With a prayer and a toast, the long-awaited Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center was officially dedicated amid a cheering crowd on Aug. 1. More than 200 supporters lined the stone benches of the building’s front courtyard, vowing with hoots and hollers to support the new culture the modern, 85,000-square-foot facility represents.
In a fitting tribute to the site of the center focused on student community and well-being, the ceremony kicked off with a traditional blessing by Lakota Spiritual Adviser Robert Cross. Pointing an eagle feather toward the sky in honor of the tribes that once called the land home, Cross sent “a voice to his ancestors” and chanted “a prayer of healing and wellness for all of us.”
A line of speakers echoed the message that the new centerpiece to the University of Colorado Denver campus stands unique, moving beyond a traditional university recreation center to a hub focused on the social, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, environmental and creative success of its community.
CU students and the city
“We are confident that the programming and physical amenities inside this building across the multiple dimensions of wellness will have a very positive impact on our students’ experiences now and for years to come,” Chancellor Dorothy Horrell told the audience gathered to celebrate the center that has been four years in the making.
“What makes this so special is that this building was conceived by, and is being funded by, our remarkable students,” Horrell said, noting that their dream could not come true without the immeasurable support of CU and city community members, pointing to three particularly special guests in the audience.
“Lola and Rob, we salute you,” Horrell said to CU Denver’s first-ever building namesakes and longtime Denver philanthropists, Lola and Rob Salazar, who made a $10-million donation through their Salazar Family Foundation. The family’s self-made business success should serve as inspiration for students that, through hard work, dreams can come true, Horrell said. “You certainly have helped make our students’ dream a reality.”
Horrell also acknowledged Joanne Posner-Mayer, a CU alumna and fitness-ball exercise pioneer who supported a student kitchen for the facility. “Her grandmother had been a cook and her father a baker,” Horrell said, noting the Posner family was a cornerstone in the local business community for years. “Just as the kitchen is the heart of every home, Joanne hopes the Posner Family Kitchen will be the heart of the wellness center.”
Building a community
Community areas and reflective rooms are as integral to their conception as fitness studios and swimming pools, said Scott Cao (BS, ’17) and Allie (Kriese) Hartman (BA, ’16), two alumni who spearheaded an impressive campaign during their time as student leaders.
“I’ve been around politics a long time,” said CU President Bruce Benson in introducing the pair. “And I’ve seen a lot of campaigns. The campaign they ran here was as good as any campaign ever run any place,” Benson said, noting that after canvassing the student body for a 20-percent election turnout, the proposed center passed 61 to 39. “That’s a landslide.”
And that was just the beginning for the group of student leaders who conceived the idea in a van when returning from a retreat, just after succeeding in bringing Milo the Lynx and intramural sports to life on the traditionally commuter campus. “We said: What’s next?” Cao said.
After surveying their peers, the student leaders learned the demand went beyond a recreation center. “Students wanted a place to microwave food, to study, to meditate, to hang out,” Cao said. “They wanted a place for CU Denver to form its community.”
Bringing people together
A full-fledged lobbying effort ensued, earning the support of faculty, administrators, regents and, finally, state lawmakers. “Thank you, Bruce, for being in our corner,” Cao told Benson, also thanking Regent Sue Sharkey in the audience. “We got all of the support because we had the backing of our students and the backing of our administration,” said Cao, now a medical student on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
What’s the first thing they want to use in the new Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center?
- “Well, it won’t be the climbing wall (laugh). The treadmill and yoga classes.” ̶ CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell
- “The rock climbing wall looks awesome.” ̶ Erin Salazar, daughter-in-law of Lola and Rob Salazar
- “The cardio room and the yoga and meditation studios.” ̶ Lola Salazar, (MA, ’92)
- “The climbing wall. Your body is like a puzzle piece.” ̶ Joanne Posner-Mayer
- “The resistance training. It has a full range of equipment arranged well.” ̶ CU Provost Roderick Nairn
“I think the most profound thing about this project is that it brings people together,” said Hartman, who traveled from her new home in Anchorage to be at the ceremony. “I hope that’s the story for CU Denver students for years to come ̶ that they come here, and they find community,” said Hartman, who now works for the University of Alaska.
“I hope that this building stands as testament to the energy that CU Denver students bring to their education and to the enthusiastic support that the CU Denver community offers students in elevating the student voice and student success,” she said.
On your mark, get set
Calling the day probably the most exciting in her professional career, Amber Long said she took the reins as executive director of Wellness & Recreation Services exactly two years ago to the day. “Now we’re standing here today at the starting line of this new community, this new culture on this campus.”
Calling on the audience to help collectively shift the culture along with her staff of 11 full-time and 65 student “wellness warriors” by leading by example and taking care of themselves, she asked everyone to raise their souvenir CU Denver water bottles in a toast. “On your mark,” she said, as the crowd lifted their bottles in the air. “Get set,” she said, as bottles were tipped to be sipped. “Be well.”