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First lady’s walking tour sheds light on campus history

First Lady Walking tour

As Delta State and the local community are gearing up for the inauguration of President William N. LaForge on Nov. 1, first lady Nancy LaForge will also be paying tribute to the rich architectural and art history on the university’s striking campus — a campus the LaForge’s now call home.

“I walk here everyday. That’s my happy place,” said Nancy. “I especially love walking around the quad and that’s when I began to notice the beauty of Delta State. If you slow down a little you can appreciate the similarity and unification of architectural elements on campus.”

The first lady, along with University Archivist Emily Jones and Art Department Chair Ron Koehler, will be leading the First Lady’s Campus Architectural History and Arts Walking Tour at 10 a.m. on Oct. 30, beginning on the east side of the Bologna Performing Arts Center.

The trio will be providing details on some of the most unique architectural designs on campus, as well as some intriguing artistic elements like The Hazel and Jimmy Sanders Sculpture Garden and old presidential portraits.

“The theme for inauguration is ‘Celebrating Excellence’ and we felt it was appropriate to celebrate the excellent art and architecture we have,” said Nancy. “We want to show it off to every visitor who comes to Delta State.

“Some of these buildings have classic designs that have been around a very long time, and we want them to stay around for a long time too.”

Nancy has been preparing for her tour by researching from two main sources — “Physical Facilities: Delta State University” by Hugh C. Smith and “A Pictorial History of Delta State University” by Jack Winton Gunn and Gladys C. Castle.

All authors are former faculty and staff members at the university, and Smith is credited with establishing the uniform brick color specially designed for Delta State.

Jones said that the first lady’s tour is very timely considering the university will soon be celebrating 90 years.

“Nancy LaForge’s vision for this walking tour is perfect timing,” said Jones. “We are looking to celebrate 90 years on this campus and several of our buildings were constructed in those early, formative years.

“Studying the architecture around us, we can see what was important to generations before us. Education was of utmost importance and that is reflected in the careful construction of our halls and dormitories.

“Blending into that background of architecture is the artwork and statuary that has been incorporated over the years. We have portraits painted by famous artists adorning walls of offices and sculpture by up-and-coming artists. I am looking forward to the blending of the humanities presented in the walk.”

As a fellow tour leader with an expertise in art, Koehler said he’s also looking forward to paying recognition to the university’s distinctive sculptures.

“Delta State has many outstanding bragging points, and one is definitely the outdoor sculptures displayed across campus,” said Koehler. “There are 10 new sculptures by nine artists that were installed in front of BPAC in August as part of the 6th Outdoor Sculpture Biennial.

“We also have 21 other sculpture pieces that are part of the DSU Permanent Collection. I am grateful to the Sanders family for their generous endowment of the sculpture garden.”

There are talks that the tour could eventually be developed into a mobile app interactive experience available for future visitors to campus. The concept could become a potential tourist attraction for visitors beyond Delta State, especially if completed before the 2015 opening of GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.

“I think it would be a great project if it was done in collaboration with some community groups,” said Nancy. “A lot of this goes back to the town-gown relationship we have. Delta State has a great history significant in and of itself, but also in Cleveland.”

In the short term, the first lady is looking forward to hosting her first tour and joining in the inauguration fun.

“I’m very proud of the architectural beauty of Delta State University and I welcome the opportunity to share the experience with visitors to campus, Cleveland and the state of Mississippi,” she said. “We invite everyone to join all three of us leading the tour as we walk our wonderful campus.”

The event will take place rain or shine and a trolley will be available for those who prefer to ride. For questions about the event, contact the Office of the President at 662-846-4000.

— All inauguration events are funded through private support to the Delta State University Foundation. No university funds are being used during the week of activities.

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