CEDAR FALLS — Virginia Fredericks lived in University of Northern Iowa’s Lawther Hall just three years after it opened as she attended college during World War II. She was the only one in her class who made it to the rededication ceremony Friday for the 77-year-old residence hall.
“It was really new. I didn’t realize it was that new of a building,” Fredericks said Friday after speakers offered up the history of the building. “It was interesting to be here with the group I was with. They’re all gone. I can’t find them anymore, so they’ve passed along.”
Fredericks, of rural Iowa Falls, and her family have their own history with the building. She was the first of three generations who lived in Lawther Hall. In fact, she and her granddaughter shared a room decades apart.
Fredericks and her daughter, Jeannette Fredericks-Weber, of Early, were among more than 50 people who came out to Friday to celebrate Lawther Hall’s reopening.
Lawther Hall, named for Anna Lawther, the first woman appointed to what became the Iowa Board of Regents, closed for about two years for renovations and opened to students again this fall.
The project cost about $21 million. The bonds that funded the project will be paid by students who live there, according to UNI Director of Residence Glenn Gray, so no state or tuition dollars were spent on the project.
Fredericks-Weber, who attended UNI during the Vietnam War, said the ceremony was a chance for her 92-year-old mother and herself to share memories from their years in the dormitory and see how it has been modernized.
“I probably requested Lawther, I don’t know, and our daughter grew up knowing she had to request Lawther,” Fredericks-Weber said.
She summed up the feeling living in Lawther gave her.
“It was a family,” Fredericks-Weber said. “We had houses, and each house was a family. The house I was in, in fact, still gets together once a year … just to see what’s going on.”
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That fit the message from speakers at the rededication ceremony.
“We know that students who live on campus adjust to college quickly. They have meaningful relationships with faculty and staff. They perform better academically, and they engage in out-of-class programs and activities,” said Jessica Moon, director of the university honors program.
Fredericks and her daughter got their first glimpses of the building in years. They recalled details of living on campus. For Fredericks, it was being packed four to a room during World War II. For Fredericks-Weber, it was the curfew she had and sunbathing outside.
Once they got indoors, Fredericks-Weber noticed the doors were renumbered so they’d have some difficulty finding their old rooms. But it didn’t take long to adjust. When they happened past Olivia Nelson’s room, Fredericks-Weber recalled the friend who had lived in that room.
“Hopefully, she would approve,” Nelson said.
“She would approve,” Fredericks-Weber responded.
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Nelson said she welcomed the amenities the new building has to offer. A senior criminology major, Nelson said it is the first time she’s lived in a dorm with air conditioning. She also appreciates the security and the size of the rooms.
“I definitely loved Lawther before, but now I think it’s got some better perks,” Nelson said. She had friends who lived there before the renovation who have approved of the remodeling. “It’s a needed improvement. … It’s much nicer.”