A building can be more than just a structure that stands permanently in once place – the case for Mott Academic Center, the 50-year-old heart of Olivet College learning and development. Nearly every student’s educational journey includes Mott at the core, but more importantly, the relationships and memories that were created within. The building is named for Charles Stewart Mott, an engineer and entrepreneur, but also a philanthropist and public servant. Like the founders of Olivet College, Charles Mott was forward thinking and dedicated to helping others be more and do good.
In the spring issue of Shipherd’s Record, a special collection of stories shared more about Mott Academic Center’s past and future in “If These Walls Could Talk.” Mott has not stood still. It is alive, and it’s moving toward the next 50 years. This piece was written by Terry Donnelly ‘68, and shares a look at Mott’s beginning. Read the full magazine online now.
Mather Hall was stately. It stood proudly next to the Adelphic Alpha Pi House and faced the square. Mather was the science building. I was more interested in the humanities, so I never had a class in that building, but it was a perfect representation of the tone the school set – quiet, proud, stoic.
In August of 1964, when I arrived on campus, classes were held in a collection of old buildings, former homes purchased by the college, and downtown buildings. Professor Arthur Stevens conducted his History of Western Civilization class for all freshmen in the Oaks movie theatre down the hill – on Saturday morning, no less (an explanation of that bit of sadistic scheduling will be saved for a different story). The only modern building on campus, the Lester Kirk Collegiate Center, an extreme contrast in architecture, stood directly across the square from Mather. They seemed poised, facing each other, waiting for high noon and a duel between generations.
Shortly after the fall term of 1965 started, demolition crews showed up and in just a few days, Mather Hall was a pile of bricks. It had stood for 80 years and served as an anchor, keeping the ebb and flow of student life grounded.
For the next two years, the bustle of construction was a sideshow to the hum of academia. Those of us in the Adelphic House were quite sure the giant wing that was being built just outside our round-room tower was going to keep creeping closer and eventually swallow up our hallowed hall. First there was a steel skeleton and then the growing monster began morphing into a maze of halls and rooms stacked on top of each other. Eventually, it became enclosed with brick, metal, and glass – a modern structure to challenge the Kirk Center for style and amenities.
As Mott progressed from a hole in the ground, to skeleton, to actual building, it served as a recreation center for late night student activity. Names withheld here, but a non-specific “we” roamed the in-progress halls, trying to determine what the rooms would look like, climbed to the roof for a bird’s eye view of campus, and even hot-wired one of the construction Caterpillars for a midnight joyride. I’m certain the help “we” provided made the finished product even grander.
Finally, Mott Academic Center was ready for action as fall term of the 1967-68 school year began. The building was used for all academic disciplines, not just science classes and the long-standing museum that Mather had held. To us it was huge! It also seemed better. There was nothing wrong with sitting in pews in the church to listen to Dr. Fritz Grob deliver his political science readings, or listening to Dr. John Eversole teach religion in the living room of an old house – it all seemed kind of charming. But Mott was a real college hall. It was bright with sunlight, solid with steel girders and cement under tile floors, and awash with new desks and fresh paint. Absent were the creaks and groans of the well-worn classrooms. Olivet College had entered the 20th century. It made us proud – look out Big Ten, here we come!
At the end of its first academic year, and my finale, the front porch served as the dais from which the class of 1968 would graduate with President Gorton Riethmiller at the controls and the audience seated across the street in the square.
Now suddenly, at least suddenly to me, Mott is 50 years old and is described as if it were the ancient building it replaced. I’m glad Mott is getting a facelift and a retooling. It was a welcome sight on campus in 1967 and I hope it remains an integral, and now historic, part of our school.