To the editor:
(Re: “Ripon College ponders future of Merriman House,” , April 29, 2021) I am a proud alumnus of Ripon College, (1989) and was an active member of Phi Kappa Pi/Merriman House.
Imagine my shock, surprise and disappointment in reading the 4/29/21 article in the Ripon Commonwealth Press, “We haven’t decided anything: Ripon College ponders the future of Merriman House.”
Let me add some data points and correct the record.
One: In the fall/winter of 1987-88, Merriman (active and the alumni) sold the physical House to the college for $1. The college owned the land, Merriman (Active and Alumni) paid to build the house in the 1940s. The college asked us to do this, and it was thought to be supportive of the college in this process.
Part of the deal, verbally and in writing, the college was to upkeep the house “in perpetuity.”
How was this going to happen? As explained to us (I was there) at the time the “board” from the college room and board fee was to be set aside from the Merriman that lived in the House. So that is roughly $150,000 a year (room fee x 30 members living in the house), multiplied by 21 years (in 2010 the fraternity moved to the quads at the college) which equals approximately $3,150,000.
That is the money the college was committed to investing over the 21 years of ownership/occupancy in Merriman. Where were these funds kept, saved or spent? I believe Merriman was underinvested in for 20+ years after the transfer documents were signed, and ethically the college still owes on that investment.
Two: In the note from the president of Ripon College (received 5/21), sent to the 580 Merriman Alumni, it states, “We were not able to reach our campaign goal from Alumni to turn the house into a center for ... academic support services.”
Was there a publicized campaign? Were all Merriman contacted and all alumni?
In 2019, I was visited from an administrator from the Alumni Giving/Alumni Relations Department. She made a very convoluted attempt to explain what they wanted to do with Merriman House and asked for money and stated, “otherwise it will be torn down.” I gave her some other ideas about what to use the house for and it’s historical significance. I said I would be willing to donate $25,000 with some caveats. She left. No follow-up, nothing more. I wonder how many other Alumni had that experience?
Three: Wisconsin and the college are centers of innovation. How about a little innovative thinking? An auction or contest to refurbish the house? A partnership with HGTV? A partnership with the city or the county to have that house as an incubator for businesses — hook it up with highest, high speed internet available and have small companies rent space as a percent of their profit? How about working with the city to turn it into a non-profit center? How about designating some rooms in the hose focusing on a small think tank that could prepare ideas for the next pandemic?
Would any of this attract more students? Yes!! I could go on.
Tear the house down is the simple answer, the easy answer. Ripon College, you are better than that!!
To conclude, there has been significant underinvestment in Merriman House by the college since 1989, which is why we are here today. There have been bad actions of omission and commission along the way. It never is too late to make the right decision. I hope the leaders of Ripon College and the leaders of the city of Ripon do not let a beautiful structure get eliminated.
— Andrew Peterson ’89