What started as a dream that Chancellor Kevin Eichner often referred to as OU’s “moon shot” and later evolved into a tangible vision is now being realized at Ottawa University-Arizona (OUAZ), where a thriving campus community has risen from the desert in the form of three beautiful new buildings to serve a growing enrollment of more than 800 students. The $57 million in new construction is the culmination of Phase 1 of OUAZ’s strategic growth plan. This milestone was celebrated Feb. 21 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication program on the Surprise campus.
Coinciding with the board of trustees meeting, university leaders gathered with faculty, staff, students, alumni and local dignitaries for the occasion of dedicating the O’Dell Center, OUAZ Student Union and Scholars Hall dormitory. OUAZ President Dr. Dennis Tyner said before the ceremony the three new buildings, together with the existing Founders Hall, have transitioned the campus into “a true living, learning community.”
“These state-of-the-art new structures will not only accommodate our growing student body, but they represent our continued investment in academic excellence, student development and campus life,” Tyner said. “We are blessed by the addition of multi-purpose science rooms, a dedicated cafeteria, residential living spaces, health and wellness facilities, and student study pods. These amenities have infused the campus with positive energy both day and night.”
The festivities began outside of the O’Dell Center with Tyner, Eichner, board members, university officials and representatives from the City of Surprise joining alums Jim ’57 and Jeanne ’56 O’Dell for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The O’Dells, namesakes for the new athletic and academic center, made the largest single donation in university history to help fund OUAZ’s expansion.
“We are fortunate to have alumni such as the O’Dells, who believed in our vision to build this new residential campus, and we are humbled by their generosity of spirit,” Eichner said. “The O’Dell Center will play an important role in the college experience of all OUAZ students, whether they’re cheering on our teams in Faith Arena or learning in the state-of-the-art classrooms and labs on the second floor.”
Following the ribbon cutting, the crowd moved inside to Faith Arena for the dedication program. Also, in attendance were OUAZ students, faculty and staff, as well as several emissaries from the university’s Kansas campus. In his opening remarks, Tyner spoke about the significance of the day’s events and the milestones met.
“Many of us are emotional as we think about all the work that’s been done here, and all the people who’ve played a tremendous role in what we’re celebrating today,” Tyner said. “This day is filled with energy and excitement. You could feel it yesterday. You could feel it as our visitors begin coming to campus and responding with amazement at what they were seeing. If I could summarize what they said, it sounds like this. ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe what this place looks like. It’s unbelievable.’ Well, unbelievable things don’t just happen. Look around now and believe as we dedicate these three new state-of-the-art facilities.”
Tyner went on to illustrate what the new buildings mean to OUAZ by saying “goodbye” to a few things he said will not be missed. He capped off each point with an enthusiastic “Goodbye!”
“We’re going to say goodbye to convincing students on the merits of living on campus, uh, just five miles down the road at a hotel. We’re saying goodbye to cooking meals in the desert heat in a 140-degree mobile kitchen and then transporting those meals by golf cart into a classroom we disguised as a servery. For our athletes, say goodbye to having weight training practice at the local fitness center. And finally, goodbye to bringing recruits to Eichner Point on the top of the 4th floor of the city’s parking garage where we’d tell them: ‘Just imagine right over there. See that dirt spot over there? That’s going to be the athletic complex and you’re going to play ball on a field right there.’ Goodbye to all of that forever!”
After his remarks, a tearful and emotional Tyner introduced two other speakers before giving up the podium to Chancellor Eichner. First up was Danny Trent, vice chairman of the board of trustees, who said: “I will tell you that there is no doubt in my mind that God’s providence is at work as we’re standing here today doing this.” Trent was followed by Surprise Mayor Skip Hall.
“As your neighbors, we have really enjoyed watching this facility and the others on campus rise from the ground and we congratulate you on this achievement,” Hall said. “And to the students at Ottawa, you have a home here Surprise, a home on his beautiful new campus and a home in this growing community when you graduate. The Surprise story is your story.”
Chancellor Eichner started by praising Tyner for his steadfast leadership and spirit, and then lauded the board for their foresight in supporting the vision for OUAZ from the very beginning.
“I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think there’s one in a hundred boards of trustees in America that would have ever supported something this bold,” Eichner said. “I don’t think many of my colleagues in the chancellor or presidential ranks have that kind of support, so I salute you folks. You know how much I appreciate you. I also salute all the rest of you who have been so incredibly involved with this venture. There are 29 ways this could have gone south. Sometimes it tried, but we persisted, and believed together.”
The chancellor’s remarks were followed by his introduction of the O’Dells, and the unveiling of a portrait of the two painted by alum John Martin ’58. Eichner then recognized alum John Sherman ’79, owner of the Kansas City Royals and a generous university donor, who was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws for his service to the university and the Kansas City area.
“I want to say congratulations to everyone here, and not just for these facilities that we’re celebrating, but really for the birth of an enterprise and one that will sustain itself for a long time,” Sherman said. “As an entrepreneur myself, I have a great appreciation for what has had to happen to make this a reality. I congratulate Kevin and his entire team as well as the board of trustees on bringing this to fruition, and Marny and I are proud to play a small part in making it happen.”
Two OUAZ staff members took the podium to wrap up remarks given during the dedication program. These speakers were selected because of the major effect the new buildings have on their day-to-day job responsibilities. As the head of OUAZ’s student affairs team, Dean of Students Alan Boelter talked about the impact of the student union and residence hall.
“The transformation of OUAZ with these three building additions has been nothing short of amazing, and what God has done to help us transform is nothing short of a miracle,” Boelter said. “The community atmosphere the student union creates has changed our campus dynamic, providing a place where we can sit and talk, have a meal together or just enjoy the space to relax, play games or study. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that my favorite building on the campus is Scholars Hall dormitory. After two years at the hotel, yes I must say that’s my favorite building.”
Standing inside Faith Arena at the heart of the O’Dell Center, Director of Athletics Kevin Steele praised the building that will make a difference in the lives of student athletes at OUAZ for years to come.
“What a fitting place for us to be here in Faith Arena,” Steele said. “It’s an amazing work to behold because though there are many who have had their hands, their sweat, their blood in this project, the reason we are here is because it’s God’s project. The only success that we will ever have in this arena will be because the Lord wills and it to be a successful place to educate young people through sport.”
With the ribbon cutting completed, and the echo of remarks made before him still hanging in the air of Faith Arena, Dr. David Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary, gave a prayer of dedication.
“And so now we dedicate these new buildings and this campus as a place of learning. We ask that you make this Holy ground, that what happens here will serve your purposes. We pray for the continued power of your Holy Spirit on the teachers and learners here, that you bless the workers and donors who help daily. We give thanks for Jesus, and we dedicate and receive your blessing on this Ottawa University-Arizona campus.