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Viewpoint: Remembering Allan Hoben, president of Kalamazoo College and the man who built what became the Stryker Center
Published: Monday, June 06, 2011, 9:00 AM Updated: Monday, June 06, 2011, 9:15 AM

Viewpoint By
By Robert Stauffer

As the day draws near when the house at the southeast corner of Academy and Monroe will slowly make its way across the street, it is time to remember the man who first envisioned this house and who, along with his family, first lived there. That man was Allan Hoben, who is considered by many to be Kalamazoo College’s greatest president. Hoben assumed the presidency of Kalamazoo College in 1922 and remained in that position until his untimely death in 1935. Without Hoben, that house and indeed Kalamazoo College as we know it today, both in its physical character and its academic ethos, would not exist.

While only 48 years old in 1922, Hoben already
The Stryker Center, at top, is shown as it is prepared for its move across Monroe Street. It will be replaced by the Arcus Center, above. The Stryker Center was built as the home of Kalamazoo College President Allan Hoben.

had distinguished himself as a minister in Detroit, a professor in the divinity school at the University of Chicago and an activist in Chicago social reform movements, a YMCA official caring for American

soldiers in Europe during World War I and a member of the sociology department at Carleton College. His forte throughout was a deep concern for, and ability to promote, the intellectual and ethical growth of youth, and he arrived at Kalamazoo with a coherent and compelling vision of the kind of college that would most effectively enable this growth. This vision was at heart one of a deep and palpable community of students and faculty, unfettered by bureaucratic rules and facilitated by a sense of shared intellectual endeavor and purpose. In Hoben’s words, the college was to be “A Fellowship in Learning,” through which, “out of the interplay with minds past and present and in friendly contact with faculty members, the student evolves his best self and therefore his charter of service to mankind.”

Realization of this community — this “fellowship” — required more than eloquent language, however. When Hoben

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arrived in 1922, virtually all academic aspects of the college — classrooms, labs, library, faculty offices, auditorium — were squeezed into a single building (Bowen Hall, which no longer exists), and the grounds were in serious disrepair. Indeed, as Hoben noted, the western and undeveloped half of the “campus” was essentially “a dumping lot.” A mere 13 years later, and almost entirely due to Hoben’s indefatigable fundraising efforts and architectural vision, the main quadrangle as we know it today had taken shape with the construction of Olds Science Building, Mandelle Library (now the college’s administration building), Stetson Chapel, and Mary Trowbridge House (to serve as a women’s dormitory). With regard to Mandelle in particular, it is telling to hear how Hoben imagined the interplay of design and ethos; it should be, he wrote, “a gem architecturally but at the same time inviting, cozy, personal, and almost domestic especially in its interior impression.”

Even before any of these projects was undertaken, however, a more direct link between buildings and the goal of a fellowship in learning began higher up the college’s hill. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this fellowship, he believed, would be for faculty members, when possible, to live on campus and to invite students into their homes, both for social occasions and for small seminars. He thus proposed and oversaw the construction of seven faculty homes, first up Lovell Street and then north on Monroe. All of these were completed by 1930 and remained faculty homes throughout most of the century, providing decades of strong student-faculty ties as well as closely knit relationships among the faculty members and their families who lived there.

But the very first building Hoben proposed was the one at Academy and Monroe. He believed strongly that the president’s house should be on campus, such that he, too — as well as succeeding presidents — would be, by regularly hosting students, an integral part of the fellowship in learning. This house remained the president’s dwelling until the early 1970s, after which it has served, in one way or another, as a link to the larger Kalamazoo community, most recently as the L. Lee Stryker Center for Management Studies and Educational Services.

In 1933, the college’s centennial year, President Hoben first experienced the symptoms of the illness that would take his life two years later. But even by then, his impact was obvious. Not surprisingly, he was beloved by students, who, during the Hoben years, grew both in numbers and in preparedness for the college’s ever more demanding academic program.

One measure of this student esteem was reported in the student newspaper in 1927: “President Hoben … left Friday noon … for a well-earned vacation … in England and France. Classes being excused for the occasion, the entire student body, to the great surprise of the president, gathered at the Michigan Central station to bid him bon voyage.” Perhaps one reason for such student admiration was Hoben’s refusal to defer to the censure of some of his fellow (but conservative) Baptist clergy with regard to his permitting student dances on campus.

Yet by all accounts, the larger explanation must include his manifest interest in the well-being of each student and the compelling quality of his frequent chapel talks. Through these talks and by example, he had successfully nurtured a collective ethos that gave intellectual and moral purpose to a student’s life. But by its very nature, this ethos also shaped the special sense of vocation that permeated the faculty, the majority of whom Hoben had personally recruited during his tenure as president. By wedding their own disciplinary passions to remarkably dedicated and individualized teaching, these faculty members exemplified Hoben’s vision of a fellowship in learning, an ideal they

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would perpetuate well into the future. And finally, Hoben had become an important figure in the larger Kalamazoo community. In addition to his achievements at the college, his eloquence as writer and speaker made him much in demand by local clubs and churches, while his love for the theater led to his becoming the founding president of the Kalamazoo Civic Players.

In that same year of 1933, Hoben published a short essay titled, “Between You and Me” in the college newspaper, from which I will quote a few passages:

“I am sitting before the open fire in the house we built on the northwest corner of paradise. I am in love with the place, the people, and the work…. Stretching south and then east a group of snug homes quite as lovely, quite as rich in sentiment: riding serenely the old chaos which was once the western boundary of the campus. From any of the eastern windows one sees Trowbridge and feels that there, too, romance flutters like humming birds over flowers. The chapel tower gleams by day and night. Mandelle spells beauty and learning…. The mellow thing about it all is the memory and aroma of vital experience, the foray into the vast reaches of learning, the persons who led the attack and the comrades who marched by one’s side.… These are my musings, and out of them a very solemn vow not to fail my group, not to let ancient or contemporary greatness of any sort eclipse the joy of our little world; not to allow the thought that all things pass, like the marvelous civilizations of old, to paralyze the will to do my bit in the here and now as an atom in the stream that moves forever on.”

The Hoben era, of course, did pass, although its influence on Kalamazoo College persists even today in subtle and often unrecognized ways. It is not without irony that the short journey of Hoben’s house across and down Monroe Street—as the “northwest corner of paradise” is made ready for the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership —actually may help the college and the community better remember that era and that man. We all should be grateful to Gary and Cheryl Kuta for their commitment to moving and restoring this house, as the Hoben house, and to the college for its assistance in making this possible. The view of the campus may not be quite as capacious as President Hoben’s from his east and south windows, but the significance of the house and particularly its original occupant may, as should be the case, itself be restored.

Robert Stauffer is professor emeritus of sociology at Kalamazoo College © 2012 MLive.com. All rights reserved.

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Historic Kalamazoo Landmark For Sale

“Hobin House” 304 Monroe Street
Gary and Cheryl Kuta moved the historic "Hoben House" from its original site on the campus of Kalamazoo College to their lot at 304 Monroe St. in the summer of 2011. While the Kutas have accomplished much over the past months to re-furbish this neighborhood landmark, poor health precludes them from being able to complete the restoration process or anticipate moving into the home. We are offering this significant 4-5 bedroom, 2.5 bath home with over 2,800 sq ft as a "work in progress" to interested parties at a price of $175,000. Our hope is that the next owner will carry forward this exciting project and will make this important piece of Kalamazoo history their own. Call for a private showing and tour!