A long-overdue visit with a 90-year-old friend

August 4, 2012

The space that was once the Sunken Garden in front of the Marymount College Admin Building is now one of many construction sites as major renovations continue.

There were just a handful remembering their student days from the 1940s, and more from the ’50s and ’60s. Most of those in Salina this weekend were reconnecting with classmates from the 1970s and ’80s.

But they had all come to visit their oldest friend – the 90-year-old building that was the heart of Marymount College and is now the center of a lengthy redevelopment project.

As the 2012 Marymount All-School Reunion went into full swing early Saturday afternoon, the family of Donnie Marrs welcomed alumni to what for nearly seven decades was known as the Admin Building.

Marymount College closed in 1989 and the Marrs family purchased the landmark “castle on the hill” four years later.

For 20 years, architect Donnie Marrs and his family have worked to save the majesty of the old building while converting 28,000 of its 130,000 square feet into residential condominiums.

On Saturday, Donnie and his wife Mona, along with sons Brahn and Dahx and daughter-in-law Colleen served as tour guides to show off the work done so far — including the just-completed underground garage with parking for about 50 cars.

Eventually, there will be 23 condos. Seven have been sold so far, and the first occupants hope to move in by the end of the year, Brahn Marrs said. (To learn more about the project, go to www.marymountproperties.com.)

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For the Marrs family, Saturday’s tour offered an opportunity to deliver a friendly sales pitch. But for most of the nearly 250 alumni and former faculty and staff attending the weekend reunion, it was a chance to reminisce.

Walking through what was a third-floor dormitory, now middle-aged women marveled at how little space they had, but remembered vividly where their desks were placed and who roomed where.

Former classmates chatted about exactly where they had lived during their time at Marymount and then exchanged stories about favorite — or not so favorite — professors. And some of those former faculty members, including numerous Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, were seeking out their memorable students.

The Concordia congregation built what was originally an all-girls school and opened Marymount in 1922. The sisters ran it until 1983, when they transferred ownership of the college to the Diocese of Salina. Despite committing more than $2 million to keep the school operating, the diocese in 1989 decided to close it. Three years later, the diocese sold four of the campus buildings to the state to be used for the Kansas State Patrol Training Center. That was when Donnie and Mona Marrs purchased the landmark Tudor Gothic-style Administration Building and its grounds.

During its 67-year history, Marymount had always hosted all-school reunions, but those stopped when the college closed.

Then, in 2003, the Marymount Alumni Association held its first post-closure reunion. Two more followed in 2006 and 2009.

Planning for this weekend’s event was well under way when the longtime alumni director, Sister Lucille Herman, died in October 2011. But the alumni association board, led by Eileen Curran Thibault and assisted by the Sisters of St. Joseph Development Office, carried on with Sister Lucille’s plans.

After gathering Saturday morning at the Ramada Inn in Salina to reconnect and look through old yearbooks and other Marymount memorabilia, the alumni took full advantage of the tours.

Then Salina Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger celebrated a special Mass Saturday afternoon in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Marymount.

The Saturday evening banquet at the Ramada will include a keynote speech by former Marymount faculty member Dr. Samuel Zeakes, as well as a welcome from Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, and a special tribute to Sister Lucille Herman by Jan Saylor, Class of 1977.

The reunion concludes Sunday morning with a special memorial held on the Marymount grounds. Unlike previous years, however, it cannot be held in the Sunken Garden just in front of the Admin Building; that had become a construction area as the underground garage was being built.

“But it will be there again,” Brahn Marrs assured the group he was leading on a tour.

“Then you should add a statue to (the late) Sister Mary Julia (Stegeman),” one alumna suggested. “That’s my memory; she was always there working.”