By Frank Stanko
Dr. John Richman, president of the North Dakota State College of Science, Wahpeton, wanted to make sure Vernon Hektner’s name once again held prominence on campus.
Hektner, a 1941 NDSCS graduate who later served nearly 40 years as an instructor and dean, was honored with the naming of Hektner Hall in 1986. Due to campus renovations, the building was demolished in 2014.
“Today we honor Vernon Hektner and celebrate a dedication that will ensure his legacy lives on for future generations of NDSCS students,” said Richman at the Thursday, May 5 dedication of the Hektner Student Center.
Approximately 17 members of Hektner’s extended family were present for the dedication and ribbon-cutting. Dr. Joel Hektner, chairman of the human development and family science department of the North Dakota State University in Fargo, spoke on behalf of the family.
“Growing up, our family thought of NDSCS, and in particular, this building, as more than just a place for students,” Hektner said. “It was a community resource.”
The Hektner Student Center houses, among other services, NDSCS’ bookstore, campus police, mail center, student life offices, information technology services and the Flickertail Dining Room.
“I played my first air hockey and ping pong games in the game room, and I learned how to bowl in the bowling alley,” said Hektner, reminiscing about times he and his family had spent on campus. It was easy, growing up mere houses away.
Vernon Hektner returned in 1947 as an instructor in the social science department. He continued to teach while serving as dean of what became known as the arts, science and pre-professional division from 1956-82. Hektner remained as a full-time teacher until his retirement in 1984. He died prior to his 89th birthday in 2010.
“He was passionate about this place and it’s mission. So much so that he had his headstone designed with an engraving of the steeple of Old Main with the ’S’ on. So clearly he was proud to be associated with NDSCS,” Joel Hektner said.
Prior to attending the dedication, Mrs. Leona Hektner, 90, toured the center, observing the plaque commemorating the former Hektner Hall and a portrait of Vernon Hektner.
“Once asked about his legacy, Vernon Hektner said he wanted to be remembered as a good teacher,” said Richman before sharing quotes from Hektner’s students published in the book “NDSCS: 100 Years of Excellence.”
As a teacher, Hektner delivered lectures that got one student involved and engaged to the point of forgetting to take notes. Despite the disadvantage and barely passing, the student declared it a one of the most memorable courses they’d ever taken.
“I’d never studied so hard, or wrote so fast. I developed a hard pencil lump on my middle finger taking notes. I ended up majoring in history. Couldn’t let all those notes go to waste,” Richman read from another student’s reminisces.
Other students found Hektner “a teacher through and through” and having a remarkable ability to make history feel like an old friend’s stories and anecdotes.
“His insight into (the lives of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln) became more real than any textbook or ordinary teacher could convey,” Richman read.
Among the notables in attendance at the dedication were Wahpeton Mayor Meryl Hansey; North Dakota state Rep. Cindy Schreiber-Beck; state Sen. Tim Flakoll; former state Rep. Clark Williams; former Richland County Commissioner Perry Miller and Terry Goerger, imminent president of the NDSCS Alumni/Foundation.
The Hektner Student Center is located immediately at the righthand side of NDSCS’ oval entrance at the intersection of Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue North in Wahpeton.
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