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University Club closes after 49 years

Jenn Metz and Meg Mirshak | Monday, September 24, 2007

Last spring, when the University announced the upcoming construction of a $69.4 million engineering building in the exact location of the University Club, members and employees expressed their discontent.

Now that plans have been finalized, the Club, which was founded in 1958, is saying goodbye to its on-campus location, and its future remains unclear.

Joanne Johnson, whose husband is on the University faculty, moved to South Bend in 1993. Her family went to the University Club for lunch for many years.

“We have sentimental feelings [toward the Club],” she said. “I hope that it will reopen soon.”

For the Johnsons, the University Club was both an on-campus restaurant and a comfortable place with a personal touch.

“We knew the people who worked there and they knew our family,” she said.

The Club building, next to McKenna Hall along Notre Dame Ave., was donated by former Indiana governor Robert Gore and designed by Robert Schultz, a former architect with the School of Architecture. The private, not-for-profit organization serves faculty, alumni, community members and staff who pay a membership fee. Its dining room contains a unique display of the steins and tankards of the Gore Collection

The struggle to preserve the University Club has been going on for many years. According to the Club’s Web site, in 2004, University President Emeritus Father Edward Malloy appointed a committee to determine the future of the Club. Members were notified of the University’s intent to use the Club’s location for its expansion at that time.

The Club then formed the Committee for the Future of the University Club, which gathered more than 400 signatures to petition against the relocation of the club, including that of University President Father Theodore Hesburgh.

Now, the Club’s efforts seem wasted for disappointed members like alum Jack Sekula, Class of 1972, who goes to the Club once or twice a year when he gets a chance to visit campus.

“It’s a nice welcoming place to come to,” he said Friday during lunch at the Club. “People have a lot of memories here. This is a place that holds those memories for alumni, benefactors. … We need to hold onto the old.”

Dr. Kevin Poupore, Class of 1975, is one of the Club members upset by the closing. He said he was told the Michigan State home weekend was the last game for which the Club would be open.

“It was kind of nice to be able to go in there and eat dinner after the game … it was kind of a luxury,” he said.

He only eats at the Club once or twice a year – for example, after this year’s home opener against Georgia Tech – but he said the members who use it every week are the most affected by the closing.

“[The University] just said, ‘We’re going to put a bigger and better building there’ – I guess that’s their right. They really haven’t said they were going to build a new club on campus in the future, so the people that used the Club won’t have a place on campus anymore,” he said.

Poupore said the Club put out a newsletter to its members that contained articles about the Club’s questionable future as a part of the University campus.

“There were letters and protests, but they didn’t really give much credence to the group of people that frequently use the Club,” he said.

When he was a student here, Poupore recalls meeting professors for lunch at the Club to talk about class.

“It’s too bad we’re losing this place so full of memories,” Sekula said.