Title

Exhibit - Alumni Memorial Chapel

Paid entirely by the alumni of MSU, the Alumni Memorial Chapel was built to memorialize all Spartan men and women that served and died in the United States military forces during World War II.

History of the Alumni Memorial Chapel
Even though Michigan Agricultural College (now MSU) was not a religious institution, for the first several decades, students were required to attend chapel. The rule stated: “On Sabbath, students shall attend the public Religious Services held at the College; and during the hours not necessarily otherwise occupied, shall remain quietly in their rooms, and engage in nothing inconsistent with the proper observance of the day” (Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes, pg. 32, October 23, 1857.) If not observed, students could face disciplinary actions or expulsion. As time passed, the enforcement of mandatory chapel lessened. By 1885, attending chapel exercises was voluntary and in the winter of 1911, non-attendance at chapel was made unanimous (Beal, pg. 72-73). The original college chapel was located on the first floor of College Hall and services were held there until the building collapsed in 1918.

With the collapse of College Hall, the university did not have a religious chapel of its own. The People’s Church, the first church in East Lansing and located just off campus, helped fill the void for the faculty and students’ need for worship. The idea of a Memorial Chapel was discussed, but the necessity struck home when President John Hannah received a letter from the parents of a soldier’s dated March 3, 1945. Richard Osmer, who was stationed in Italy, wrote his father this:

“The other day when I was reading over the casualty list in the last MSC RECORD, I remembered that the College does not have a chapel. Why wouldn’t it be a good idea to approach MSC Alumnae, particularly those who might be well to do, and start a fund towards the construction of a chapel in memory and honor of those who have given their lives in this present war. The natural name, of course, would be Memorial Chapel and would be a very fitting memorial. MSC has no chapel and I have always thought there are several beautiful spots on the campus which would make a fine setting for such a building.”

Hannah responded to Richard’s father, Lawrence Osmer, saying that it was a good idea but didn’t know if enough funds could be collected for such a building. Also, the college was planning to add a major addition to the Union Building and commented that the chapel could maybe be included. From there, the idea grew for a Memorial Chapel.

On June 8, 1946, Alumni Day and Commencement Day, President Hannah announced that a Memorial Center, consisting of a chapel and international center, would be constructed to honor the memory of MSC’s former students who gave their lives during the war. The chapel would provide a religious house on campus and the international center would have a better, permanent home. The proposed location for the center was on the high ground just east of the Beal Botanical Gardens.

The project was proposed by the Alumni Advisory Council and would be entirely funded by alumni donations. Glen O. Stewart, ’17, Director of Alumni Relations for the college, coordinated the program for collecting donations. The estimated cost for the project was around $300,000. On March 1, 1947, the opening phase of soliciting donations through mailers began. Alumni were sent a letter and a booklet entitled “We Accept Our Heritage…” describing the need for the center, proposed drawings for both buildings, where it would be located, proposed budget costs, the committee members information, and a list of names of MSU soldiers that died during WWII. Included with the booklet was a donation slip and envelope for the Memorial Center Fund.

By April 1948, the Memorial Center Fund passed the $100,000 mark. Through the summer and fall of that year, the Council kept pushing for more donations, with the goal of 100% alumni contributing, but donations were slowing down. Reported at the June 3, 1949 Alumni Advisory Council meeting, the total pledged to the Memorial Fund was $163,735.00. Finally, at the October 21, 1949 meeting, the Council understood that they were still $146,000 short of their goal. The money they currently had would not allow them to build the Memorial Center. At that meeting, by a unanimous decision, it was decided that a chapel would be built, with the international center put on hold. The Board of Trustees approved the idea with new plans drawn up for the design of a chapel.

In the fall of 1950, construction began on the new Alumni Memorial Chapel. The location was moved to the North bank of the Red Cedar River, across from Shaw Hall. It was felt that the original location (where the library is now) would be suitable for the chapel but there wouldn’t be the allowed space for the later addition of the international center. Also, with the chapel going to be a standalone building, several Alumni Advisory Council members expressed that it should look like a chapel, with one member commenting that it, “doesn’t need a sign above the door to tell what it is.” To help, architect Ralph Calder, added a small tower to the backside of the chapel. The final design for the chapel appeared on the August 1, 1950 cover of “The Record” for all alumni to see.

The Alumni Advisory Council was hoping for the chapel to be completed in time for the 1951 Commencement ceremony, but unfortunately, it took another year before it was completed. Finally, on June 7, 1952, the Alumni Memorial Chapel was officially dedicated.

The Interior of the Alumni Memorial Chapel
Entrance
Inside the chapel’s narthex, above the entrance to the nave, is a sign that reads, “These names represent those who died in the armed forces.” The walls are engraved with the 589 names and dates of the men and women that died. Even though the chapel was dedicated to the fallen of World War II, all MSU-affiliated men and women that died during military service have been included. 1861 marks the earliest when the first graduating class left to fight in the Civil War. The most recent names are from 2005.

