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Home Improvement

The gracious John Evans Alumni Center, home to the Northwestern Alumni Association, gets an elegant makeover.

The John Evans Alumni Center

Photo by Heather Stanisz

The John Evans Alumni Center, the 1880s' Queen Anne-turned-Tudor mansion at Sheridan Road and Clark Street, has been welcoming alumni, students and parents to the Evanston campus for nearly 50 years. The home's charm has endeared it to a number of alumni, many of whom are helping to maintain its interior beauty.

Over the years, the dignified first-floor living room, enclosed sun porch and elegant dining room have set a warm, inviting tone for such events as Northwestern Alumni Association receptions, the Senior Ring Ceremony, lectures, admissions presentations, holiday dinners and student meetings. The Alumnae of Northwestern University, a continuing education organization that provides an average of $100,000 in annual gifts and grants to the University, has a special attachment to the center because it meets there monthly. The group is among those contributing to the recent upgrades."It's a very stately building and, to us, reflects the sense of excellence and tradition the University represents," says Alumnae past president Holly Leach Sunshine (WCAS71).

The Alumnae funded the construction of French doors in the library-living room corridor to replace a folding vinyl room divider. The new doors not only improve the look of the room, they also block the sound of conversations from the center's main entrance. Besides contributing to the refinishing of the dining room furniture and purchasing a speaker's lectern and meeting chairs for the living room, members also contributed to the conversion of a first-floor office to a conference room dedicated to the memory of Helen Sullivan Knight (C36), a longtime active member.

Nancy Witte Jacobs (Mu52), an Alumnae and John Evans Club member who has attended many meetings and receptions at the center over the years, has directed a number of her financial gifts toward furniture and draperies for the sun porch."The alumni center serves as a calling card for the University," says Jacobs."It's the first impression many visitors receive of Northwestern, so it's important to keep it in the best condition possible."

Other improvements include new dining room furniture, bequested by an alumnus, and a fresh coat of pale yellow paint for the dining room and new carpet for the adjoining breakfast room and sun porch.

Coordinating the interior renovation is Christine Olson Robb (WCAS66), owner and co-founder of Artists Concepts interior design firm, who is donating her services. She is mindful of the building's history as the one-time home of Rufus Dawes, brother of U.S. Vice President Charles G. Dawes (under President Calvin Coolidge).

As a former chair of the John Evans Club, former class reunion co-chair and current trustee, Robb has spent many evenings at the alumni center and says one of the challenges in redecorating the first floor and updating the vintage building is making it functional for alumni events.

"The first floor is a gracious, grand-scale space, but it's also used for meetings in which computer-generated presentations are made, so we want to maintain the look and feel of a home without making it appear institutional," Robb says.

The University purchased the Rufus Dawes property in 1943 and originally used it to house the John Evans Student Center for Religious and Social Services. In 1955 the NAA relocated there when the religious center moved to the Alice S. Millar Chapel.

Cathy Stembridge (GC00), executive director of the NAA, says alumni have been generous in sharing their talents and treasures to make the John Evans Alumni Center comfortable and attractive. In the 1970s, Wesley Snyder (C57), currently president of the NU Club of Sarasota/Manatee, redecorated the center's interior, and over the years, others have donated their furniture and paintings.

"The John Evans Center is home to Northwestern alumni. While their dorms and classrooms may have changed, this is familiar, and it reinforces their connection to the University," Stembridge says.


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