Sept. 5, 2003
In his sometimes emotional speech before nearly a hundred people at the newly built center which bears his wife and his name, Russell Gerdin thanked his family, his staff and his company for the opportunity to give to the University of Iowa.
The Gerdins, who founded and continue to operate Heartland Express, an award-winning trucking and shipping service out of Coralville, are long-time philanthropists and have given millions to Iowa, Iowa State University and other local community initiatives.
“Thanks for giving us the chance to give,” Russell Gerdin said. “It is a pleasure and an honor to be so lucky. But there is one thing wrong in the program, it’s not us, it’s all the people. The building is here because of Heartland, not because of us. It’s kind of like being a quarterback. You get all the press when it’s good and sometimes when its bad, but it is a team.”
Friday’s opening and dedication ceremony for the Russell and Ann Gerdin Athletic Learning Center was about more than the Gerdins and their generosity to the University of Iowa.
It was, in the words of softball coach Gayle Blevins and athletic director Bob Bowlsby, the opening of a building that “embodies a dream”.
“It’s just so exciting to see this project come to fruition. It will have a profound effect on Iowa athletics but it will also have a profound effect on individual athletes. It’s a little bit beyond belief.”
Director of Athletics Bob Bowlsby
The multi-level, $4.6 million facility was the brainchild of Fred Mims, the associate director of athletics for student services and compliance, and former UI president Mary Sue Coleman. The center became a reality with the generosity of the Gerdins, who donated $4 million, and the Bechtel Trusts and Foundations of Davenport, David and Julie Ekland of Cedar Rapids and Bill and Joan Hargis of Woodbury, Minn.
“It’s just so exciting to see this project come to fruition,” Bowlsby said. “It will have a profound effect on Iowa athletics but it will also have a profound effect on individual athletes. It’s a little bit beyond belief.”
The facility is 20,000 square feet, available to all UI student-athletes, and features an auditorium, two classrooms, a computer lab, a teaching lab, the athletic library, office space for Iowa’s academic student services staff and a display area to recognize the academic accomplishments of Iowa’s student-athletes.
“Iowa takes student-athletes very seriously,” said UI president David Skorton, who also hoped that the project will spawn more focus on academic support. “I am proud that the Gerdins, who are pillars of our community, will be permanently connected with this university.”
The construction of the project was overseen by senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer, and the fundraising was headed by Andy Piro, senior director of development for intercollegiate athletics at The University of Iowa Foundation.
Now that little remains to be finished at the site, the job of operating the center will fall to Mims and his staff of counsellors, teachers, tutors and supporters.
What Mims and the Gerdins have envisaged for the learning center is a state-of-the art site including a library, tutorial spaces, a computer laboratory and a centralized location for the various tutors and support staff that make up the UI Athletic Student Services program.
“Iowa takes student-athletes very seriously. I am proud that the Gerdins, who are pillars of our community, will be permanently connected with this university.”
UI President David Skorton
After just a year of construction, they have succeeded, and now the more than 600 student-athletics at the university will benefit from their vision.
“It’s like my baby,” Mims said. “I’ve spent 27 years developing a culture at the University of Iowa that is second to none. I am pleased that the university committed to do something so great for student athletes.”
The University of Iowa already touts some of the finest academic achievements in the Big Ten Conference including the average cumulative GPA of all the student athletes being above 3.0, and the learning center will now be in the middle of the success.
“Iowa has always been a leader for academics,” Blevins, the winningest softball coach in Big 10 history, said. “One only need walk into this place to realize how special it is for those who are and for those who will be student-athletes. This center is a place we all can be proud of.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com