Sister Thomas Welder began her ministry at Mary College in the early 1960s. As part of the faculty as a music instructor directing the choirs, she also taught piano lessons. After thirteen years, she transitioned into mission advancement and fundraising, and ultimately assuming presidency in 1978 until 2009. Now, she serves on a part-time basis as part of the mission advancement team allowing her to stay in touch with the longtime friends of the university and allows for opportunities to share the story of Mary as well as the dream of the sisters, who are the founders and sponsors.
“If there has been a theme through the years, it’s been a theme of growth,” says Sister Thomas of University of Mary’s 60 year history. With that continued growth and nurturing, not only of the students and their futures, but of the university as a whole, also comes the growth of community relationships and surrounding partnerships. Perhaps a perfect match is the partnership between University of Mary and Dakota Community Bank & Trust (DCB&T).
“Dakota Community Bank & Trust came to Bismarck in the late 90s and almost from their arrival in Bismarck, a partnership and dynamic relationship grew between the two institutions,” mentions Sister Thomas. “I think we share so much, starting with a strong sense of identity. I think both institutions have a strong sense of who they are and what their mission is. The mission of University of Mary, that we are here to serve, the intellectual, the spiritual, the cultural needs of the people of the region, it focuses on the needs of the area and serving those needs. And I look at the mission statement for Dakota Community Bank & Trust, and I see the very same thing. There is this strong sense of service, of customer satisfaction and of service to the community.”
DCB&T has partnered and supported the University of Mary in several endeavors including their Vision 2030 campaign, their wrestling room, scholarships for students and student athletes, and annually during their Day of Service event in which DCB&T provides the food, grills and serves for all local students who volunteer on that day. Dale Pahlke, DCB&T president and CEO, has also graciously volunteered his time auctioneering at many University of Mary events including their Marauders Fest fundraiser. Along with that, and DCB&T employs several University of Mary graduates and has also assisted with student internships as well.
University of Mary and DCB&T mirror each other not only in their missions, but also in hospitality, building community, and respect for each other. She states, “I recently saw the definition of a neighbor as someone who can get to your house in a couple of minutes but then takes two hours to go back home. Not only does that have a North Dakota flavor, but it speaks to Dakota Community Bank & Trust. I think for Dakota Community Bank & Trust hospitality is always present.” Not only does Sister Thomas see hospitality at the forefront of both the university and DCB&T but she also sees leadership, and more specifically servant leadership, at the helm of both organizations.
Sister Thomas asserts, “Dale Pahlke as CEO and president lives servant leadership. He wouldn’t bother with defining it. He is too modest. He wouldn’t call himself that. But when I think of Dale as a model of servant leadership, I think of someone who will always do what is right for people, for his people. I think, within his teammates and his colleagues, he instills a kind of service where no one would cut corners in terms of quality. The other thing I think about is his focus. He focuses not only on the community itself but on the citizens within the community.”
“I think your understanding of community not only defines you within the title of the bank, but how you live it. You may use the word ‘community,’ but to build relationships, you have to serve each other. And I think that kind of understanding of community makes all the difference for the larger community,” she continues about DCB&T. “When we talk about quality and service, in terms of mission, I think that is lived every day again at Dakota Community Bank & Trust because there is a commitment to keeping the bank in tune with advancements, with technology as it continues to expand, and new opportunities are available through technology, even while ‘the service the remains old fashioned and hometown.’ It’s that amazing kind of balance between keeping the bank very modern but also very sensitive to progress and to technological achievement. But along with that, never losing that personal service that is so much a part of being from North Dakota – knowing the family, knowing the community, being able to greet people by name – that too is a real gift to the community.”
In her sixty year history with University of Mary, Sister Thomas has seen much advancement for the school and the surrounding community. She has witnessed firsthand expansion of buildings, programs, faculty, and students. She has witnessed students become servant leaders and how professionally-focused academic programs have enriched the lives of thousands of students worldwide.
Perhaps most importantly, she feels was the transition from Mary College to the University of Mary and how that transition focused on graduate programs. University of Mary offers that higher level of education right in their own community with younger students carrying on from their bachelor’s degree right into their masters or doctorate, as well as professionals that are in the workplace and then resume further education years down the road. Sister Thomas states that quality of life can really be increased when one is in the workforce and decides to continue their masters, being able to do so as they continue their job. “I think that is extremely helpful to the professional. You are in practice, but even as you are in practice, you are a student,” she closes.
From living a life of learning, Sister Thomas now has an on-campus library dedicated not only to her but also to all of the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery. The Welder Library has nearly 75,000 visitors each year, seats 204 students, and has 30 computer workstations. It has a collection of over 50,000 print volumes, more than 350,000 eBooks, over 3,500 multimedia items, and databases providing access to over 60,000 journals for the more than 3,800 students attending the flourishing university.
With locations in North Dakota, Arizona, Montana, Kansas, Rome, and Peru, both the University of Mary and Sister Thomas are yet far from completing their lifelong legacy sharing their gifts and serving others. For more information on the University of Mary and Sister Thomas Welder, please visit: https://www.umary.edu/.
Written by Lindsey Hefta, Marketing Director