As a veterinarian, Dr. Larry Celmer felt confident working with animals, but was unprepared to run a clinic or other practice.
The Yankton native brought his skills to California in 1961, where he came up against the cold realities of making tough business decisions.
“I spent seven years at Iowa State University. I left with a vet degree, but felt something was missing, ”he said. “I went into the big world without a business course. The school of hard knocks has taken its toll.
Celmer and his wife, Martha, returned to Yankton in 1990. Larry rekindled his long-standing bond, dating back to his childhood, with the Sacred Heart Monastery and the Benedictine sisters. He served on the Board of Trustees of Mount Marty College from 1995 to 1998 and then from 1999 to 2002.
Now he has combined his love for Mount Marty University and the Sisters in helping today’s students avoid the challenges he has faced due to his lack of business experience.
MMU officials on Wednesday announced Celmers’ major donation establishing an endowed professorship in business. The event took place in the front lobby of the Cimpl Arena.
Celmers’ donation will help achieve several goals, MMU officials say. These goals include attracting and retaining business faculty, strengthening ties with the business community, and expanding the school’s business program and enrollment.
The Celmers have requested that the amount of their donation not be disclosed. However, interest from the endowment will fund the chair, which lasts two years at a time.
President Marc Long described the gift as an estate gift and the amount can change over time. The university will receive the funds upon the death of the Celmers, but planning can begin now for the professorship.
“Currently, we only have two endowed professors – in nursing and theology – and business will be the third,” Long said. “We hope to add more in the future.”
Barb Rezac, MMU’s vice president of mission and advancement, told Press & Dakotan that the Celmers’ gift is one of the most important received by the school. She described it as “substantial” and “transformative”.
The Yankton region has a major stake in Mount Marty’s business program for its workforce and economic development, Rezac said.
“We want young people here. They are our greatest asset. How do you attract and retain young people in Yankton and South Dakota? ” she asked. “The tools of a great program include an internship program with local businesses, which could hire these young people and keep them in Yankton. “
Mount Marty got another boost with the help of Yankton Thrive in organizing the Business Club on campus, Long said. The MMU business program has seen strong growth, almost doubling its enrollment in recent years, he added.
“This fall we have 102 business students, up from 55 just five years ago,” he said. “In the years to come, we anticipate continued growth as we build upon the Benedictine Leadership Institute with a program focused on decisions based on faith and ethics.
Celmers’ donation will allow Mount Marty to grow its business program and expand its work with businesses in the area, Long said.
“Any university is only worth the quality of its faculty, and that’s what Dr. Larry Celmer brought to me shortly after I came to Yankton (in 2015),” said Long. “From his time on the board, including his time as president, he knew the importance of having a top-notch faculty at a university.”
During Wednesday’s announcement, Larry Celmer referred to the students attending the event.
“I hope each of you will have the opportunity to leave Mount Marty with some sort of business behind you so that at least you can manage your personal affairs,” he said.
A strong business foundation has become necessary regardless of a student’s specialty, Celmer told Press & Dakotan.
“I am really convinced that in order to survive today with the complications of life, it is necessary that we need all the tools possible to prepare ourselves (with our finances),” he said.
Martha Celmer was unable to attend Wednesday’s program. However, other family members were in attendance, along with MMU professors and members of the Yankton business community.
Wednesday’s presentation featured portraits of the Celmers as well as major donors Charlie Bender and Laddie Cimpl. The activity center, opened in 1988, was renamed following a donation from Cimpl, a local businessman. In the summer of 2018, Cimpl Arena underwent a million dollar renovation thanks to Bender’s family.
“This is our own Mount Rushmore,” said Rezac, pointing to the three portraits. “(The three men) have all been on the board at the same time, through difficult and dark times. Over the years, they have expressed the importance of the Sisters in their lives.
Wednesday’s announcement came at a very emotional time for Mount Marty and the Sacred Heart Monastery, as the funeral was held that morning for Sister Jacquelyn Ernster. She was previously prioress of the monastery and last monastic president of Mont Marty.
Celmer, Cimpl and Bender, along with great benefactor Jim Donohoe, all had a deep respect and friendship with Sister Jacquelyn, Rezac said.
Looking ahead, the Celmers’ gift of an endowed chair will give the program extra momentum, said Jamie Rounds, chair of MMU’s business department.
“This type of donation is always wonderful. It shows community support and loyalty to Mount Marty, ”he said. “This (gift) helps us to be more stable and stable in our offerings and to meet the needs of a growing sales department. “
Business has become the second most popular major on campus behind nursing, Rounds said.
“We want to eventually have a Magnet program,” he said. “We are reviewing our curriculum and hope to create changes that will differentiate our university from other schools. “
The Business Club reflects the growing diversity of the campus and the number of international students, Rounds said. The president is from Germany, the vice-president from Argentina, the treasurer from Italy and the secretary from the United States.
“We’re seeing more of this happening, and we want it to continue,” Rounds said.
Celmer praised MMU’s current leadership and vision, starting with Long and continuing through all faculty and staff.
“And I can’t say enough about your students who represent your school so well,” he said. “Your students have the spirit that I haven’t seen here for years. It’s very motivating and very stimulating. I’m glad they’re here tonight.
Wednesday’s program was followed by a Thanksgiving meal served by MMU baseball coach Andy Bernatow, staff and volunteers. Bernatow, who is also the interim athletic director, has organized meals for students who cannot return home for the holidays.
Program participants were invited to stay and join the MMU community.
This sense of hospitality and community is what makes Mount Marty special, Long said. These values are taught in business classes and other aspects of campus life, he added.
“It’s the way you live your life, following values based on 1,500 year old Benedictine rules. It is directly applicable to the society in which we currently live. It’s an appreciation to belong to a community, ”said Long.
Celmer said he viewed his family’s donation as more than just a gift. He also sees it as a legacy and an investment in the future.
“I am really impressed that I was able to speak to a part of the student body. They represent themselves so well, and this is such a fiery group of young people, ”he said. “I’m glad they were associated with Mount Marty and were interested enough to be here. I am very impressed with the student body. The university has come a long way.
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