BVU Homecoming 2019: Indelible Marks Show in Shadow of Victory Arch

Students, alumni, friends, and families united for Homecoming festivities at BVU. Together, Beavers toasted friendship, impact, and being changed for the better.

Summer’s last stand at Buena Vista University offers a time for smiles, hugs, and tears of joy in a 2019 homecoming celebration that shows how this place and its people leave lasting marks.

Friday’s festivities commence with a Lake Avenue parade, a sun-shiny event featuring not one, but THREE marching bands. The BVU Marching Blue beats the drum from its homecoming, as do middle school and high school bands from the Storm Lake Community School District, which, by happy coincidence, celebrates homecoming, too.

BVU’s Victory Arch float makes its way through the parade, flanked by 22 members of the dance and cheer teams. The homecoming court follows, dispensing candy and cheer to hundreds of well-wishers.

BVU’s participation boosts the fun affair and helps echo President Joshua Merchant’s steady chorus: “A stronger BVU means a stronger Storm Lake; and a stronger Storm Lake means a stronger BVU.”

Emily Ivey and Josh Cole
Emily Ivey and Josh Cole

Josh Cole and Emily Ivey are crowned king and queen in a coronation-and-skit event at Siebens Fieldhouse hours later, high time for students and staff. Cole, who comes from “everywhere” as a U.S. Air Force child who grew up in 10 states and Germany, serves as Student Senate president, chapel worship team leader, and BV Buddies mentor. 

Ivey, who grew up in Storm Lake, plays volleyball, serves on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, and is also a BV Buddies mentor. Wearing the queen’s crown provides her a little homecoming consolation on the eve of a Monday knee surgery. The senior, who tore her ACL and meniscus prior to a volleyball match prior to the home opener, cheers her team to victory on Saturday.

Saturday dawns under threatening skies that soon clear, welcoming nearly 2,000 visitors to campus for events that run throughout the day. Chad and Jenni Wahl leave their home at Edwards, Ill., at 3 a.m. and drive through the night to reach campus for a Fall Visit Day enjoyed by 60 high school students who double as prospective Beavers. The couple’s son, Jack Wahl, plays in a football game for Brimfield High School on Friday night, then rises with his parents, BVU alums both, and settles in for the 401-mile drive to campus.

“That shows commitment, that shows heart!” says Jeremy Curry, BVU admissions counselor who doubles as an assistant football coach. “We love to see young men like him with parents like that!”

The heart of BVU’s baseball team beats in a halftime presentation of bling. Nearly every member of Steve Eddie’s 41-man roster returns to campus to be presented with rings for their historic run to claim the 2019 American Rivers Conference Baseball Tournament title.

And while the football team falls short in its homecoming matchup played before an incredible crowd both inside J. Leslie Rollins Stadium and outside in the popular tailgating area, the BVU volleyball team and men’s soccer team earn victories as the women’s golf team, hosting its fall tournament at the BVU Golf Course at Lake Creek, surges on Saturday to claim third among 11 teams.

Tears and memories flow as Shelly (Barr) TerHark, Nick Dentlinger, Scott Weber, Courtney (Andersen) Berg, and the 1992 national runner-up softball team are inducted into the BVU Athletics Hall of Fame in a sentimental banquet inside newly renovated Siebens Forum.

Berg, a Beaver who hasn’t really left since the day she stepped foot on campus as a freshman in 1997, recalls how legendary Coach Marge Willadsen drops everything while running a softball camp to greet Courtney and her parents on their first campus visit. The coach’s warmth and sincerity leaves an impression that continues to grace BVU.

“I was so impressed,” says Berg, who now serves as BVU director of finance and administration/controller. “As my parents and I drove home that day, I said two things: No. 1, this was the place for me, I felt at home; and No. 2: I could play for my ‘Grandmother.’”

Laughter ensues as Willadsen, a Hall of Fame coaching grandmother if there ever was one, grins and hugs her newest hall-of-famer. Beavers who changed for the better at this special place share dozens of similar tales.

As family members cheer their newly christened hall-of-famers, BVU freshman Isabel Hernandez joins her family in a homecoming three blocks east of campus. Hernandez’s mother, Lilia Gomez Hernandez, is honored by her husband, Joel Hernandez, and four children on her 50th birthday in a family bash at Chautauqua Park. The impact of the security and opportunity found in Storm Lake and at BVU isn’t lost on an extended family that dances, sings, and basks in the warmth of a southerly breeze and one another as summer fades to fall.

Hernandez Gomez
Lilia Gomez Hernandez and her son Ryan Gomez

Lilia serves cake as son, Brian Gomez, who takes his 2017 BVU diploma to Storm Lake Elementary School where he serves as a fourth-grade teacher, greets visitors and translates. His older brother, former honors student Miguel Gomez, shows the way for their family at BVU, earning degrees in Spanish and biology in 2013 and is now in medical school in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic, where he works part-time. 

Their third sibling, Cristian Gomez, serves for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, completes multiple overseas deployments, and is now in college in California. He makes his way across the country for this homecoming, saluting a mom who works tirelessly for her children, directing them to earn their education and their way in Storm Lake, at BVU, and beyond.

Lilia blushes and nods shyly as four adult children wrap her in their arms. “Lucky,” she says, eyes aglow. “I am lucky.”