‘Modern Family’ star showed family around university campus April 7
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Southern Oregon University recently welcomed back one of its most distinguished graduates to the Ashland campus and awarded him one of the university’s top honors during his visit.
Actor Ty Burrell and his family visited the Ashland campus on Friday, April 7. The Emmy Award-winning actor, best known for his role as Phil Dunphy in ABC’s “Modern Family,” was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award at a studio at Jefferson Public Radio, and toured the campus with his wife, Holly, and their two children.
“Our alumni board does four annual awards and he was unanimously selected to be our Distinguished Alumni Awardee in 2018,” according to Mike Beagle, director of alumni relations for SOU, but Burrell was unable to make it in person to receive the award.
Between changes in schedules in 2019 and the pandemic in 2020 and subsequent years, more delays to receiving the award ensued.
“We thought, well this is the opportune time,” Beagle said of Burrell’s recent visit. “And so that was neat to be able to present that award.
“He deserved this,” Beagle added. “That’s the highest award we can (give) as the alumni association.”
Burrell was SOU’s Commencement speaker in 2008 and has visited the area since that time, but this is one of the more extended visits to the SOU campus since graduating in 1993.
Besides starring in “Modern Family,” his acting resume is diverse, and includes roles in “Blackhawk Down,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Muppets Most Wanted.” He was also had a role in Macbeth on Broadway and voiced characters from “Finding Dory” and “Storks,” according to Wikipedia.
Before his professional acting days, Burrell was born in Grants Pass and grew up in the Applegate area. He graduated from Hidden Valley High School in 1985.
He transferred into SOU from University of Oregon and graduated in 1993, according to Beagle.
Burrell earned his bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts while at SOU. He also served as a bartender for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, according to Wikipedia.
Burrell appeared to enjoy a visit to the campus as well, according to Beagle.
“That was precedent-setting for us,” Beagle said, of having him on campus. “I think he loved campus.
“He loved the beauty of it and remarked about that this is a special place, kind of nestled in the Siskiyous.”
During his tour of campus, which included a stop at the Plunkett Center, members of SOU’s softball team gave signed softballs to his young daughters, who share a love for the sport.
Burrell also toured the Theatre Arts building later that day, a focal point during Burrell’s time at SOU, where he spent much of his time. He was also shown the new gym, which he remembered fondly as the McNeal Pavilion.
“He lived out towards Emigrant Lake and he commuted in on bicycle,” Beagle said of Burrell’s time at SOU.
Beagle said one of his own favorite highlights from the day was taking Burrell to the Student “Rec” Center, where student workers showed him around the facility. Beagle also showed off the rock climbing wall, which was designed and built by a SOU alumni, to Burrell.
Some also couldn’t help but recognize his celebrity and asked for photos with him, which he cheerfully obliged.
“It became this line of five students, it was really cute,” Beagle said. “And he was just gracious and fun and personable the whole time.”
“That was a really neat thing for them, and he was really nice about it,” Beagle added. “He is a humble, gracious, concerned person, a family person. He’s just really down to earth and just a great guy. He shatters all the stereotypes I think we have about Hollywood and so forth.”
Burrell also met with students and faculty in Emerging Media and Digital Arts, including some faculty he had while at SOU.
Burrell and his family are contributing toward Theatre Arts scholarships for students, Beagle said.
“He’s doing the same at Oregon and Penn State,” Beagle said.
Burrell has a Masters of Fine Arts from Penn State and attended University of Oregon as well.
“It’s full circle,” Beagle said, of Burrell’s contributions back to his alma maters.
SOU President Rick Bailey was among those who attended his award ceremony, along with David Humphrey, director of the Oregon Center for the Arts.
“He was absolutely kind, thoughtful, humble and gracious,” Bailey told Ashland.news on Monday. “He took the time to meet with students, with faculty and staff and is an all around class act.”
“It was wonderful meeting him, not just as the president but as a fan,” Bailey added.
Bailey said Burrell spent most of his time while on a tour of campus reminiscing about old times.
“There are faculty and staff members who he really did and still does see as family so it was really beautiful to watch that, experience his reunion with them.”
“We are really excited at continuing this wonderful relationship with him and to continue to celebrate him as the superstar SOU graduate that he is,” Bailey added.
SOU has some 40,000 alums and Beagle said there is “untapped potential” therein, from educators to business and military leaders, artists and college professors.
“Most of our alums are from Ashland to Grants Pass, easily a third of them, and just that segment is untapped,” Beagle said.
He noted there are more than 800 alumni in Klamath County alone.
“So it’s exciting to see our growth in the Advancement Division to see that potential open up,” Beagle said.
Beagle emphasized that SOU’s approach to development is relationship-based.
“We’re constantly trying to find alums and friends who can help our students,” Beagle said. “But it’s called ‘development’ for a reason.
“You build that relationship over years and then it comes naturally,” he added.
Have comments, questions, story tips? Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at email@example.com.