Cowen began talking with 1974 Tulane alumna Carol Lavin Bernick about his top project for "Promise and Distinction: The Campaign for Tulane University."
Cathy Pierson, former chair of the Board of Tulane, remembers the very spot where she stood for the groundbreaking of the project in 2003.
"This is the heart of the university," Pierson said. "Thanks to Carol (Bernick) and her family, it was all possible."
In her remarks at the ceremony, Bernick spoke eloquently about her family's dedication to philanthropic causes for needy children and families as well as medical issues such as diabetes and ovarian cancer. "We usually shy away from bricks and mortar," she said of the Lavin Family Foundation's chosen projects, but the University Center had been a special place for Bernick while she was a Newcomb College student involved in the Direction speakers program. The family wanted its Tulane gift to go where it would have the most impact.
As "a person who truly loves New Orleans," Bernick, a member of the Board of Tulane, said her heart broke watching the Katrina aftermath, then "swelled with pride when Scott (Cowen) and his team brought Tulane University back to life."
Katrina submerged the center's building site in two feet of water in August 2005, Cowen told the dedication audience, but that didn't deter the dream or Cowen's vision for the expansive building, so important to the recruitment of new students to Tulane.
As Bernick followed Cowen's post-storm involvement in secondary education programs for the troubled New Orleans public schools, she added, "His heart was where ours was. We knew then our gift was in the right place."
"It's a bit breathtaking," said Philip Greer, current chair of the Board of Tulane, as he stood outside the concrete and glass, 142,000-square-foot building. "It wasn't clear a year ago where we would be at this time. It's a very emotional experience for those of us who went through last year."
In addition to the Bernicks and Lavins, 16 people -- parents, friends and alumni of Tulane -- were honored on Wednesday for making significant gifts to the center, putting their names on conference rooms and other special areas. One conference room, named in honor of the late J. Karlem "Ducky" Riess, was funded by former students, friends and colleagues of the longtime faculty member, alumnus and student adviser who perished after being evacuated from his Katrina-flooded home last year.
"This is our first major building to open in the post-Katrina era," Cowen told the dedication crowd. "It's fitting that it is our university center, a building that will attract more students, faculty and community members than any other on campus. It's a tribute to the resiliency of this university."
The Lavin-Bernick Center dedication also was a fitting springboard for Tulane to re-energize its Promise and Distinction campaign, which intends to raise $700 million by June 30, 2008. Cowen announced that $609 million has been raised so far and that the Tulane endowment has reached $955 million, nearing the 2008 endowment goal of $1 billion.
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