Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Dunning Memorial Chapel

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Institution Name: Alma College
Original/Historic Place Name: Dunning Memorial Chapel
Location on Campus: Superior St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1941original construction Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: none specified
Walls: red brick; white stone (trim)
Roof: shingle
1941-present (2007)chapel

Significance: architecture, history, religion
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Alma's impressive red brick chapel, with its octagonal white steeple topped by a 12-foot bronze Greek cross, is named in honor of Dr. John Wirt Dunning (class of 1904), the only Alma alumnus to become president of the College. The chapel, designed by Charles Z. Klauder of Philadelphia, replaced the chapel room on the first floor of Old Main, one of the College's first two buildings, which had served as the center for campus worship since the institution's founding.

Dunning Memorial Chapel was constructed during the troubled early years of World War II, and laying the cornerstone was a highlight of the College's annual spring holiday, Campus Day, in 1941. It was hoped that work would be completed in time for use at Commencement that year. However, government priorities requiring steel for national defense stalled construction, and the building wasn't finished until autumn. The chapel was dedicated on October 9, 1941.

The steeple, which is visible for many miles, has become a mid-Michigan landmark and symbolizes Alma's ties to the Presbyterian Church. Erected at a cost of $75,000, the chapel was funded by contributions from Presbyterians, with the largest single contribution of $25,000 coming from Adam E. Armstrong of Three Rivers.

The chapel auditorium has seating for 600, and its basement area has served a variety of uses through the years. Originally, it was the College's student union. It now houses the chaplain's office, the church relations office, meeting rooms, and dressing areas for wedding parties.

While a student at Alma, Dr. Dunning interrupted his studies for a year to work as a sports writer for The Grand Rapids Herald and The Los Angeles Express. With him at The Herald were city editor Frank Knox, Alma class of 1898 and a Secretary of the Navy, and reporter Arthur Vandenberg, later a U.S. senator and recipient of an honorary degree from Alma in 1937. Dr. Dunning was a catcher and captain of the Alma baseball team and editor of the student newspaper the Almanian at the turn of the century.

Dr. Dunning served as Alma's fifth president from 1938 to 1942. In ill health since 1940, he resigned in 1942 and, at student request, trustees named the new chapel in his honor. Prior to becoming president of the College, he was a Presbyterian pastor and served the same church in Kalamazoo that had provided Alma's first president, George F. Hunting.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Alma College Bulletin. Alma College: Alma, MI, 1941.

Facilities Notebook Catalogue of Alma College. 1899. Archives, Alma College, Alma, MI.

Within Our Bounds: A Centennial History of Alma College. [Alma, MI?: s.n., 1986].

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections

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