University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and athletic director Norwood Teague approached the state’s unofficial Mr. Hockey and school alum Lou Nanne late last year about becoming involved in the $190 million athletic facilities fundraising campaign.
“I said, ‘Definitely. I’d certainly love to be on your committee,’ ” Nanne responded. Kaler and Teague told him they had bigger plans, asking Nanne to chair the campaign.
Nanne reiterated his desire to be a committee member, only. The university officials persisted, and ultimately prevailed, thanks in part to Nanne’s memories of his grandfather.
“My grandfather used to have a word where, when I’d screw around and do things I shouldn’t be doing, he’d say, ‘Basta.’ B-A-S-T-A. That’s the Italian word for enough,” Nanne said. “Enough. I thought of that when they asked me. I said, ‘You know, I’ve had enough.’ I’ve had enough of hearing that the University of Minnesota can’t compete. I’ve had enough of hearing the University of Minnesota can’t recruit. I’ve had enough of hearing all these reasons why other places are going to succeed and we can’t.”
And so Nanne, at age 72, has taken on a role that he hopes will end the futility, especially in football, where the program’s last appearance in a major bowl was in 1962, by far the longest such drought of any Big Ten member. Nanne’s voice resonates with passion, leaving little doubt he’s the right man for the job because, well, he’s “a Gemini … with a lot of restless energy.”
He already has helped put in place an executive committee numbering 12 people, with room for two more, and a leadership group of 45. Nanne discussed his role in a wide-ranging interview last week at his downtown office — oh yes, he has a full-time job as Senior Managing Director for the global management asset arm of the Royal Bank of Canada.
“I’ve had the good fortune to follow the Gopher football team, and I’ve gone to these other places in the Big Ten, and I see these other places in the Big Ten and I say, ‘Why can they do it, and why can’t we?’ he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t. That’s why I got myself into this deal.”
That, and that word: Basta.
Q: Pretend I’m a potential donor. Tell me why this project is important and why I should contribute.
A: I think that everybody has looked at the University of Minnesota and just considered the people that donate to the University of Minnesota are alumni and the university is only involved with the alumni. Realistically speaking, the University of Minnesota is the engine that drives the state. … The University of Minnesota is the only research institution we have in the whole state, and we have to start looking at it as the jewel of the state — not just for the alumni.
Q: So you’re not just focused on the usual suspects, the alumni? You’re trying to expand the base of donors?
A: I don’t care if you went to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Robert Morris, North Dakota State, whatever it is. If you’re living in the state of Minnesota, you’re benefiting from the University of Minnesota in some way … [Athletics] creates emotions, and it touches a lot of people. So you have all the different athletic things that we have here, sports that we have here, that makes it a better place for students to come. If you have better students, then you have better faculty, you get better educated people, you get better output from the total university and it makes the whole state benefit from it.
Q: I would imagine it’s easy to get a list of potential alumni donors, but how do you find the people you’re talking about to expand it? How do you know where to go?
A: That’s a great question, and that’s why we have the leadership council we have because there are people from different walks of life that all have different circles of friends and business involvement and they lead us to these other potential donors and that’s what we need.