A very brief history of Pioneer Memorial
by Ann George, Dana Review Spring 2005 Dana College Blair, Nebraska
Until recently, scaffolding covered much of Pioneer Memorial as workers made repairs after the severe hailstorm struck Blair a year ago in May, the evening after Commencement. To the casual observer, the most obvious repairs are a new tile roof and new copper gutters and downspouts.
“Our goal was to preserve the look of the original construction,” Bob Schmoll ’83, vice president of business affairs, said in discussing the work.
As a result, the 57-year-old building that everyone calls “PM” must closely resemble what it looked like to the 2,000 who attended its dedication, an outdoor ceremony, on Oct. 31, 1948, a Sunday afternoon on a Homecoming weekend.
Among those present, in addition to students, faculty and staff, alumni, friends and local residents, were representatives of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (UELC), the Danish Lutheran synod that
founded and supported Trinity Seminary and the college, institutions that shared campus
The size of the crowd at the dedication was evidence of the jubilation felt over the first new campus building in 20 years.
Furthermore, it was a handsome building that reflected the ties the college and seminary had to Denmark. The dedication program described the structure, designed by architect William Ingemann of St. Paul, Minn., as “an adaptation of contemporary Scandinavian architecture, accentuated by such features as the tower, the irregularity of line, and the brick frieze of the administration section.”
The dedication program also summarized the history of the fund-raising drive that made the building possible: “In 1941 the United Evangelical Lutheran Church launched the Jubilee Drive, $150,000 of which was designated for the new Administration-Library Building at Dana College and Trinity Seminary. The war years prevented erection of the building. One year ago the Church and School Development Drive was launched by the supporting church body. Included was a Dana Building Fund of $105,000 to cover the increase in construction costs. Residents and businessmen of Blair have also contributed to the building funds. The total cost of the structure is about $255,000.”
The new building was definitely needed. When enrollment increased after World War II, partly because of the G.I. Bill, the demands on Old Main – which housed college and seminary classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, laboratories, the chapel, the library, the bookstore and canteen – became too much.
A brochure prepared for the drive outlined the need for a new building. It noted that, among other problems, “We continue to use crowded library facilities in an ill-ventilated series of rooms. Even with crowding, however, we have space for only 50 students in the one and only reading room.” To show their support, students pledged $4,000 to the campaign.
After much debate over the building site, one was selected on the north side of College Drive, and work began. The Sept. 26, 1947, issue of the Hermes, the student newspaper, reported that excavation had started after two houses were moved to other locations on College Drive. (These were Bondo Memorial, the home of the president and his family, and the Bertelsen home. Both still stand.)
A month later, on Oct. 26, 1947, the cornerstone was laid at the southeast corner during a Homecoming ceremony attended by 500. Dr. Richard E. Morton, president of Dana and Trinity – and an alumnus of
both – wrote in the Nov. 8 Hermes, “This cornerstone laying is the beginning of a new era for Dana College and Trinity Seminary. It will cost much to reach our objective, but the cause warrants it.”
Dr. Verlan Hanson ’51 of Blair recalls that students followed progress on the building with “a lot of excitement, often crossing the street to watch construction” and that some students worked alongside crew members of the Korshoj Construction Company.
The Hermes continued to carry updates. The Oct. 1, 1948, issue announced that the completed building would be dedicated on Oct. 31, a year after the cornerstone laying, “on the steps of the tower entrance.”
But before the dedication, the library had to be moved. Dr. Peter L. Petersen ’62 writes in A Place Called Dana: The Centennial History of Trinity Seminary and Dana College, “Students moved the library on October 3. To the sounds of le Jazz hot blaring over the public-address system, the ‘book brigade’ commanded by Librarian Aagot Hoidahl and her assistant, Sena P. Bertelsen, spent most of a Saturday transferring nearly 10,000 volumes from their cramped quarters in Old Main to the spacious and fireproof new facility.”
A Hermes staff writer, reporting on the dedication in the Nov. 12, 1948, issue, observed that “The library is apparently the major source of interest and pleasure to students as far as the new Administration-Library building is concerned.” Looking back, Elaine (Madison ’51) Brostrom of St. Peter, Minn., who was a student library aide, agrees. She writes, “I remember the luxury of space in the new library – space for studying, of course, but also space in the work areas directed by Aagot Hoidahl.”
At first the new structure was simply referred to as the “Administration-Library Building,” and those words are cut into the limestone lintels above the two front entrances, “Administration” over the east door and “Library” over the west. But the building housed more than the administration and library. It also housed Trinity Seminary at the northeast corner of the third floor, some faculty offices as well as administrative, eight classrooms, a conference room, the chapel and the post office.
In A Place Called Dana Petersen writes that UELC president Dr. N.C. Carlsen had suggested years before that a future building might be named “Pioneer Memorial,” and that was the name eventually agreed upon after the dedication. Subsequently, at the synod’s 1949 convention a plaque was placed at the east entrance naming the building “Pioneer Memorial” in memory of Trinity and Dana pioneers “A.M. Andersen, Kr. Anker, C.X. Hansen, P.S. Vig, G. B. Christiansen and many other faithful men and women who contributed to the development and influence of Dana College and Trinity Seminary.”
Although the exterior of Pioneer Memorial remains essentially the same, interior spaces and the way they’re used have changed over the years to meet new situations and needs: In 1956 the area used by Trinity Seminary became available for college classes when the seminary moved to the Dubuque, Iowa, campus of Wartburg Seminary. (The move was in anticipation of the 1960 merger of the UELC with several other Lutheran synods; that same year Trinity merged with Wartburg Seminary.) By the mid 1960s the library had outgrown its shelf space of 50,000 books, and in 1969 there was another book brigade to a new library. The library space then became Parnassus, the center of the college’s Humanities Program; more recently it’s become the Community Training Computer Laboratory. Today Pioneer Memorial houses mostly administrative offices, although classes still meet in the large rooms at the northeast corner of the second and third floors.
Old Main, built in 1886, was destroyed by fire in 1988, and Alumni Memorial Auditorium, built in 1928, was demolished in 1982 because of structural problems. Both have been replaced – Old Main by the Margre
Henningson Durham Center and Trinity Chapel, and Alumni Memorial Auditorium by the Madsen Fine Arts Center. With the exception of Argo and Elk Horn Halls, Pioneer Memorial is the oldest building on campus. It continues to be an adaptable and key campus building, and Schmoll anticipates that it will be for many years to come – the new tile roof, he says, has a 75-year warranty. A crowd of more than 2,000 attended the 1948 Homecoming dedication of Pioneer Memorial.
Blair Historic Preservation Alliance | P.O. Box 94 | Blair, Nebraska 68008 | firstname.lastname@example.org