Jul. 18, 2014
Throughout Buena Vista University's history, a variety of individuals have used their insights, knowledge, and perspectives to contribute to the success of the University. From dedicated and devoted faculty to loyal students, alumni, and community supporters, many names come to mind, including the last name Pierce.
The Pierce family became associated with BVU when Dr. Howard A. Pierce, an optometrist in Storm Lake, joined the board of trustees in 1941. Early in his tenure on the board, the University was struggling financially, and Howard's son Dr. Keith Pierce, Class of 1942, remembers a time when,"My father and others pulled together, and in just two weeks, raised enough funds to meet payroll. "
Howard and others on the board such as Paul Dixon, Tom Eilers, Carl Peterson, and Z.Z. White took Buena Vista from a nearly bankrupt college to a healthy organization by treating it like a business.
Keith, who went into optometry practice with his father, recalls how their business office was often where the groundwork for this transformation took place. "I remember my dad, along with other board members and Charles Zalesky, vice president for business affairs, helping to arrange financing for the college in the back room of our office," says Keith. "When my father would talk about the college, he didn't just say what BV should do but rather when BV should do it, and then make it happen. "
Dr. Howard Pierce
Howard left the Board of Trustees in 1978 after serving for 37 years. His name continues to make an impact on BVU, not just through the legacy of his family's involvement with the University, but also through the building that bears his name – Pierce Hall.
"Pierce Hall is an icon on campus, one that every former student remembers since it was constructed," says BVU President Fred Moore.
Built in 1956, Pierce Hall was the first men's residence hall on campus. It is attached to White Hall and the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business/Siebens Forum, and with its location near the center of campus and seated between Peterson Field and the Victory Arch, it serves as a landmark building for students as they walk through campus. Pierce Hall is now a co-ed residence hall and provides students with housing along with study lounges, a kitchenette, a recreational room with a pool table, and laundry facilities.
Howard was a dedicated Storm Lake businessman, but he was not originally from the area. He was born in Iowa Falls and grew up on the family farm. He attended optometry school in Chicago, and upon being drafted, he was sent to Fort Des Moines. After his military service, Howard came to Storm Lake and established an optometry practice.
Howard served as member of the board of trustees through two BV presidents, Henry Olson (1931-53) and John A. Fisher (1954-60). According to his grandson, Michael Pierce,"He did not wear his heart on his sleeve, yet his love of family and the community manifested itself in his actions and deeds. He believed that the college was important to Storm Lake. "
The importance of the University to the community became evident after the burning of Old Main, which Howard and Keith both witnessed.
"There is always something good that comes out of everything bad," Keith says. "The good from the fire was the fact that people realized what an asset Buena Vista was to the Storm Lake community and surrounding area. I remember the following morning, when a local attorney came into our office and handed me a check for $500 and said that I was to give it to my father, who was treasurer of the board of trustees, and tell him that Buena Vista must be rebuilt. That was the start. The Board of Trustees all became fund raisers, and they devoted most of their time for many months soliciting for funds. People in the area rallied behind them. "
Dr. Kelvin Pierce
Keith's older brother, Dr. Kelvin Pierce, Class of 1940, was the first to follow in Howard's footsteps, serving on the BVU Board of Trustees from 1996-99 and as a member of the Investment Committee and the Institutional Advancement Committee. He is a long-time supporter of the University and established the Howard and Lela Pierce Endowed Scholarship at BVU in memory of their parents. In 1992, he was the recipient of the John Fisher Outstanding Service Award.
"Although I left Storm Lake as a young man, my roots are still there. It was, and still is, a great community in which young people can grow. A major factor is the existence of Buena Vista University," says Kelvin.
Kelvin attended BV from 1936-38. He graduated from the University of California/Berkeley School of Optometry in 1940, and then was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force for three years. Kelvin practiced as an optometrist for 35 years in Concord, Calif., and retired in 1981. He still lives in California, but BVU remains important in his life and family. His daughter Rosalie Pierce-Rhodes is also a BV graduate, Class of 1976.
Keith and his wife, Virginia, Class of 1941, served as BVU Order of the Arch co-chairs in 2004-05 and received the Henry Olson Distinguished Service Award in 2005. Virginia also served on the Alumni Board for three years (1996-99). They are native Storm Lake residents who understand the impact of the University to the local community. "With having the lake, the University, and our medical facilities, Storm Lake is what many small towns can only aspire to be," says Keith.
