Gary and Wendy Rust to Receive Southeast ‘Friend of the University’ Award


A Cape Girardeau newspaperman and his wife, Gary and Wendy Rust, have been chosen as recipients of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation’s 2004 “Friend of the University” award.

Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, will present the award April 23 at the annual President’s Council dinner at the Southeast Student Recreation Center.

The “Friend of the University” award, which recognizes those who support and who are closely associated with the mission, purposes, plans and programs of the University, is the highest honor bestowed by the Southeast Missouri University Foundation. When the Foundation Board established this award, it also established the criteria for the Friend of the University. The Friend of the University must be a person who has the respect of the community and the University, and whose actions have confirmed their interest and involvement with the University.

In announcing this year’s award, Dobbins said both Gary and Wendy Rust and their family have a long history of association with the University and both have been active in University organizations.

“Gary and Wendy have made many contributions to the University over the years,” Dobbins said, “including generous gifts to help build Dempster Hall for the Harrison College of Business and the River Campus. In 2004, the Rusts finalized a high six-figure gift to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation to help build and furnish a 200-plus-seat flexible theater at the River Campus.

“We are delighted to honor Gary and Wendy Rust as this year’s Friends of the University,” said Dobbins. “We could not have selected any award recipients with greater love for the University or greater appreciation for its role in the life of the community and the region. The Rust family’s financial generosity is only one reason for the recognition being bestowed on them by the Foundation. They have also given generously of their time, talent and interest.

“Gary served as a member of the University Foundation Board of Directors for 13 years, and became a director emeritus in 2000,” Dobbins said. “Gary and Wendy and their firm, Rust Communications, are members of the Copper Dome Society at the President’s Council ‘distinguished fellow’ level.

“Gary has also served the University as a member of the presidential assessment committee in the 1980s and as a member of the presidential search committee in 1995-1996. He is also a great supporter and Booster of the athletic program,” Dobbins said.

“Wendy is a long-time supporter of arts and theater education at the University, and served as president of the University School Parent-Teacher Association when her children attended the laboratory school on campus,” Dobbins said. “For many years, she has served as chairperson of the Mary Johnson Tweedy Trust within the University Foundation, with the role of supervising landscaping and maintenance of the Johnson Faculty Centre.”

He continued, “Gary, Wendy, and their talented family have lived in close proximity to the University campus for many years, and they are regular participants in cultural, athletic and educational events at Southeast. In addition, Gary has been a trusted advisor to University presidents over a long period of time, and my predecessors and I have always welcomed his willingness to provide insights and assistance in difficult times.

“The University is fortunate to have friends with the Rusts’ level of commitment over such a long period, and we appreciate the opportunity to recognize their constancy and dedication with this award.”

Gary is founder and chairman of Rust Communications, an information media company with headquarters in Cape Girardeau, which owns 18 daily newspapers and more than 30 weekly newspapers, 20 Web sites, and several niche magazines in seven states. Among the media properties in Southeast Missouri are the Southeast Missourian, Dexter Daily Statesman, Daily Dunklin Democrat,, Concord Printing Services, and partial ownership of Mississippi River Radio. He is part-owner of the Sikeston Standard-Democrat and Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic.

Born in Cape Girardeau and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Gary is a life-long resident of the city who has been active in many civic and community organizations. For six years, he served in the Missouri House of Representatives, where he was a member of the Appropriations Committee. His newspaper and community achievements have been recognized with the highest awards from the Inland Press Association, the Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce. He was recently inducted into the Missouri Press Hall of Fame.

Raised in Kirkwood, Mo., Wendy moved to Cape Girardeau during high school. She studied art on a national fine arts scholarship at Washington University in St. Louis and has held numerous leadership positions with the Southeast Missouri Council on the Arts. In 1983, the Council on the Arts recognized her with the Otto F. Dingeldein Award.

She has been vice president of the statewide Missouri Citizens for the Arts; and a member of the St. Louis-based Committee for the Arts in Missouri, and the local Community Concert Association and Creative Arts Guild. She is a former publisher of Tipoff Magazine. In 1989, she was named Missouri Mother of the Year by the Missouri Mothers Association. In 1995, she painted the murals in the children’s meeting rooms at La Croix United Methodist Church, where she and Gary are active members.