Windows
The chapel is an interdenominational spiritual center for all faiths and religions. The beauty of the chapel lies in the thirty-eight stained glass windows. When the chapel opened in 1952, the only stained glass windows installed were the ones above the chancel. At the time, the Council did not have the finances to complete all of the windows. As the years passed, individuals and graduating classes donated money for the stained glass windows to be made and installed. The window designs were selected so any person of any faith can enter the chapel and not feel offended by symbols of any religion and most are arranged into groups of three, also called a triptych. In 1950, a committee was established to consider the subject matter of the windows, which than led to a sub-committee to draw up specific suggestions for the themes selected. For over eight years, the committees worked on themes, designs, ideas, and depictions for the east windows. The Willet Stained Glass Studios of Philadelphia designed all thirty-eight windows in the chapel. The windows on the left side of the chapel represent education experiences as they relate to modern life. The windows on the right side of the chapel tell the history of Michigan State University, and the windows at the front represent, “Religion, Brotherhood, and Patriotism.” Today, the windows are registered in the Michigan Stained Glass Census. To learn more about the Alumni Memorial Chapel’s stained glass windows and view images, please visit http://www.michiganstainedglass.org/collections/building.php?id=17-83-3.

Stones in Chapel
Throughout the chapel are thirty-one stones, some over 500 years old, taken from bombed European cathedrals that have been set into the walls of the narthex, nave, chancel, and basement. Four stones are from England, two from France, twenty-four from Germany, and one from the Netherlands. Some of the stones originated from St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and Cathedral of Regensburg in Germany. There is a stone from the White House and a stone from the grave of Henry F. Lyte, composer of “Abide with Me” for a total of thirty-three stones. Many of these stones were given as gifts, in support of the chapel representing the men and women that died for our country but also for theirs. In a letter to Joe White, Lothar Schroeder from Brunswick, Germany, offered a piece of his church and was proud of why he was sending it. He said, “And are they not also died for our freedom?”

Organ
A generous gift of O. W. Mourer, an organ built by the Pels Company of Alkmaar, The Netherlands was installed in the chapel. The organ was built and tuned in the Netherlands then dismantled and shipped to the Michigan Organ Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Michigan Organ Company designed and installed the organ. In total, there are 1331 pipes. The organ was dedicated on June 6, 1953, almost exactly one year later from when the chapel was dedicated. Sadly, the organ no longer works. Over time, the pipes have suffered damage from warping. The College of Music hopes to install a new organ which would again allow music to be played during services and weddings. To learn more about the organ renovation project, please visit http://music.msu.edu/alumni-and-friends/giving-to-music/msu-alumni-memorial-chapel-organ-renovation-project.

Other Gifts
Along with the stones, stained glass windows, and organ, in a wooden display case in the narthex, is a collection of old Bibles. Sixty-nine bibles are in different languages, including Swahili and Burmese. Also included is a King James Bible from 1759.

The Alumni Memorial Chapel Today
The Alumni Chapel is open year round and holds over 160 weddings annually. A wide assortment of ceremonies take place at the chapel and can only be reserved by MSU students, faculty, staff, alumni and their parents/grandparents.

Sources
Alumni Chapel windows, 1951-1959, 1968, Box 594, Folder 52, Harry H. Kimber Papers, UA 17.27, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Beal, W.J. (1915). History of the Michigan agricultural college and biographical sketches of trustees and professors. East Lansing: Agricultural College.

Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, 1857, Board of Trustee Records, UA 1, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Buildings and Facilities, Memorial Chapel – Subscription, Campaigns, Correspondence, 1947-1953, n.d., Box 2411, Folder 48, Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Dedication, 1952, Box. F.D., Folder 2, Alumni Memorial Chapel Records, UA 5.5.5.1, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

General Subject Files – Alumni Memorial Chapel, 1943-1952, Box 51, Folder 49, John Hannah Papers, UA 2.1.12, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

M.A.C. Record, The

Memorial Center Subscriber Newsletter, 1947-1948, Box F.D., Folder 1, Alumni Advisory Council Records, UA 10.2.1, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Michigan Stained Glass Census. http://www.michiganstainedglass.org/collections/building.php?id=17-83-3

Michigan State University. Information Files. Buildings. Alumni Memorial Chapel. Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

MSU Alumni Memorial Chapel Organ Renovation Project. http://music.msu.edu/alumni-and-friends/giving-to-music/msu-alumni-memorial-chapel-organ-renovation-project 

MSUAA – Alumni Advisory Council, 1945-1963, Box 5589, Folder 2, Office of the President, UA 2, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Stanford, L., & Dewhurst, C. (2002). MSU campus: Buildings, places, spaces. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Subject Files, Alumni Memorial Chapel, 1951-1954, 1957, n.d., Box 433, Folder 128, MSU Alumni Association Records, UA 10.2, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

 
Exhibit written by Jennie Russell, July 2017

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