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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2008

Home matters: Outlook focal point on campus

Kansas University director of communications Lynn Bretz talks about the history of the Chancellor's home and what it is used for today.

August 16, 2008

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The Chancellor's home, named "The Outlook" by its donor, Elizabeth Watkins, sits tucked away behind Fraser Hall on the north side.

The Chancellor's home, named "The Outlook" by its donor, Elizabeth Watkins, sits tucked away behind Fraser Hall on the north side.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway and his wife, Leah Hemenway, reside in the upstairs of The Outlook. However, downstairs is open to the public.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway and his wife, Leah Hemenway, reside in the upstairs of The Outlook. However, downstairs is open to the public.

A portrait of Elizabeth Watkins stays up all the time at The Outlook. She willed the house to KU.

A portrait of Elizabeth Watkins stays up all the time at The Outlook. She willed the house to KU.

Students sometimes zip through her driveway when making the trek to class. Her home is tucked into the heart of the Kansas University campus. Nestled next door are the Miller and Watkins scholarship halls. Across the street sit Blake and Fraser halls. And behind are two greek houses.

Leah Hemenway, wife of KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, stands in the entrance of the first floor of her home, an area open to the public. Her feet are planted on a large blue rug with a picture of the Kansas state seal printed on it. The rug sits adjacent to the front door. Leah spreads her arms out and points at the cotton-padded wooden chairs next to her.

"All of this furniture has been here since 1912," she said. "Most of it has been recovered. It's interesting being attached to the history of the place."

Leah Hemenway and her family live in The Outlook, the large, white mansion seated snugly in the southeast corner of KU's Mount Oread campus. Hemenway and her family have lived in The Outlook for more than a decade. They moved into the mansion in 1995 when the chancellor first took office.

But the Hemenways are just the latest in a long line of families who've called The Outlook home. It's a longtime KU tradition for the chancellor and his family to live there. The custom has been in practice since Elizabeth Miller Watkins donated the house to KU in 1939.

The land the house sits on was filled with barracks and trenches during the Civil War. J.B. Watkins and his wife bought the land and built The Outlook on it in 1912 with the idea of eventually making it the chancellor's residence. J.B. died in 1919, and Elizabeth lived in The Outlook for 28 years, until her eventual death. She willed The Outlook to the university, part of an endowment adding up to more than $2 million. Chancellor Deane W. Malott and his wife were the first to move into the house.

"The structure has a significant role in honoring Mrs. Watkins," said Sen. Marci Francisco, who has been involved in historical preservation issues. "Its continued use honors her legacy to the university, which goes well beyond this one building."

It's been nearly 100 years since Elizabeth donated the house, and Robert Hemenway is the 16th chancellor to live in The Outlook. It's the proximity to campus that the chancellor loves so a tad intrusive, but it's the proximity that Robert enjoys so much.

"Sometimes people say to me, 'Well, students are always walking around in your driveway back and forth to class,' and I say, 'I think that's fun,'" Hemenway says. "I get a chance to say hello to some students and greet them as they're going to class."

Leah agrees, saying she likes being close to all of the action.

"I like being at the center of activity on campus," Leah says. "I like to see all of the kids, and we're close enough that Bob can walk to work and we can walk to the games."

The Hemenways attend all of the football and basketball home games. They also host a plethora of social activities during game seasons. KU hats and jackets crowd the downstairs closet. KU pictures hang from the walls. One picture captures Mario Chalmer's game-winning shot from last season's national championship game.

"Of course, I had to have that one," Leah says, fingering the KU pendant hanging from her necklace. "Basketball's great. Football's great. It's a lot of fun, and I love it."

The first floor of the home is open to the public. It's used for university events and contains five spacious rooms. Works from the Spencer Museum of Art hang from the walls. On one of the dining room walls is a painting by Norman Rockwell - creator of Rosie the Riveter - called "The Date." The painting contains an image of a young girl getting ready to go out juxtaposed with a portrait of a young cowboy doing the same.

Leah selects the paintings, periodically rotating and changing them out. But some hang for years because the family grows attached to them. A portrait of Elizabeth Watkins stays up all the time as a reminder of how the Hemenways are able to live in the house.

"We really believe that the house is owned by the state of Kansas, so we try as much as possible to share it with students, and the faculty and staff," Robert says. "We do a lot of entertaining and encourage people to come and be part of events at our house."

The Outlook is a source of social activity and was once even used for a wedding. All of the furniture had to be removed to make room for the guests, Leah says.

And every year, the chancellor hosts a commencement event, one of his favorite activities, that attracts thousands.

"Anyone who's graduating can come by and have a box lunch and get their picture taken at the Outlook and get their picture taken with the chancellor, and that's usually very well-attended," Robert says.

When the Hemenways moved into the Outlook 13 years ago, two of their sons, Zach and Arna, were in seventh and first grade, respectively. Their rooms were on the third floor, so when there was an event at the Outlook, the boys didn't have to censor their noise. Growing up in the Outlook was exciting for them, Leah says.

"They loved it," she says. "It gave them an appreciation for the campus, and they loved being near everything."

Before the Hemenways moved in, KU students lived in the Outlook's basement. The basement contains a bedroom, bathroom and TV room.

"When the kids got older, one of them stayed in the basement," Leah says.

Though open to the public, the first floor of the Outlook is filled with personal touches. The kitchen walls are decorated with family photos. A crayon drawing addressed to Leah hangs from a bulletin board. There's a high chair in the corner, and a lamp hanging from the ceiling hovers over the table.

Next to the kitchen is a reading room. Inside it, stacks of books spill from tables.

"Our family sits in here and reads," Leah says. "And one of our sons has a dog, so that's why that's there," she says pointing to a dog cage.

For nearly 14 years, the Hemenways have made the Outlook home.

"I think it's a great privilege to be able to live here, and I know that my wife and children do, too," Robert says. "It's just a great place to live."

And the fraternity houses positioned behind the house?

"You get used to the noise," Leah says, smiling.

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