America’s Greatest Homecoming continues through endowment
What started as a simple dance and dinner in 1920 has grown into one of the largest homecoming celebrations in the nation, with more than 80,000 OSU alumni and friends returning to campus for the weekend.
“I don’t think anyone could imagine what Homecoming has turned into since it started in 1920,” said Blaire Atkinson, OSU Alumni Association president. “To see our alumni, students and friends all coming together to celebrate their love for OSU is truly special.”
The OSU Alumni Association hopes Homecoming will continue growing with the help of the entire Cowboy family through the Homecoming and Student Programs Endowment. The fund, originally established as part of the Branding Success campaign, helps offset the overall cost of this major event.
“This endowment will ensure Cowboys are able to experience the excitement and enthusiasm of America’s Greatest Homecoming for generations to come,” Atkinson said.
In 2014, the endowment surpassed the $1 million mark, which allowed the Alumni Association to begin distributing funds to living groups for Homecoming. As additional funds are raised, the support will increase.
“The support of the endowment will ensure rising costs do not diminish our annual events and guarantee future generations of OSU students and families will benefit from the same experiences as those who have gone before them,” Atkinson said.
While Homecoming is well-known as a student- led, student-run event, it is also a community- supported event. The encouragement and help from all sides make this event a success.
“Through Homecoming events like Walkaround, Harvest Carnival, Hester Street Painting, the Sea of Orange Parade and several others, we see the students and the community working together,” Atkinson said. “Between city streets needing to be shut down or students entertaining children with games, these groups really work together to make these events successful.”
Homecoming is an important fixture in Stillwater, helping create a unique quality of life for residents. City manager Norman McKnickle said Stillwater sees the event as an opportunity to build upon the relationships between the university and the community.
“It is a great tradition,” he said. “It shows off both the town and the students. It brings us together as a community to celebrate something that has been going on for 99 years now.”
Harvest Carnival, which is part of Stillwater Junior Service League’s Harvest II food drive, is just one of the many kid-friendly events throughout Homecoming week.
“To me, Homecoming means family,” said Lynn Youngblood, Harvest Carnival attendee and OSU alumna. “It is a time for everyone to come together to celebrate their love of Oklahoma State.”
Homecoming also provides opportunities for students to grow and learn.
“Homecoming is so much more than chicken wire and tissue paper,” Atkinson said. “This event provides hands-on learning experiences to our students and allows them to take ownership of a university and citywide event.”
Brooks McKinney, executive director on the 2018 Homecoming Executive Team and a communication sciences and disorders graduate, is one student who gained valuable experience through Homecoming activities.
“Of the many lessons I have learned [through Homecoming], the most important would be how to be a part of a successful team,” McKinney said. “With a team of nine people comes nine personalities — some similar to mine and some very different. By working with those personalities, I learned the importance of different communication styles and how to adapt myself to best fit how each executive member communicated.
“This is a lesson that I am already applying in graduate school while working on many different teams, and it is also one that I will be able to apply to my future life,” she said.
Increasing the endowment ensures these unique learning opportunities will continue to be available.
“For example, you learn how to manage a budget, follow timelines, work with others, communicate to the public, make difficult decisions and so much more,” McKinney said. “The lessons that I have learned through being a part of Homecoming will play a significant role in my future career.”
Julia Benbrook, a 2017 OSU alumna and OStateTV host, emceed several of the events live, bringing viewers from around the country back home through a digital connection.
Benbrook, who served on the Homecoming Court her senior year, remembered the hard work and dedication required to make Homecoming week a success.
“I knew our Homecoming was special, but getting to see what went into every event gave me a whole new perspective,” she said. “The students at OSU go above and beyond. I think all of the events combined are what make our Homecoming unique.”
Students on campus are already stepping up to help increase the endowment. The OSU Greek life community has taken action to ease the event’s financial burdens.
In 2014, members of the OSU Interfraternity Council had the idea for university-level support for Homecoming after they received feedback related to its expenses, said Tim Krenz, former IFC president.
After weeks of development and discussion, IFC leaders drafted a resolution to institute a required $5 IFC membership fee increase, which would go toward the Homecoming Endowment, Krenz said.
The resolution passed by an overwhelming majority vote. Members of the Panhellenic Council followed suit — making a contribution to the fund just seemed like the right thing to do, Krenz added.
“We wanted to send that message [of doing the right thing],” Krenz said. “That’s really the theme of why we decided to increase membership dues.”
Emily Ramseyer, former Panhellenic vice president of public relations, said the Greek officers understood the need to be careful with dues changes, but they felt the increase would not significantly burden students.
“The officers of both IFC and Panhellenic embraced the vision and understood the critical importance of being part of something so important,” Ramseyer said. “Nothing like this had been done before that would directly impact both the Greek community and the university. It was also a way for members to participate that didn’t involve getting glue on their hands.”
IFC adviser Ival Gregory said IFC and Panhellenic will contribute an estimated $250,000 to the endowment during the 10-year commitment.
“To collectively contribute such a large amount that will impact student life, alumni and the broader university for years to come is very fulfilling,” Ramseyer said. “I hope students recognize the benefits of their hard work and will continue donating to the Alumni Association and Foundation after their time in Stillwater is complete.”
Besides keeping Homecoming going, the endowment also ensures future growth and innovation. With new technology, sustainability and safety measures, Atkinson hopes the Homecoming of the future will look a little bit different — but only behind the scenes.
“Technology is always evolving, and it would be great to be able to provide updated and current resources to our students,” she said. “It would be amazing to see what these talented students could do with improved technology and sustainability measures. We want to preserve the tradition of Homecoming while being able to innovate in the future.”
But even with such advancements, one aspect of OSU’s Homecoming will forever remain unchanged.
“This event brings every member of the Cowboy family together to celebrate their love for OSU,” Atkinson said. “That part of Homecoming is what makes this event so special.”