David E. Gilbert Center

New center keeps memory of former president alive 


David E. Gilbert

The year 1982 was full of changes for David Gilbert, then dean and vice president of Academic Affairs at Eastern Oregon State College. Poised to pursue academic opportunities elsewhere, a serendipitous twist of fate and a request from the chancellor of the Oregon University System kept Gilbert at Eastern to ultimately become its longest-serving president to date.

Gilbert was appointed interim president and in 1983, the State Board of Higher Education officially named him the college’s leader, a position that he held until 1998.

Sadly, Gilbert died in February 2012 following complications from a stroke. Before his passing, members of the EOU Foundation Board of Directors had already begun discussing options to honor the man and his significant contributions to the university and the community.

Dixie Lund, professor and interim president emeritus, served under Gilbert in the continuing education department, a unit that evolved into the Division of Distance Education. Lund recalled the steps he took to more fully connect with the region, including establishing six remote “satellite” sites across the state to serve students who weren’t able to attend classes on campus in La Grande.

“Dave came into the position and took action,” Lund said. “Some of the work began under previous leadership, but he took the reins and provided clear direction to how we would achieve the goals we were striving for.”

Gilbert wasn’t just a suit occupying the corner office in the administration building. According to Lund, faculty and staff felt they really knew him because he had served as a physics professor and dean.

“When Dave was named president, people on campus were really glad to have him,” Lund said. “We felt that he was someone who understood the needs of the university and whose door would always be open.”

Not only did Gilbert help revolutionize how courses would be delivered at EOU, he also developed models for collaboration with Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Nursing and Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Gilbert was a champion for the Learning Center that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and EOU’s own radio station, KEOL 91.7, was created under his leadership. Construction of Community Stadium was completed, along with Alikut residence hall, the Pierce Library addition, Loso Hall and renovations to the Hoke Union Building. Finally, Eastern Oregon State College became Eastern Oregon University during his tenure.

It is no question to the university community why a building should bear Gilbert’s name. To determine which would be the most fitting, members of a committee delegated by Bob Davies, current EOU president, met with Carolyn Gilbert, Dave’s wife, and their daughter, Joan, to tour prospective facilities on campus. Several buildings were considered, but one stood out after careful deliberation.

The Ackerman Gymnasium is among the earliest structures on EOU’s campus. It has served as an elementary school gym, student activities space, storage and most recently it functioned as the main library during renovation to Pierce Library. In choosing a location to honor President Gilbert, the primary consideration was identifying a space that would be used by both the campus and the community, as those were Gilbert’s guiding principles.

An artist's rendering shows the main entrance and courtyard of the new Gilbert Center.

When sketches were presented that included a new entrance to the gymnasium with a courtyard and trees, and guidelines for how it would be used by the general public and the campus community, the decision was unanimous. The David E. Gilbert Center will become one of the best multi-purpose facilities in eastern Oregon and available to use by all.

Greg Monahan, professor emeritus and member of the naming committee, recalled Gilbert as a driving force for improvement at EOU, and a colleague he held in high regard.

“Dave was deeply devoted not only to the college, but also to connecting it to the region,” Monahan said. “Naming this facility after him is a perfect way to remember how he served to bring the university and the region together.”

Carolyn said she believes her husband would be pleased, but surprised with this designation.

“He was a very humble man and he always gave credit to everybody else for achievements at EOU,” she said.

The center sits next to Stenard Memorial Garden, named in honor of Dick Stenard, late vice president of Student Affairs and close friend and colleague to Gilbert. It is set to fill a void in the community for a space of this size to host receptions, community-wide meetings, regional events and small conferences – activities Gilbert, a “regional” president, would be happy to see.

A dedication and ribbon cutting is planned at the center during Homecoming at 6 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12. Immediately following will be the Alumni Honors & Athletic Hall of Fame Ceremony, the first event to be held at the new center.

See the related story in this issue on activities during Homecoming. 



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