Walking to class where University Avenue meets Ninth Street, MU sophomore Joel Wessel did not recognize the building hidden behind the red brick wall across from Middlebush Hall.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Is it sociology?”
Wrong. It is the Chancellor’s Residence, deserted since 1996.
Chancellor Brady Deaton returns regularly to his off-campus home at Luan Court, leaving the campus building originally designed for him and his predecessors unoccupied except for occasional receptions and award ceremonies.
Nestled on the east side of MU’s Francis Quadrangle, the 135-year-old dwelling was tailored to host the heads of the university and their families. No one has lived there since former chancellor Charles Kiesler stepped down in 1996.
The residence was built in 1869 with $8,000 from a state grant, the first appropriation MU received from the state legislature. It is the oldest building on campus.
Before the University of Missouri system was formed in 1963 to include four campuses in the state, the home was known as the President’s House. Afterward, the building took on the name of the MU campus leader, the chancellor.
Wessel said he thinks it makes little sense for a chancellor to leave his home and live on campus, adding that he cares little whether the chancellor lives in the residence or not. His opinion is echoed by other MU students, who say it would be odd if the chancellor did live there.
Jeni Hart, an MU assistant professor in education, thinks otherwise.
“It (would) reflect on the chancellor’s appearance and send out a positive symbolic message that he is involved,” she said. “More than that, it is an opportunity for students to have that access, which can often improve satisfaction.”
Although it’s hard to know whether past presidents and chancellors shared her belief, as many as 12 of them called the residence home over the years. Daniel Read, the first university president to ever live there, endured the loss of his wife, Alice, who died in the house seven years after the family moved in.
Richard Jesse resided in the Italianate-style home during his presidency from 1891 to 1908, welcoming the birth of his son Berdelle and celebrating the marriages of his niece and nephew there. Jesse’s family invited students for breakfast, and according to a 1924 newspaper article, the students attended with little enthusiasm.
Walter Williams, MU president between 1930 and 1935, conducted administration work from his private quarters when he suffered health complications from surgery in 1934. Williams even gave his last public speech from his bed by using radio transmitters.
A home in the spotlight
Barbara Uehling, a former MU chancellor, occupied the residence with her son from 1978 to 1986. She was married in the Bess Schooling garden, located on the Ninth Street side of the house. Uehling said it was difficult to live in the chancellor’s house at first because of the campus landmark status of the building.
“It had been a public function house for so long,” Uehling said. “There was even a person who scheduled events for it.”
Uehling remembers returning home once from a three-day trip to find that university administrators had scheduled a tour of the residence for 300 community members, forcing her to retire to an office on the third floor.
Living on campus exposed Uehling to scrutiny from faculty and students, she said. The School of Journalism, located in the vicinity, once received a call inquiring about Uehling’s whereabouts. The caller was assured the chancellor was playing volleyball in her yard.
Uehling also recalls a post-graduation day when an international student found her jogging on campus in her workout gear. Unable to refuse the student’s request for a photo, she reluctantly took a picture with him.
“All in all, it was a good experience to be so closely in touch with the campus,” she said. “It was certainly a short distance to the office.”
change of appeareance
Today, the residence is administered by the University Events office, which uses it to host the chancellor’s guests. The building is only open to visitors when the chancellor and his wife decide to hold an event. Deaton has hosted guests at the house several times since he took office in early October, said Donna Puleo, director of University Events.
Puleo, who jokingly calls herself the manager of the house, said MU went out of its way to give the residence an appearance similar to the one it had a hundred years ago. In an attempt to make the building more suitable for parties, the color tone of the parlors was recently changed from white to orange, and two French doors were removed to make it easier for guests to walk through. The house is spruced up twice a week by two custodians, hired to sweep and vacuum the more commonly used areas.
Deaton’s predecessor, Richard Wallace, who retired in August after eight years as chancellor, chose not to live in the residence because it was not accessible to his wife, who uses a wheelchair.
“I would have loved to live there,” Wallace said.
Discussions began in 1998 on whether to refurbish the building to make it wheelchair accessible, according to newspaper archives. The discussions continue today, Wallace said, but nothing has been done.
“We are at the preliminary stage of exploring possibilities,” MU spokesman Christian Basi said. “I’m not even sure if it’s on paper.”
Basi said the likelihood that Deaton will move into the residence is small, since he already has a comfortable home.