For Mary Hicks, it’s the journey that’s important

Mary Hicks standing at podium

Within moments of meeting Mary Hicks, you learn about her passion for two things: the arts and travel. And since 1989, Mary has brought those passions together through her career in fundraising, helping to make CLA the finest place possible for our students. 

After graduating from Simpson College, Mary’s journey took her to the University of Minnesota Morris campus in 1978 as their student activities director. Then she moved to the Twin Cities in 1981 to work as the membership coordinator for the U of M Alumni Association. Building on the success of hitting all-time membership records, in 1984 Mary went to work on special fundraising projects at the University of Minnesota Foundation. 

That led to her joining CLA, and she was more than ready to travel to meet and work with generous donors who shared her passion for the arts and the journey of learning. Through the years, Mary was instrumental in funding projects including the renovation of Murphy Hall and the building of Ted Mann Concert Hall, Regis Center for Art, and the Barbara Barker Center for Dance. In addition, she helped raise funds for the renovations of Rarig Theatre and Ferguson Hall. The arts went from being housed in cramped, inadequate spaces to state-of-the-art facilities and now the West Bank Arts Quarter is the nucleus for the arts on campus and a hub for creative research, discovery, production, and collaboration in the Twin Cities arts community.When the original showboat was destroyed in a fire in 2000, Mary was instrumental in helping raise funds to bring another showboat that took thousands on a journey of the imagination for another 25 years. Mary raised funds for the Shevlin Hall renovation which included making the basement handicapped accessible and providing much-needed extra classroom space for our internationally-recognized Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences. 

Mary and the external relations team were instrumental in getting the word out to legislators, alumni, and donors about the importance of Folwell Hall as a home for foreign languages. With her help, Folwell’s renovation was completed in 2011, giving one of the university’s oldest buildings a new lease on life.

Her enthusiasm for the University of Minnesota Marching Band knows no bounds. It’s said that when Mary’s at a game she’ll definitely cheer on the Gophers, but she might cheer even louder for the band. Among the many projects she’s supported on their behalf is their home at TCF Bank Stadium, new uniforms, and scholarship support.

Mary helped launch several endowed professorships and chairs, as well as countless scholarships for students. And throughout it all, Mary recruited, trained, and mentored many development professionals, sharing her a contagious love for travel.

Most recently, Mary embarked on her next adventure: retirement. An extended stay in Malaga, Spain kicked-off the first part of this new journey. She looked forward to more time to relax, to travel, to connect with countless friendships developed during more than four decades of bringing the CLA mission and vision into reality. 

And then, enter the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Everything changed. 

“My adventure was easy and not especially stressful but my heart goes out to the students who were traveling and had to come home early, as well as their parents who no doubt had many sleepless nights wondering when their families could be reunited,” Mary said, reflecting on cutting the trip short and coming home. 

The greatest affirmation of her life spent dedicated to realizing the mission and vision of the college came at her retirement gathering (remember those...gatherings?) where she was presented with the Mary K. Hicks Learning Abroad Scholarship.  

Friends and colleagues have committed more than $95,000 to establish this endowment which will support scholarships for two students each year to have a learning abroad experience and transform their lives forever.

“My college experience taught me to appreciate people with very different experiences and points of view. Having an opportunity to travel outside of the United States has deepened my appreciation and knowledge for cultural differences as well as similarities,” Mary said. “The US culture is built on what our ancestors brought with them, woven with the traditions of our native cultures, and seasoned with the perspectives of other cultures, religions, and philosophies. America is no one singular thing or idea. We must all learn to appreciate and celebrate those differences even when that is uncomfortable or unknown. I hope this scholarship support can aid in fostering that kind of understanding.”

And Mary believes our students will again travel.

“I’m looking forward to the future,” Mary said. “I am optimistic that we will again spend time with friends and family. And I’m truly looking forward to the journey the scholarship will make possible for our students building lives of worth and meaning in this interconnected world of ours.”

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