Gary and Wendy have six children, all of whom, like Gary, attended the University’s laboratory school. Two also attended the University, as did two daughters-in-law. Wendy’s mother, Virginia Kurka Frenzel, worked at the University for 15 years in the registrar’s office and as supervisor of data processing.

Previous recipients of the Friend of the University Award include Margaret Woods Allen, Anne Bradshaw, Louis D. Brodsky, Delmar A. Cobble, Rosemary Berkel Crisp, Robert A. Dempster, Sen. John Dennis, John W. Glenn, B. W. Harrison, Donald L. Harrison, Martin Hecht, Earl and Marjorie Holland, Rush H. Limbaugh, Sr., Guy and Claudine Pinckley, State Rep. Marvin E. Proffer, Otto and Della Seabaugh, Aleen Vogel Wehking, and Judith R. Wilferth.

The new flexible theatre, a special interest of the Rusts, will be located in the center of the new theatre complex at the River Campus, site of the University’s planned School of Visual and Performing Arts.

It will be an open, rectangular space in which the performance area and audience can be arranged in any number of typical configurations including proscenium, thrust, arena and others. It is designed for the performances that are produced or presented by the Department of Theatre and Dance, though it is capable of serving other users as well. 

It is designed and equipped to meet the audience experience and technical requirements of drama performances appropriate to the University and other presenters.

The interior dimensions are 54 feet wide by 74 feet long, with a ceiling height of 21 feet.  It is expected that in most configurations the space will seat approximately 200, although exact seat count will always depend on the unique configuration of each production. 

The flexible theatre is, as its name implies, adaptable in nature.  All seats are portable to allow for various viewing configurations. To accommodate the anticipated most common seating arrangement with some form of “end stage,” a set of retractable risers are built into one end of the room.  To increase end stage seating and to provide for optimum sightlines for the audience on the main level, a rectangular portion of the floor near the center of the room, and at the edge of the extended risers, is recessed such that stepped platforms can continue below main floor level into this depressed area – thus increasing the distance from the acting area floor and the first row of audience seats.  

A control room at the rear provides for stage management, lighting control and sound control.  Sound can also relocate temporarily into the auditorium as needed for rehearsal or performance by plugging the control console into built-in faceplates located at floor level. 

Approximately 18 feet above the main finished floor is a pipe grid for mounting lighting and scenery around the majority of the space. To maximize efficient use of resources, the Flexible Theatre shares its front-of-house public spaces and back-of-house support spaces with the other performance spaces in the building.  

The seat count, seat distribution, auditorium width, overall volume, other auditorium and stage measurements and all technical systems are designed and equipped to accommodate a range of different types of performances, primarily drama.  Technical equipment and systems are designed to accommodate those particular needs. 

The River Campus is located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, between Morgan Oak Street and the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. The property includes approximately 50,000 square feet of existing interior building space and 16.6 acres of real estate. Plans call for the renovation of the existing major buildings on the River Campus, while preserving their exterior appearance, and the creation of approximately 100,000 gross square feet of new space, including the flexible theatre to be created with the help of the Rust family’s gift.

The flexible theatre will be one of several facilities on the River Campus classified as “joint facilities” under an agreement between Southeast Missouri State University and the City of Cape Girardeau. Other joint facilities are a large performance hall with approximately 950 seats, the regional museum, and a public access scenic overlook of the Mississippi River. These joint facilities will be operated under the supervision of the River Campus Board of Managers appointed jointly by the City of Cape Girardeau and the University’s Board of Regents.

The joint facilities and other University facilities on the site, subject to availability, will be available for community meetings, touring exhibits, service clubs, charitable activities and other public uses.

The River Campus is a cooperative project with the State of Missouri, the City of Cape Girardeau, private donors and the federal government. Total cost of the project is estimated at $35.6 million. The cooperative financing structure calls for $16.55 million from the State of Missouri, $8.9 million from the City of Cape Girardeau and $10.15 million from private donors through the Southeast Missouri University Foundation.

The University broke ground on the River Campus site in May 2003 so the new entry to the property off the Fountain Street extension would be ready when the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge opened in late 2003. University officials said the River Campus new construction and renovation is expected to begin in early 2005 and is expected to be completed by early 2007.