Getting your name on a building


Strolling through campus, students can see different names on buildings and structures that honor a person or donor. But students may wonder how someone exactly gets their name on the face of a building.

It takes a lot of money or enough service to the university to be honored in such a fashion.

While not everyone may know who these people are, these buildings exist in part by the acts of honorees who helped shape South Dakota State to what it is today.

Building names seen around the SDSU campus all come from a variety of different places, including key donors, ceremonial service names and/or distinct honorees to be recognized for their contribution to SDSU’s mission.

The process of donating is not always intended to get his or her name on a structure somewhere on campus. However, with this in mind, there is a bracket system devised by the foundation that separates one tier of donations to another.

The highest of the donation brackets, which is for gifts $10 million or more, include Avera Health, the City of Brookings, Dana J. and LaDawn S. Dykhouse, Pat and Dale Larson family, Jerome J. Lohr, Sanford Health and T. Denny Sanford. 

For this tier, most have their name on a building or have a college named after them, in correlation to their respective area of expertise.

The second bracket includes donations between $5 million and $10 million. The members on this list include the Maxine Charity Trust, Nathelle M. and Lawrence W. DeHaan, Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback, Thomas R. and Marilyn G. Gannon, the William Mibra and Byrne Griffith Foundation and Larry and Diane Ness.

The following tiers are between $2.5 million and $5 million, $1 million and $2.5 million, $500,000 and $1 million and $250,000 and $500,000.

According to CEO and president of the SDSU Foundation Steve Erpenbach, some donors give their gifts in hopes of inspiring students to be successful enough one day to also give back to their Alma Mater.

“It’s kind of a motivator for others … It plants that seed with other students,” Erpenbach said. 

Caitlin Kukowski, advertising major, feels the inspiration and hopes to give back to the university or its organizations one day.

“I obviously appreciate it [the donations] because I’m a student who’s using the facilities, because they’re investing in the university and the country by helping build future leaders,” Kukowski said. “My sorority doesn’t have a house, so as someone who wants to have a high paying job, I want to give back to my organization and the school.”

If someone gives back to the university, their name is considered by the South Dakota Board of Regents to be placed on a facility, programmatic unit or funded academic honor if their gift is $250,000 or more. 

“Within the last 10 years we’ve seen those naming rights taken off and more names for buildings and programs,” Erpenbach said.

The university president oversees all the naming of wings, halls, rooms and other building areas without the approval of the SDBOR.

The residential halls, on the other hand, are all named after notable alumni who have had an impact in their fields of study following graduation. These alumni didn’t necessarily donate to the school but have made an impact in some way to the community.

“The residence halls are all ceremonial, so they’re all (named) in honor of service. No gifts are involved, just in terms of recognizing them for their significance,” Erpenbach said. “Those recommendations go through the presidents and then they’re passed on to the board of regents.”

While some students may not know who their dorm hall is named after, others’ curiosity has pulled them to investigate.

“I’ve looked up a few from the dorm rooms, like Ben Reifel,” said Joris Blanken, computer science major. “It depends on whatever interests you. I’m interested to see where things came from.”

Kukowski thinks it would be good to know where the names on the facilities they are using come from.

“I only knew of the stadium [donor name] one because it’s currently happening right now … I think it would be really interesting to know why they were so influential that we’re naming a whole entire building after them,” Kukowski said.

The university makes sure to not let historic donations be forgotten when a building is replaced or renamed. Once an old building is taken down and a new one is put up, they often ask the donor family if they would like their name on some feature in that building or adjacent to that building.

“The plaza will be called Tompkins Plaza outside of the Foundation renovations. We want to be able to recognize them once they have passed,” Erpenbach said. 

The Tompkins donated money to start up the Alumni Center, so it was named after them. The Tompkins Alumni Center, located on the west side of campus, was initially created to help connect alumni to their peers after graduation. The naming of Tompkins Plaza is to help eternalize their gift.

“From our standpoint, we’ve encouraged donors to have their name attached to a classroom,” Erpenbach said. “So, we can recognize them and so they can also be motivating others through their gift.”