UNMC breaks ground on new welcome center

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public relations | June 25, 2019

Image with caption: It was a special day for the Wigton and Olson families, the two lead donors on the Wigton Heritage Center. From left-right - Judith Wigton, James Wigton, M.D., Deborah Wigton, Robert Wigton, M.D., and David Olson, M.D. The lead donors were Dr. Robert Wigton and the Leland J. and Dorothy H. Olson Charitable Foundation.

It was a special day for the Wigton and Olson families, the two lead donors on the Wigton Heritage Center. From left-right - Judith Wigton, James Wigton, M.D., Deborah Wigton, Robert Wigton, M.D., and David Olson, M.D. The lead donors were Dr. Robert Wigton and the Leland J. and Dorothy H. Olson Charitable Foundation.

The idea for the new Wigton Heritage Center first formed during a visit to China, and blossomed during a visit to the Guggenheim Pavilion at Mt. Sinai Medical Center.

"(In China), they would bring us to a welcome center with archives and paintings and manuscripts to instill a sense of the grandeur and history of that great campus," said Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

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Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., chancellor of UNMC and UNO (right), recognized the two lead donors on the Wigton Heritage Center -- Robert Wigton, M.D. (left) and David Olson, M.D., representing the Olson Foundation.

On Monday, the campus community gathered to ceremonially break ground on its own campus welcome center -- the Wigton Heritage Center -- as well as launch the renovation of Wittson Hall and the McGoogan Library.

"Today is a vibrant example of the public-private partnerships that really build the future," Dr. Gold said, noting the caring, generous and visionary philanthropists within Omaha, the state and beyond.

The 10,000-square-foot Wigton Heritage Center will celebrate and memorialize UNMC's history, while also serving as a campus welcome center. In addition, the fully privately funded project will replace the existing walkways between Wittson Hall and University Tower and preserve the exterior columns of University Tower. The buildings will be connected through a multi-floor space.

"Beautiful spaces are important," Dr. Gold said, "but at the end of the day it is always about the people and programs that fill the space."

The $26 million project includes the $18 million renovation of Wittson Hall, which was supported by LB 957 funds, and $8 million for the Wigton Heritage Center, philanthropically supported by UNMC historian, alumnus and faculty member Robert Wigton, M.D., and the Leland J. and Dorothy H. Olson Charitable Foundation.

UNMC's unofficial campus historian, Dr. Wigton is a 1969 alumnus of the College of Medicine who served as professor in internal medicine at UNMC and in several key administrative areas in the College of Medicine, including associate dean for graduate medical education. The Wigton legacy spans three generations with several physicians within the family serving UNMC. On Monday, Dr. Wigton was joined by his wife, Deborah, and his brother, James Wigton, M.D., class of 1981, and his wife, Judith.

The Olson Foundation was represented Monday by 1972 UNMC alumnus and former internal medicine faculty member David L. Olson, M.D., and his siblings, Karen Olson, M.D., a 1991 UNMC College of Medicine graduate, and Nancy Olson.

Dr. Gold also thanked the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, the Nebraska Legislature including Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk who attended Monday's event, and the University of Nebraska Foundation.

"This is a great day for the McGoogan Library and for the campus," said Emily McElroy, director of the McGoogan Library, which, next year, celebrates the 50th anniversary of being placed atop Wittson Hall.

The construction project, she said, will enable the library to display its extensive and renowned rare book collection, as well as the artifacts and photos that "tell the legacy of UNMC." The library's namesake, Leon S. McGoogan, past chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at UNMC, once dreamed of having 24/7 access and a museum-like archives, she said. "McGoogan would be thrilled with this project."

Dele Davies, M.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the transformational project would "provide a historical anchor." Wittson Hall, he said, is the heart of the UNMC campus and a major arterial that connects the educational and clinical facets of campus.

The project will include a new faculty commons for collaboration, an interactive e-learning lab, a maker space for printing innovative 3D prototypes, two dozen quiet rooms for students to study and wellness spaces to meditate and de-stress. The Wittson Hall project will be completed in the second half of 2020; the Wigton Heritage Center will open in 2021.

Faculty Senate President Allison Cushman-Vokoun, M.D., Ph.D., recalled the time she spent in Wittson Hall as a medical student, graduate student and resident. It was there, she said, that she met her husband, found journal articles and took her first United States Medical Licensing Examination. The Wigton Heritage Center will foster an appreciation of UNMC's present and shape its extraordinary future, she said, noting how it is "our ancestry.com."

Keith Ozanne, a fourth-year medical student and president of the UNMC Student Senate, looks forward to the natural lighting that will fill the library and the 24/7 access, which is ideal for night owls and early risers. "It's a shining example of marrying our past and future," he said.

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Participants in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Wigton Heritage Center were: (left-right) Keith Ozanne, fourth-year medical student/president of the UNMC Student Senate; Allison Cushman-Vokoun, M.D., Ph.D., president, UNMC Faculty Senate; Dele Davies, M.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs; Robert Wigton, M.D., the donor who the building will be named after; Emily McElroy, director, McGoogan Library of Medicine; David Olson, M.D., the Olson Foundation was one of the two donors on the building; and Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., chancellor of UNMC and UNO.

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Tom O'Connor
June 25, 2019 at 8:25 AM

Another great day for UNMC! Kudos to the donors who made this possible and to the state legislature for their tremendous support!