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      WIU challenged to pursue greatness

      And on during the Founders Day celebration President Dr. Jack Thomas shared his vision for the schools future.

      Western Illinois University opened its doors more than 100 years ago.

      Now the school has thousands of alumni across the U.S.and around the world.

      On Monday WIU President Jack Thomas offered a challenge for greatness to the school as it marked its 20th Founders Day celebration.

      The traditional ringing of the WIU's first school bell was a reminder of the WIU's great history.

      And on during the Founders Day celebration President Dr. Jack Thomas shared his vision for the schools future with a challenge to move from being a good school to a great university.

      "I talked about some of the challenges that we have in terms of the budget challenge, enrollment and reductions that we have in terms of state appropriation," President Thomas said. "And that now we are becoming more like a private institution where we are having to do a lot of fundraising."

      Dr. Thomas says that one of the keys to achieving greatness is recruiting and retain academically excellent students.

      "That's our goal is to make sure that we boost our retention and graduation rates here at the institution." Thomas said.

      The highlight of today's celebration came when Brad Bainter, the Vice President for Advancement and Public Services announced that WIU had reached its 60 million dollar fundraising goal early thanks to the generous seven figure gift from alumni and longtime WIU supporters Ken and Lorraine Epperson.One and a half million dollars of that money will go to help the planned Performing Arts Center on campus.

      "I can't think of a better couple that we can recognize and honor for their efforts by honoring them today for their gift that put us over our campaign goal of 60 million dollars." Bainter said.

      Despite the challenges ahead Dr. Thomas is confident that WIU is on the right track.

      "We will become the great university that we want to be because, with the help of all of the individuals, all of the constituencies here at the institution and the community." Dr. Thomas said.

      The Epperson's gift will be used to help bring the school's long awaited Center for Performing Arts to life.

      The couple have worked to put a performing arts center on the campus since the 1970s.