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Templin On The Mount

June 10, 1940


For years, veteran KU scholar and administrator Olin Templin had set his sights on a 24-room stone mansion and some adjacent property on the east slope of Mount Oread known as Brynwood Manor.

This elegant two-story home, built on Fourteenth Street shortly after the Civil War, was steeped in the history of Lawrence.

It was located on land originally possessed by Charles Robinson, a town founder and first governor of the state. The home’s first two owners were survivors of Confederate guerrilla William Clarke Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence in August 1863. And during the early twentieth century, it housed one of the premier private art collections in Kansas.

Templin, who had earned two KU degrees in mathematics and would serve the University from 1883 to 1943 in such positions as professor of philosophy, dean of the College, chairman of the Alumni Association, and secretary of the KU Endowment Association, had long contemplated turning Brynwood Manor into KU’s first residential scholarship hall for men.

His plans also encompassed developing the mansion’s surrounding acreage into a complex of additional residence halls. Not until the late 1930s, though, did a confluence of events provide the opportunity to transform his grand idea into reality.

Since the end of World War I, the Acacia Fraternity had owned Brynwood, but the continuing economic travails of the Great Depression forced the fraternity to surrender the property to its bondholders in 1939.

That year, KU opened negotiations to acquire the home and its adjoining land, a “beautiful park” the Endowment Association dubbed Alumni Place in hopes of enticing alumni donors to contribute the necessary funds that would make the purchase possible.

This gambit fell far short of its goal. As a result, the University’s continuing inability to meet the bondholders’ $20,000 asking price stretched out the negotiating process for many months.

In the end, with KU offering to assume some outstanding taxes and a small mortgage, the house’s bondholders finally relented in early 1940, agreeing to part with their “distressed property” for the sum of $9,052.01.

Later that summer, KU Chancellor Deane W. Malott announced that the mansion Olin Templin had long had his eyes on would now have his name on it as well. It was formally christened Templin Hall on June 10, 1940.

Templin would not only get KU’s first men’s scholarship hall named after him. He would also chair the five-man committee charged with selecting – on the basis of character, academic ability, and financial need – the first 38 Templin Hall residents who would take occupancy in time for the beginning of the 1940-41 academic year.

(In time four more scholarship halls – Battenfeld, Pearson, Stephenson and Sellards – would be built on the rest of the Alumni Place property, marking the culmination of Templin’s farsighted vision.)

As a scholarship hall, low-cost room and board was one of Templin’s main attractions. Its initial residents could expect to live there for approximately $19 a month, an economy made possible by the cooperative living environment similar to the arrangements developed at the Watkins and Miller scholarship halls for women.

Such frugality was achieved by the men of Templin themselves, all of whom shared the cooking, cleaning and general maintenance chores, estimated to take up at least one hour a day. One student designated the house proctor would organize five “work squads,” each being responsible either for the kitchen, the dining room, general bed making, housecleaning, or for care of the grounds.

All the men, however, were under the general supervision and instruction of the Templin Hall housemother, Miss Carlotta Nellis, who was chosen for her post by yet another special selection committee of which Olin Templin was a member.

Nellis had been the dietician at Christ’s Hospital in Topeka for 19 years. She was “considered a most capable and experienced woman,” according to the September 1940 edition of the Graduate Magazine, which also noted she was “jolly” and had “an unusual faculty for developing cooperation.”

One of her first tasks was to give those men lucky enough to pull kitchen duty a crash course in culinary arts. Eventually, she ran the equivalent of a makeshift on-campus cooking school for up to 20 neophyte chefs from three men’s residence halls. Additionally, reported the Graduate Magazine, Nellis taught the “bed-making squad how to go about the business of making beds in a hurry, the way it is done in a hospital.”

Affectionately remembered by her Templin charges as “Mother Nellis,” she apparently brought a discernible nurturing quality to her official duties. Some of the fondest memories of former Templin resident Dr. Robert V. Kirk were of the hours he spent “under [her] guidance and tutelage“ as one of the hall’s evening meal cooks.

“What a wonderful and inspiring lady she was,” he said. Kirk also recalled she was quite a character as well. One particular event that stuck in his mind was of a Templin Hall costume party.

