Veterans attending school at Missouri State University now have access to a larger place to congregate and receive assistance. The school on Wednesday unveiled the Oldham Family Veteran Student Center, located on the first floor of the Meyer Library.
The facility, which includes expanded office and meeting space, was made possible in part by a major gift from Mike Oldham, a Navy veteran and MSU alumni.
“Choices you make when you are young often influence you for a lifetime. And my decision to join the Navy in 1973 was a good one," Oldham told a crowd of more than 100 Wednesday. "Most importantly, that service motivated me to a get a college education, and allowed me to earn my GI Bill and come back and attend MSU."
Oldham, who graduated from Springfield’s Central High School, says the GI Bill not only gave him the flexibility to attend college but participate on MSU’s wrestling team. In fact, Oldham was a two-time NCAA national qualifier in the sport.
“So it feels good now to give a little bit back to a place that gave so much to me,” he says.
Oldham’s family is made up of many veterans, including his father, a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He also has uncles, cousins and a nephew who have or are serving in the military.
“Typically veterans are the last people to complain and ask for help,” he said. “They just rally the team, put their shoulder to the wheel and get on with the mission. But when these dedicated men and women arrive back in the civilian, academic world, the team is dispersed and hard to identify. The mission is abstract, it’s not well-defined…so sometimes it’s not apparent where they fit into the university ecosystem.”
Oldham says the new lounge is a lot more than offices, desks and computers, but a “basecamp” where student veterans will feel comfortable and welcome.
“A place where they can get information about their VA benefits that they’ve earned. Maybe they can get some advice in mentoring from staff or from other students. Or maybe they just shoot the breeze, share experiences, tell stories that only other veterans can relate to and understand.”
Approximately 775 veterans and 150 veteran dependents are attending MSU, according to Oldham.
Deidre Ashley, a former U.S. Marine who started at MSU in 2013, says she didn’t initially feel like she fit in.
“So I started going to the veterans lounge and it gave me a sense of belonging,” she said.
Ashley calls the larger and quieter space at Meyer Library, which replaces the former lounge on the third floor of Carrington Hall, a “safe haven” for veterans.
Michael Davis is pursuing his master’s in Applied Science in Administrative Studies in Homeland Security. The retired U.S. Marine completed active service in 1969. But the responsibilities of raising a family took precedent over a college degree. Now, at age 60, he’s just one year away from graduating. Since getting connected with Veterans Student Services shortly after arriving at MSU, he’s been a lounge regular.
“I just immediately found a sense of belonging with a group of individuals that I could share comradery with, and that had shared the same experiences and a lot of ‘em had been to the same places that I’ve been to,” said Davis.
He says the new lounge and office space is “absolutely beautiful,” and hopes it will encourage other veterans on campus to seek out and receive assistance or to find familiar company.
“Hopefully the veteran community here on campus will grow because of this office.”