Chancellor's Blog

Rodli Hall Now and Then

When the past and future come together

February 5, 2020 | Dean Van Galen

Sometimes the past and the future come together in remarkable ways. This was my thought on Monday as we celebrated the re-opening of the newly renovated David Rodli Hall. On the outside, this building doesn’t look too different from the time when it was known as Rodli Commons, first dedicated as a dining facility on Nov. 17, 1968. Prior to the opening of our University Center in 2007, for thousands of students it was the place for campus “fine dining,” a reference that usually brings a chuckle from alumni of that era. Those alumni will recall the two dining halls in Rodli, known for the blue and green color of their classic 1960s carpet which apparently helped mask the signs of the food fights I have heard stories about (including one that is said to have started with “a single spoon of green Jell-O”).

While dining in Rodli Commons is now a nostalgic memory, the person whose name the building bears, David Rodli, hasn’t changed. On Monday, we recalled Mr. Rodli’s service to our institution as a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents from 1959 until his death in 1965 at which time he was president of the board. Mr. Rodli had a remarkable history himself, which included service to our country as a Navy veteran with time served in the South Pacific during World War II and work as manager of the St. Croix Electrical Cooperative in Baldwin. He is said to have been instrumental in obtaining Board of Regents approval for the creation of a journalism major at River Falls. Indeed, he was a staunch advocate of freedom and considered campuses places where students could learn about “all the great ideas,” even controversial ones – something we continue to value today. 

What most connected the past to the future for me, however, was learning more about Mr. Rodli’s commitment to providing educational opportunities for students. Another campus namesake, Dr. Walker Wyman, wrote about Mr. Rodli’s commitment to finding ways that “the state colleges could better serve the young people of Wisconsin” and his determination that they provide “educational opportunity for all who could benefit from it rather than only to those who could afford it” in his book “What’s in a Name? Buildings and Areas on the Campus of UW-River Falls.”

Mr. Rodli clearly cared about student opportunity and success, so it is only fitting that, following a $15.9 million renovation, David Rodli Hall is now home to our admissions office and a group of impactful programs and staff that will collaboratively and creatively focus on student success in a holistic way. From services such as health and counseling and financial aid, to offices promoting undergraduate research and study abroad opportunities, students will find support as well as life-shaping opportunities – all under one roof. The remodel also ensured the addition of several spaces dedicated to informal student collaboration and interaction, something we also know helps to foster academic success. While no longer dining there, students will still even be able to have a coffee and a snack in David Rodli Hall at “Café 74” (named after the year the River Falls Normal School was founded in 1874). For those alumni wishing to visit, please note that you are always welcome, but no green Jell-O will be served. 

Monday’s grand opening honored this connection with Mr. Rodli in meaningful ways. A current member of the Board of Regents, Cris Peterson, spoke about honoring Mr. Rodli’s legacy and the duty that the UW System Regents have when evaluating the importance of requests for facilities projects like this one. Our current student body president, Tate Schlichting, spoke about the impact that the new Rodli Hall will have on students, current and future. The day was made even more special as Sue Astin, David Rodli’s daughter and a 1971 UWRF alumna, shared fond memories of her father and his passion for education.

UW-River Falls has changed a great deal since David Rodli was a regent in the 1960s. I am proud of the way UW-River Falls continues to evolve to meet changing needs of students and society. The important purpose that public higher education serves, however, is the same as what Regent David Rodli knew it to be in 1965: to provide life-changing opportunities for students. On behalf of all of us, including the many future Falcons who will benefit from the building that carries your name, here’s to you, David Rodli. We are proud to live out your belief in the power of higher education. Our past and our future have come together.