Albion Interactive History / Starr Commonwealth North Campus

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Buildings / Starr Commonwealth

North Campus, 1958

Whether it was planting trees or placing cottages, Starr was a man of patient foresight. As the spacious grounds arose across the highway west from Gladsome Cottage slowly took shape, he and Geneviece Gillete, and Ann Arbor landscape architect, took frequent walks northward into the former Schumacher farm. Since most of the immediate area had long been open fields, it lay ready for the creative minds and hands of Starr and his able assistant. With pads in his hand, they sketched a central service drive, then placed someeight or ten little boxes well back from the road where they proposed to build the new cottages.

In 1958, the Kresge Foundation approved “the perfect plan” devised by Starr and Burrowes for the Norton Family Cottage and erected Kresge Cottage asthe first unit in the new addition. In typical fashion, Starr included everything he could put together for the dedication program on Sunday, October 6, 1958. Not only was it a day of celebration for Kresge Cottage, but it marked the forty-fifth observance of Founder’s Day and served as Homecoming as well. After a warm welcome to the capacity crowd, Starr introduced Stanley S. Kresge, who accepted the symbolic key to the home on behalf of the foundation and his father, Sebastian S. Kresge, who was “now 91 years of age but still in good health.”

Before closing the program, Starr expressed his deep appreciation for the heartening response the Commonwealth had received in its campaign for developing the North Campus. “When you tour Kresge Cottage,” he said, “you will observe the initial evidence for yourselves. Then, just across the way you will see the suuperstructure for Flynn Cottage, which we hope to put to usenext. In addition, I am delighted to announce Mrs. R.M. Gerstacker of Midland, Michigan, has just confirmed she will endow the Elsa G. Allen Cottage, upon which work will begin very soon.” The blank map he and Miss Gilette had drawn was filling in more rapidly than anyone anticipated. Indeed, within only two years, three of the rectangles on the original plan already had gained labels.

Incredibly as it may seem, the pace continued. In less than a decade, the Commonwealth campus reached its probable limit ofcottages and the housing crisis was averted. The new units were dedicated in the following order:

Kresge Cottage (1958)
Flynn Cottage (1959)
Allen Cottage (1959)
Kindel Cottage (1960)
Besser Cottage (1960)
Herrick Cottage (1961)
Kutsche Cottage (1961)
Oliver Cottage (1961)
Ceeley Cottage (1967)

From the stories behind these cottages, it is apparent that over the years the pattern of giving has changed markedly. Fund raising itself is no longer a broadly participative enterprise. Gone are the winsome youngsters selling tags on street corners, and gone are the Panel Boys deliveringmini-speeches to Exchange Clubs. Gone also are the home visits by a loyal band of field secretaries. The president no longer carries budgetary issues to the boys, though he does report financial matters to the staff in his annual “State of the Commonwealth” address.

Though exceptions will always arise, it seems probable that most large donations hereafter will come from corporate foundations. A bare Kresge Cottage cost some $50,000 in 1958, a formidable sum at that time. Now, with construction costquadrupled, even an affluent family may hesitate to subsidize such a major project. At first Starr was apprehensive about the increasingdominance of big business and the rising cost for cottages, but he quickly adjusted to changing times. In fact, he probably would have agreed with Dr. Louis Norris, the late president of Albion College, “It is easier to get a million dollars from one foundation than to raise half that amount from your regular constituency.” Yet Starr did not neglect the donors who continued to send in their modest contributions. To the end of his long tenure, he responded graciously “to one and all, come large or small.”

Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.

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