Setting the stage

Events coordinator Dawn Botsford retires after 39 years

Dawn Botsford

Dawn Botsford adjusts President Kennedy’s Chain of Office just before the commencement march begins. Botsford is retiring Aug. 15 after 39 years of service. Photo by Tyler Ingram/UND Today.

There’s always a little something special about a UND event.

From flutterfetti at commencement to the festive flair at Feast of Nations, thousands of people have felt welcomed by the UND touch.

People in the know call it the Dawn Botsford touch, said Fred Wittmann, director of ceremonies & events. She makes UND events memorable.

Botsford, UND’s events coordinator, will retire Aug. 15 after 39 years at the University.

From commencements to dedications, inaugurations to Founders Day, Feast of Nations to celebrations, Botsford has planned them all.

And she makes it look easy.

“Long ago, Bob Boyd (vice president emeritus for student & outreach services) always said to make sure that everyone knows they’ve been to a UND event,” Botsford said. “I’ve never forgotten that.”

Passion for people

Her passion for people and UND shows.

“I want to make each event different,” she said. “I love the challenge of planning.” And she always has plans B and C. “If I have them, I won’t need them.”

“Like the chefs on the TV show “Chopped,” Dawn can take random ingredients, situations and circumstances, and in front of a live audience produce an impressive event or project,” said Wittmann, who has worked with her throughout her career. “UND, and all those served by the University, have feasted on the good work of Dawn Botsford for nearly four decades.  That’s a legacy to be celebrated.”

Dawn Botsford. Image courtesy of Richard Larson.

Dawn Botsford thanks members of the University community at her retirement reception. Image courtesy of Richard Larson.

104 commencements

Botsford and Wittmann have coordinated 104 commencement ceremonies – up to eight each year, along with a 125th anniversary celebration, presidential inaugurations, and more. They work on annual events such as Founders Day, Wake Up to UND, and Feast of Nations, along with innumerable special events. They’ve planned events on campus, across the state, across the country, and as far away as Prague, in the Czech Republic.

“I don’t do anything on my own,” Botsford said. “It’s a team effort.”

Originally from Northwood, N.D., she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UND, and began working for the University in 1979 as a conference coordinator. She and Wittmann developed the office of ceremonies and University events 17 years ago.

In 2013, the UND Alumni Association & Foundation presented Botsford with its Spirit Award, which is given to those with uncommon dedication to the University and its students.

Botsford is especially proud of UND’s 125th anniversary celebration.

“We made some great things happen,” Botsford said, citing the Great Conversations series, which brought luminaries to campus to speak; the bust of George Walsh outside Twamley Hall;  and the Sites 2C @ UND publication. “I learned an incredible amount about the history of UND and the sacrifices made by the founders of UND.”

She’s also proud of helping coordinate the American Indian Portrait Galleries in the Memorial Union and Hughes Fine Arts Center and UND Art Collections openings, which showcase UND’s art collection.

Dawn Botsford and Mark Brickson. Image courtesy of Richard Larson.

Dawn Botsford chats with Mark Brickson, retired director of development for the School of Law. Image courtesy of Richard Larson.

Design on a dime

Botsford is an expert at making an event special, often on a very limited budget.

“We come up with ways to use resources on campus,” Botsford said. “Facilities has been great. They are part of the team. If I buy something, I use it four or five times and let others use it.”

For example, the green and white flags that stand sentinel outside events were looking a little tired after years of use. Students at The Big Event painted the poles and stands, and she culled unusable flags, ending up with more white flags than green.

“I took some home, dyed them pink, and they look great,” she said. “We can do a lot with little or no money when we get all the feet around the table.”

“Working with Dawn is one of the joys of working at UND, especially the Design on a Dime team,” said Loren Liepold, technical director for theatre arts. “She does everything with class and determination.”

“Dawn and I work well together,” said Ed Koble, grounds superintendent with facilities. “She has a gift for setting up stages, and a knack for finding things to put on stage. There is no last-minute stuff when Dawn organizes events. Events turn out because of her expertise.”

Dawn Botsford. Image courtesy of Richard Larson.

Dawn Botsford received a rocking chair as a retirement gift. She is seen here with her husband, Jon, and co-worker Fred Wittmann, director of ceremonies and events. Image courtesy of Richard Larson.

“Dawn is a hard drive of UND information,” said Deb Austreng, director of alumni and corporate relations for the College of Engineering & Mines. “Her knowledge of UND history is truly amazing, from knowing why the boulders near Babcock have holes to where to find an old photograph. Add this to her talents for seamlessly pulling off events with her signature touches.”

“No organization can become great or remain great unless its community believes that everyone matters,” said Boyd. “Dawn often reminded me about people on our campus who served, often unheralded, and too often unappreciated. To Dawn, everyone matters.”

“I felt very fortunate to have Dawn help me with exhibitions, especially in UND’s downtown gallery at the Empire Arts Center,” said Art Jones, professor of art & design and director of Art Collections. “I don’t know how I could have succeeded without her. Her positive spirit is uplifting and contagious. Whoever she works with might think that her dedication and energy is just devoted to that project. Each of us has her full attention, while she multitasks as if she has cloned herself. I so greatly admire her!”

“I particularly appreciate Dawn’s skills when it comes to commencement,” said Deanna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation. “It’s great to welcome our newest alumni with a meticulously planned and executed commencement. It sets the stage for everything we do as the Alumni Association & Foundation.”