“Mother Nellis came dressed as a dance hall hostess in the gold rush days in the Klondike. Her costume was very authentic because it was one she had worn when she had been employed in just such a job when she was younger.”

“Dear Mother Nellis” also figured prominently in the mind of Ray S. North, who remembered her as a “wonderful and tolerant woman.”

Learning and living at the foot of Mother Nellis seemed to have been a valuable and lasting experience for many, but so was the opportunity Templin afforded its residents to meet and befriend exceptional people from diverse backgrounds.

One of the most outstanding in this regard was a Chinese student named Mou-Hui King who came to Mount Oread in 1940 on the recommendation of former KU Chancellor Ernest H. Lindley.

After resigning his chancellorship in 1939, Lindley and his wife Elizabeth embarked on a grand tour of the Far East. While in China, Lindley fell ill and was cared for briefly by King’s father, a Chinese physician, who diagnosed the terminal cancer to which Lindley would succumb while still overseas the following year.

Before his death, though, the former chancellor arranged for the doctor’s 17-year-old son Mou-Hui to come to the United States and study at KU.

A refugee of sorts from Japanese-occupied Beijing (then known as Peiping), Mou-Hui King seemed to fit in very well at Templin Hall. Ray North, one of his roommates, described him as an “extremely intelligent and very personable” young man, someone he was proud to call friend.

For his part, when asked to list an event he most remembered, King recalled with apparently great enthusiasm the time he helped perpetrate one of the most hallowed of American college pranks. “How can one forget,” King wrote, “an event as memorable as the ‘snipe hunt’!”

King would go on to earn an engineering degree from KU in 1944. As a Nationalist sympathizer and follower of Chiang Kai-Shek, he would later relocate to Taiwan (officially the Republic of China), along with thousands of other Chinese who fled the mainland in advance of the Communist takeover in 1949.

In the ensuing decades, King became a veritable titan in Taiwan’s heavy industry sector, eventually retiring in 1990 after a long stint leading the China Steel Company.

“I wouldn’t consider it a brilliant career,” he said humbly to Kansas Alumni in 1994, “but I do have the satisfaction of doing something that I feel was good for my society. At KU,” King added, “I learned the value of hard work and doing a job well. It turned a pampered boy of 17 into a useful man.”

The war in Asia and the Pacific that King escaped from became very real for the American-born residents of Templin following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. George Worrall, another protégé of Mother Nellis, remembered that he was “making meat loaf in the kitchen at Templin when the news of the raid on Pearl Harbor came over the radio.”

In an instant, the war that had previously been worlds away suddenly engulfed the United States. And while the full implications of this shattering development may not have been immediately apparent to the 38 men of Templin Hall, like countless other college students across the country, they would not be immune from its destructive effects.

American entry into World War II would soon send most off to foreign battlefields and clear Templin Hall of all its civilian occupants. In their place came a contingent of future US Naval officers.

To help the nation’s war effort, as well as ensure that KU’s doors would be kept open during WWII, Chancellor Malott convinced the federal government to declare the University an official military training center in early 1942.

Templin Hall, plus seven fraternity houses on campus, were given over as dormitory space for Navy V-12 junior officer trainees, who were being educated at government expense. (Navy machinists’ mates, who were part of another KU training program, bunked in the west wing of Strong Hall.)

Between 1943-45, KU housed as many as 500 future naval officers. According to University historian Clifford Griffin, “The V-12 students appeared … almost as ordinary nonmilitary students. They were free to carry elective subjects and to participate in varsity athletics, fraternities, and other extracurricular activities. Unlike the machinists’ mates, they roomed and ate where they would and did not disrupt the campus.”

The same could not be said for the war itself and its effect on the men of Templin. “The Templin incident that has stuck most in my mind through the years,” wrote Marion Numemaker, “is the time Bob Coleman announced that some day he would be a great writer. I determined that day to follow his career to see if indeed his prediction came true. I was greatly saddened then to learn that he was killed in the war.”

(In addition to Robert L. “Bob” Coleman of Junction City, two other Templin alumni, Donald H. Caylor of Horton and Glessner W. Reimer of Kansas City, Missouri, lost their lives in the Second World War.)

Templin alum and Wichita native Robert W. Johnson, on the other hand, not only served in the war effort unscathed and returned to KU to complete his engineering degree, he also had a seemingly a ubiquitous presence at some seminal events in the war’s waning days and aftermath.

