The comfortable, brick and white ranch-styled house just down the street from the main University of Minnesota, Morris entrance belies the intensity and commitment of the men and women who employed the Edward and Patricia Paul LaFave home as one of their West Central Educational Development Association (WCEDA) gathering sites. Here, and in WCEDA members’ homes, local cafes, and gathering spots throughout the community, the WCEDA, a grassroots group of area citizens, met to plan their lobbying efforts, to entertain influential guests, and to dream about a four-year campus in Morris, Minnesota. They imagined a unique University of Minnesota campus, a public liberal arts college, affordable and accessible. They pooled their talents, time, and resources to make the dream a reality, developed a convincing case for west central Minnesota’s access to higher education, and then tirelessly shared their proposal with the community, region, public officials, legislators, and regents.
In fall 1960, the efforts of those first visionaries were realized in the establishment of the University of Minnesota, Morris. WCEDA then concentrated on getting UMM off to a good start. A fund drive raised more than 43 percent of UMM’s first-year operating costs. Community members went door-to-door selling light bulbs. Boy Scouts sold holiday wreaths. Businesses generously donated to the cause. Donors called in on Clifford Hedberg’s local radio show. He’d ring a cowbell on air when a new pledge was received. These community gifts started UMM’s library, established a counseling program, and purchased equipment and supplies.
Throughout UMM’s history, WCEDA has been a stable presence. During the 1980s budget crisis, 22 regional supporters joined the Presidents Club Giving Society, pledging $10,000 each to UMM. The dollars were much needed, but the gifts themselves were invaluable in the message they sent to the University and to the legislature. In the late 1990s, WCEDA’s well-honed lobbying skills influenced the legislature’s decision to fund the Morris Science Project and Regional Fitness Center.
In 1999, after a lifetime of campus involvement and in the midst of their retirement years, Ed and Patty, active members of WCEDA and loyal UMM supporters, donated their home at 305 College Avenue to the University of Minnesota, Morris. Their gift has become a symbol of an important time in our campus history. Like the Multi-Ethnic Student Program building constructed during the American Indian Boarding School years, like the beautiful “Prairie School” structures constructed during the West Central School of Agriculture years, LaFave House is a remembrance of our campus heritage. It reminds us of a dedicated group of regional citizens whose tireless efforts in the late 1950s resulted in the Morris campus of the University of Minnesota.
After LaFave House was gifted to UMM, Chancellor Sam Schuman appointed a task force of faculty, staff, alumni and Morris residents to research possible uses for the home. Their extensive work included open forums, visiting other campuses and numerous conversations with University of Minnesota and City of Morris officials. It was determined early in the discussion that the neighborhood in which LaFave House is located was not in favor of the facility becoming an office building. University Facilities Management personnel confirmed that the building was not suitable for offices, both in terms of cost and structure.
After considerable contemplation, the task force presented a recommendation to Chancellor Schuman that was greeted with approval by the campus. LaFave House would serve as UMM’s “hospitality center.” The facility is available to faculty, staff, alumni, students, and the community for dinners, small group gatherings, and receptions. LaFave House will be, as stated by Chancellor Schuman, “a gracious social center for special events and gatherings for UMM and the community.”
The 2,650 square feet LaFave House, constructed in 1958, was prepared for its new campus role during the summer of 2001. On the occasion of Sam Schuman’s appointment as Morris chancellor, Mark Yudof, former University of Minnesota, Morris president, earmarked a special onetime allocation of $210,000 specifically for renovation of LaFave House. These dollars were used to satisfy University building codes, to provide handicapped accessibility, and to redecorate for the facility’s new purpose.
In addition, three other projects were completed. The heating system was replaced under an energy conservation payback program. The cost of improving the heating system should pay for itself within three years. UMM Plant Services removed the underground fuel oil tank to limit future environmental liabilities. Finally, the roof was repaired using funds budgeted as a repair and replacement maintenance item.
Ongoing maintenance and upkeep of LaFave House are supported in part by rental charges, although modest, and Friends of LaFave House. Membership dues for this organization are designated to LaFave House. Members volunteer their time and talents to the facility’s preservation and beauty.
The history of the University of Minnesota, Morris and the history of the Morris community intertwined over 40 years ago. Throughout the years, the relationship has flourished. LaFave House honors the partnership and the heritage shared between campus and community.