Hundreds usher in grand opening of Nistler Hall
Nearly 600 people gather to celebrate completion of UND’s newest academic building
An overflow crowd offered thunderous approval on Friday as the Grand Opening of the University’s brand-new Nistler College of Business & Public Administration got underway.
UND’s Pride of the North marching band welcomed Werner and Colleen Nistler, along with several members of their family, to take part in the ceremonial opening of the building that bears their name. UND President Andy Armacost, Nistler College Dean Amy Henley, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski and Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, attended the event, and each spoke before the nearly 600 alumni, faculty, friends and family members gathered for the celebration. (Watch the video.)
A product of partnerships
Holding back tears, Henley said Nistler Hall is a product of both public and private partnerships. Of the latter, the Nistlers took the lead, with a generous gift of $20 million for the building’s construction. On Sept. 26, 2019, the State Board of Higher Education voted to name the business college after the Nistlers, whose donation set off a round of fundraising, including funds from the state that matched their gift. More than 250 donors contributed to the $70 million building project, and there are 62 named spaces in the building, Henley said.
“We have had outstanding partnerships with the state of North Dakota, the taxpayers, the city of Grand Forks, the tremendous team of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation and the outstanding faculty and staff in the Nistler College, and all of the generous donors who have made this building possible,” Henley said.
Before being called in to the auditorium for the grand opening ceremony and the accompanying ribbon cutting, eventgoers in multiple large groups toured UND’s newest building. Smiles lit up peoples’ faces as they encountered old friends and made new introductions.
Once the ceremony was underway, Henley, in her thanks to the Nistlers for their generous support, praised their ethical, family-based value system. Werner Nistler founded the retirement community Touchmark in 1980 and served as chairman and CEO. There are more than a dozen Touchmark communities across the United States and Canada.
“We are so incredibly proud that our students can see a lifetime of generosity and an ethical framework that they both live by,” Henley said. “What an incredible inspiration to our business and public administration students that you can build a dream based upon an ethical foundation and be this successful.”
Werner Nistler said the new building gives the college the opportunity to become a pillar for business and related education. Nistler Hall, and all the programs it contains, he said, complements outstanding programs at UND, including those in the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Nistler humbly thanked those involved in bringing his namesake building to completion, including members of the 2019 Legislature, who authorized $20 million in matching funds for the project. Particularly, he thanked Henley and DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, for bringing the request for funding before the state’s elected leaders. Rep. Sanford, he noted, helped usher the legislation to completion three days before the legislative session closed.
“Of course, there are many individuals who contributed to the money to make this happen, and Colleen and I get a lot of glory, but hey, it’s not about us, it’s about you, it’s about the University,” he said. “We’re just very pleased to be able to contribute to helping this building get started.”
As did other speakers, Armacost thanked everyone involved with bringing the Nistler Hall project to fruition, including the architects and tradespeople who worked on the building during the harsh North Dakota winter. He said Nistler Hall will be the place “where the magic is going to happen year after year, decade after decade,” in providing a world-class education.
Armacost thanked the Nistlers for their gift, but also for their time in advising UND administrators about the construction project, and about welcoming them into their family after months of working together.
“We know that this is a lifelong friendship, a lifelong relationship and a lifelong connection that is only going to benefit the students of the University of North Dakota,” Armacost said. “Thank you, Werner and Colleen.”
Armacost drew good-natured laughs when he told Henley he would introduce Sanford as the next speaker. It was the continuing expression of emotion on her face, perhaps, that brought him to the aid of his business college dean.
Sanford said the team of “D and D,” or DeAnna (Carlson Zink) and the dean (Amy Henley), wowed the House Appropriations Committee with their presentation for Nistler Hall. Securing state funding for such a project doesn’t normally occur with only days remaining in the legislative session. Sanford thanked everyone involved with plans for the building and called it an important edifice not only for UND, but for the state, as it’s cutting-edge design and technology will serve to attract students for years to come.
“Let me tell you, this will attract, and this will retain, and this will be a real anchor for North Dakota in our workforce development going forward,” Sanford said.
Located inside Nistler Hall is the City of Grand Forks Workforce Development Office. After taking the stage, Mayor Bochenski highlighted the partnerships between Grand Forks and UND, which resulted with the presentation of the Larry Abernathy Award from the International Town & Gown Association in June 2021. The Grand Forks Growth Fund authorized contributing $1.3 million in funding for Nistler Hall.
Bochenski, a graduate of the business college, said issues surrounding workforce development are important, and that he is grateful the city was able to help “finish off” fundraising for the Nistler building.
Shortly before the speakers gathered on stage to cut the ceremonial ribbon, Carlson Zink said of all the different emotions she felt to be opening Nistler Hall, the greatest was gratitude — gratitude to the Nistlers and the other donors, to the state and to everyone who worked on the building.
“Thank you for all being part of this collective ‘we’ that gets things done on behalf of our outstanding students,” she said.
And with that, the ribbon was cut, and UND’s newest beacon of education was welcomed into the campus community.