Keith took his pre-optometry courses at BV from 1938- 40, and then transferred to the University of California, where he graduated in 1942 with a Bachelor of Science degree and his doctor of optometry. "After graduating, I came home to take the state board exams and joined my father in optometry practice," says Keith. He started his optometry practice in Storm Lake in August 1942 and retired 48 years later in August 1990.
Virginia graduated from Buena Vista with a two-year teaching certificate and taught for three years before she and Keith married.
"Both Virginia and I were students at Buena Vista and made many lifelong friends," says Keith. "But the exposure we had to BV while my father was on the Board of Trustees and acting treasurer of the college taught us the importance of the college. "
When World War II started, Keith enlisted in the Navy. In the spring of 1943, while waiting to be called to active duty, Keith was asked to teach three physics classes a week at BV when the current instructor was drafted. He was then commissioned as an ensign and stationed in Chicago until the end of the war, which is where he and Virginia were married on Jan. 8, 1944.
Keith and Virginia had three children, and two of them have contributed to the Pierce legacy of involvement at BVU: Michael who lives in Houston, Texas; and Tim who lived in Storm Lake.
Tim Pierce was a life-long resident of Storm Lake and a partner at Stille Pierce & Pertzborn Insurance Services. He was active in the community and BVU, serving as co-chair of Buena Vista University Community Campaign and also briefly on the Board of Trustees from 2012-13 before he passed away in March 2013.
In his trustee appointment announcement, Tim stated, "It is truly an honor to be elected to serve on the Board of Trustees and the opportunity to carry on the fine tradition of service to the University established by my grandfather and uncle. I am anxious to assist BVU in any way possible toward advancing its mission of preparing students for lifelong success through innovative and imaginative academic and professional preparation. "
Michael, who is an attorney and partner at Thompson & Knight, LLP, is now carrying on the Pierce tradition at BVU as a newly-elected member of the Board of Trustees in February 2014. "My family has had a long affiliation with BVU. As a native of Storm Lake, I understand the importance of BVU to the educational, economic, and cultural well-being of the community. In being elected to the Board, I am honored to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, uncle, and brother and am grateful for this opportunity to serve the University," says Michael.
Michael also spent a lot of time with his grandfather, Howard Pierce and knew just how much BVU meant to him. "My grandfather was a wonderful person, and I was very fortunate and blessed to be able to spend a good deal of time with him growing up," says Michael. "He was a thinker and a doer; he was ambitious; and he had a sharp wit and good touch with people. He came from very humble beginnings; consequently, he had great empathy for folks, like himself, who strived to improve their lot in life, worked hard, and played by the rules. "
"Four members of this family (Howard, Kelvin, Tim, and Mike) have stepped forward in helping to guide the future of BVU by serving on the Board of Trustees," says President Moore. "We are grateful for their legacy of service, and also to all of the members of the family who have given generously to Buena Vista and have encouraged and inspired others through their example to follow suit. "
During the years that Howard Pierce was involved with the University and Kelvin, Keith, and Virginia were students, the BV campus was made up of three buildings – Old Main which served as the main classroom building and chapel, Smith Hall which held the science classes and library, and Victory Hall which housed the gymnasium.
Keith remembers during that time a good share of the on-campus socializing revolved around Beaver Hall in the basement of Old Main and the activities of fraternities and sororities.
The campus started to grow, and according to Keith, what really began changing things were the initial and subsequent gifts from Harold Walter Siebens. "After his gift, the campus experienced many significant changes, such as the beautiful science hall and the underground structure that has a surprising feeling of open space," says Keith. "A lot of pleasant changes have happened over the years that really make it an even prettier and more beautiful campus. Many people from the area have made significant contributions to the University to make these changes happen, and you can recognize them by the buildings and structures that have been named after them. "
Even Pierce Hall has undergone some changes. An addition was constructed to Pierce and White Hall in 1965, plus renovations in 1992 and 2003. In 2012, both Pierce and White Halls received a full renovation that included upgraded lighting, new furniture, complete remodeling of bathrooms with individual showers, upgrade to the courtyard between the two buildings, new lounge space to bring in more natural light, new multipurpose space, an elevator, enhanced access for persons with physical challenges, new entrance, and a fire sprinkling system.
"BVU meant a great deal to Grandpa, and I am sure he would be delighted to see how the school has grown and evolved as an educational institution and in the community," says Michael.
And BVU is truly appreciative of the dedication that the Pierce family has shared with the University. "Members of the Pierce family have been rock-solid supporters and advocates for BVU for over three generations. Their love of this special institution runs deep and provides inspiration to other alumni, trustees, and the faculty and staff who work here," says President Moore.