College says goodbye to 'Chapel on the Hill'

By Sue Bledsoe
For Blount Today

A mixture of nostalgia and anticipation filled the air at Maryville College’s "Farewell to Wilson Chapel and Fine Arts Center" as many alumni and friends of the college returned to bid farewell to Wilson Chapel and the Fine Arts Building on Saturday, May 5. Both will be razed to make way for the new civic arts center.

Wilson Chapel and the Fine Arts Center were built in 1954 and were considered an architectural curiosity by the members of the community. According to Dr. James Bloy, music faculty, 1953-1993, "They were waiting for it to be finished."

Actually, the Chapel was featured in the Architectural Record for its contemporary style.

Patty Feller Wood, class of 1968 and former Maryville College Choir member, returned to the campus from her home in West Virginia to see old friends and hear the music. However, it was a bittersweet reunion for many. "I wish they would restore it rather than tear it down," Wood said, adding that the buildings have historical and sentimental value.

John Braymer, also of the class of 1968 and a choir member, echoed Wood’s viewpoint. "I am disappointed that two important, modernistic buildings are going," he said He and his wife, Meta Robinson Braymer, class of 1968, were married in Wilson Chapel. "My life was in this building," John Braymer said.

Other attendants at the gathering felt less nostalgic and more excited about what the prospects of a new civic arts center would mean to the community as a whole, not just to Maryville College.

Gayle Bradley Hafner, class of 1960, said she can hardly wait for it to open. Art Hafner, class of 1972 and a member of the Community Choir, said, "I am looking forward to the new center with eager anticipation. It was a battle well worth it."

Diners in the courtyard were entertained by Off Kilter, a group of upper class choir members. Off Kilter performs at many community events and local high schools. The young men in the group wore traditional kilts and sashes made from fabric that is the official, registered Maryville College tartan.

A "Retrospective" was held in the music hall of the Fine Arts Center. Dr. Arthur Bushing, class of 1943 and a member of the English faculty from 1947-1996, introduced Dr. James Bloy who recalled the people with whom he worked while he was a member of the music faculty. Robert Hutchens, assistant director of International Services, added some comic relief, relating tales of his theatrical experiences that began at Maryville College. As a native of Maryville, Hutchens said he was
not aware that he had an accent until it was pointed out to him during an audition.

In her address, "A Chapel On The Hill Again," Martha Hess, class of 1967 and registrar since 1974, described how a fire destroyed the Elizabeth R. Voorhees Chapel in 1947. It was not until 1954 that the chapel was replaced with the Samuel Tyndale Wilson Chapel. Students and the community celebrated because there was a "chapel on the hill again."

A visit back to Wilson Chapel brought back memories of daily chapel services required of students who often threw a raincoat on over pajamas to rush into their assigned seats in time for roll to be taken.

Chapel "poots" were students who lived in an apartment below the chapel and earned part of their tuition by cleaning up and preparing for special events. Craig Rigell, class of 1969, and Steve Ellis, class of 1970, reminisced about their tenure as chapel poots.

"At one time," Craig said, "Sunday night Vespers were concluded with the choir slowly ascending the steps of Wilson Chapel. Dr. Harry Harter, choir director, could not determine when the choir was in position to sing the ‘Lutkin Benediction.’
From our vantage point, we could see. It was our very important job to signal Dr. Harter that the choir was in position."

Finally, visitors and alumni were treated to a beautiful concert by the Maryville College Concert Choir, conducted by Stacey Wilner, coordinator of Choral Music and director of the choir. Wilner spoke of her delight at the prospects of a new civic arts center.

In April the Appalachian Ballet Company performed a farewell spring show in the theater with a production of "Anniversary Waltz." Amy Moore Morton, director of the Appalachian Ballet Company, recalled her days on the stage there, the many recitals, and performances. Morton and the dancers are very excited about the prospects of performing on a new stage.

The Maryville College Concert Choir was joined by the Alumni Choir and the Community Chorus, conducted by several guest conductors.

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