By closing one chapter in the Ambler Health Center’s long history, the college turned to a fresh page in order to serve Hillsdale students and staff with updated facilities and staffing hours.
In 2011, Richard Péwé, vice president of administration, announced that funds would be reserved for renovations to the Health Center.
While it would have been cheaper for the college to demolish the building, Director of Health and Wellness Brock Lutz says that there are important reasons why the college chose instead to preserve the history of the Ambler House instead.
“There is something really nice and welcoming about people coming into a Health Center that used to be someone’s home. The ideas that we stand for as a college are time-tested ideals that have been around for a long time, and I think that’s reflected in preserving older buildings. There is some type of connection there,” said Lutz.
The history Lutz refers to began in 1919 when Judge William E. Ambler, an active Hillsdale alumni and trustee, purchased and presented the building to the college. A special committee, delegated to determine how to best utilize the gift, chose it to house the home economics department and christened it “The Ambler House.”
The Ambler House soon became known as an indispensable part of Hillsdale’s social life. Dinners, parties, banquets, and style shows reminded the public of Hillsdale’s refinement and prestige. In 1920, Ambler donated a piano, pictures, books and a year later $1,000 dollars for additional equipment.
The home economics department graduated Esther Branch, nationally known cooking expert and food demonstrator; Grace Van Aken Burns, national president of the American Home Economics Association; and Marian Willoughby, assistant professor of textiles and clothing at Purdue University.
Despite the program’s success, the house was turned over to Hillsdale College President William G. Spencer in 1927 until 1932, when it regained its status as the home of the home economics department and use for social affairs. It became the Health Center in the 1970s.
Those renovations to the Health Center were not only mindful of the history reflected in the oldest building on Hillsdale College’s campus, but also added to the building’s rich legacy.
Furthermore, the administration took care to consider the rennovation’s impact on the Sigma Alpha Iota music fraternity, who used the front portion of the Ambler Health Center for 13 years, would be affected.
The SAI girls were apprehensive upon hearing news of their displacement, but SAI member Abby Newman explained how the renovations enhanced the dynamic of her fraternity.
“These renovations, in some sense, were really a good thing because they gave us a chance to have our own space. Something a little closer to campus made us feel more involved. We were actually really excited about it. A chance to take over an entire house was a good experience for them.”
Now living in a house behind Sage, the fraternity’s new home is a place to meet, bake, study, and grow closer together, SAI members said.
“It was a great opportunity for girls to take a look at who we are, what we stand for, and to have a lot of fun. We experienced more of a sense of sisterhood,” Newman said.
Not only is SAI experiencing the benefits of the renovations, but the Ambler Health Center’s staff enjoys the new feel of their work place, employees said.
Before the renovations, the waiting room, offices, and nurses stations were all in one room. The waiting room is now separated from the examination rooms by a glass door and window.
With a second phase of renovations planned for the upcoming year, Hillsdale College has again shown its dedication to preserving the past while fulfilling students’ needs of the present.