Posted to the Pacific Theater, Johnson was in the Philippines in 1945. He and a buddy were on hand to see General Douglas MacArthur “leave his compound [in Manila] to get in his 5-Star limousine” en route “to the USS Missouri to negotiate the surrender.”

Following Japan’s unconditional capitulation, Johnson popped up again this time at Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison where he worked as an electrician. He remembered seeing “most of the notorious war criminals,” including former Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

He also had a chance to speak with the convicted (but later pardoned) English-speaking propagandist Iva Toguri D’Aquino, better known as “Tokyo Rose,” despite the fact that “GI’s were not supposed to talk to prisoners. “I was discharged,” Johnson added, “before any executions.”

Templin had also been home to Martin Jones, who cut short his junior year to enlist in the US Army in October 1942. Jones became a second lieutenant in the 106th infantry division, which was fighting in the European Theatre. He saw action during the Battle of the Bulge, and was captured by German forces, remaining a prisoner of war until May 2, 1945, when Allied troops liberated him.

“We had always wondered if our guards would shoot us if the Allies arrived,” Jones remembered, but in the event, “no shots were fired.”

In 1946, Jones returned to KU. He earned both a BA and an MA, became a member of the business school faculty, and rounded out his KU career as director of business and fiscal affairs for the Lawrence campus.

Jones, like the other men who returned home from the war, did not return to Templin Hall. With the mass influx of veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill to get or complete their college educations, KU feared that there would be a critical housing shortage for female students.

Accordingly, the University transformed Templin Hall into a women’s scholarship residence, a situation that endured for the next decade until Gertrude Sellards Pearson Residence Hall opened in 1955 on the northeast edge of campus. That year male students reclaimed Templin, although their tenancy (and the hall’s life on Mount Oread) would last only four more years.

In 1959, some 16 years after Olin Templin’s death, the University chose to raze the by-then 92-year-old house. If newspaper articles of the day are any indication, the decision elicited little in the way of protest.

Echoing the official line was the headline in the January 29, 1959, edition of the Lawrence Daily Journal-World that read “Templin Hall Just a Victim of Progress.” Two weeks later, the Kansan put it a bit more bluntly (albeit slightly incorrectly), announcing “90-Year-Old Templin Hall to be Destroyed.”

But as the old Fourteenth Street home was being leveled, a new seven-story Templin Residence Hall, which today houses almost 300 students, was being erected near the corner of Iowa and Fifteenth Streets. Meanwhile, the site of the original Templin became the location for the Sprague Apartments, housing for retired faculty members.

Old Templin Hall exists now only in pictures and the mind’s eyes of its former residents; and on the latter score, one person’s reflections seem to encapsulate nicely those of the rest.

“Memories of my year in Templin Hall,” wrote Ray North, “are very pleasant ones. We had a wonderful group of men in the house who were serious about getting a good education. The financial help it provided enabled me to stay in school and graduate.” Fifty-three years removed, he concluded, “I am still grateful for the help and the experience of living at Templin.”

John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source notes: The best source of information is contained in the Old Templin Hall Building File housed in Spencer Research Library, University Archives, University of Kansas. Among the documents consulted for this article are as follows. “The ‘Men of Templin’: 1940-1943 at the University of Kansas” (1996), a brief history and sizable collection of reminiscences compiled by Ken Stoner. “Old Templin Hall History” (1959). Lawrence Daily Journal-World, January 29, 1959, and March 11, 1959; University Daily Kansan, February 12, 1959, p. 6. Graduate Magazine (September 1940), pp. 9-10; Graduate Magazine (March 1930), p. 15; Graduate Magazine (May 1939), p. 9; Graduate Magazine (January 1940), p. 4; Graduate Magazine (March 1934), p. 8. Marjorie W. Ryther to J.A. Dickinson, November 20, 1939. KU News Bureau press releases, June 10, 1940, and January 27, 1956. For a helpful biographical sketch of Brinton Webb Woodward, see the following entry from Frank W. Blackmar’s 1912 Kansas Cyclopedia: http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1912/w/woodward_brinton_webb.html. See also Clifford S. Griffin, The University of Kansas: A History, (University Press of Kansas, 1974), pp. 479-500.]