The spring 2005 issue of In Trust reported that United Theological Seminary had sold its Dayton, Ohio, campus, and purchased a former Jewish community center in the nearby suburb of Trotwood. The move was planned to help the seminary fulfill some of the goals of its comprehensive plan, which calls for providing new facilities and resources for students and faculty while retiring debt. Over the summer, the faculty and staff moved to their new home, and a dedication was held October 12, 2005. Melinda R. Heppe, In Trust's contributing editor, recently spoke with one of the seminary's trustees, who helped make the move possible.

The building's OK," said Richard Roediger, pausing reflectively before continuing.

The pause was riveting. OK?

The building to which he referred is the new home of United Theological Seminary, a United Methodist school in Dayton, Ohio, which relocated across town in October after 72 years in the same location. Roediger is a member of United's board, and he is a partner emeritus of Lorenz Williams, the architecture firm that just redesigned and refitted the building for its new role. He was speaking the week after its extremely festive dedication and was enthusiastic about the presence of a descendant of the school's founder at that event.

Roediger spoke with great glee about the quirks of a building that had previously been a community center — "I think we're the only seminary in the country with an outdoor and an indoor pool!" — and of the connections with the community — the YMCA ran the outdoor pool during the summer, even as renovations went on inside the building. He's delighted with the fit of the school into its new neighborhood, with a big Roman Catholic church offering space for large functions, students finding housing in an unused section of a long-term care facility, and the happiness of the folks at the 40-year-old mall across the street at the stream of new customers.

Last spring, student Dennis Williams put the finishing touches on the sign marking the entrance to United Theological Seminary's new campus in Trotwood, Ohio. (PHOTO COURTESY UNITED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY)

He expressed delight that the building hadn't needed "all that much" work, and he was joyful about watching the work. "Seeing the gymnasium transform into a library was like watching This Old House."

Pleased and pragmatic about his company's role in the move, he said, "Conflict of interest? First, we have to go by the law, with roles divulged. This project was not a make-or-break in our office. It was something we could do to help, although obviously we have people who had to be paid."

So — after all that — the building is OK?

"The building is OK, but it's really the program that's important. The people we have could teach in a tent and teach beautifully."

United's new campus was formerly a Jewish community center. (PHOTO COURTESY UNITED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY)

And thereby he sums up his relationship with the school, and his sense of vocation: architecture brought him to United, but it is not the center of his connection to the school. It's mission that matters.

Roediger cites just one other outstanding experience of board membership (and it too had to do with using his vocation for the greater good of the community). In the 1970s he helped to revive a local 19th century theater. "Young people took to the street to save it," he recalls, "and it was a dozen years of rebuilding, with board meetings deciding which bills to pay for a while." The community eventually embraced the effort and the revived building as well.

Roediger's connection with United dates to the early 1980s when he was sought for architectural advice. Five years later he was asked to join the board, and he has served ever since (notwithstanding his own conviction that boards should have term limits). He's spent most of his time serving on the academic affairs committee: "I'm not an academician, but maybe I can help think things through." He describes his tenure on the board, and particularly the seminary's recent move, as "a combined effort of a faithful lot of people — board, administration, and particularly faculty."


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