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Juniata Commemorates Founders Hall Chapel Jan. 24

(Posted January 14, 2008)

Robert Neff, president emeritus of Juniata College, will speak during the ceremony on connections between the Church of the Brethren and Juniata .

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata College officials will honor the college's longstanding connection to the Church of the Brethren by holding a commemorative service in what was originally the college chapel (now the registrar's office) in Founders Hall at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24.

The service is open to the community. Chairs will be set up in the former chapel space. The registrar's office is on the first floor, beyond the president's office.

The service acknowledges the cultural and moral debt the college owes to the members of the Church of the Brethren who founded the college in 1876. Founders Hall, built three years after the college was established, included a chapel that would serve as home to the Huntingdon Brethren congregation for 31 years from 1879 to 1910. This year, construction will start on the renovation of Founders Hall. The major portion of the renovation will remove the north wing of the building, which includes the former chapel, and replace the wing with an enlarged wing that also includes new elevators, stairways and restrooms.

The commemoration service will be led by the Rev. David Witkovsky, Juniata College chaplain, assisted by the Rev. Dale and the Rev. Christy Dowdy, co-pastors of the Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon.

Robert Neff, president of Juniata from 1987 to 1998, will speak at the ceremony on the importance of the ties between Juniata and the Church of the Brethren. Neff served as general secretary (the chief executive position), of the Church of the Brethren, from 1977 to 1987.

Previously, Neff was a professor of religion at Bethany Theological Seminary from 1965 to 1977. He earned all three of his college degrees at Yale University.

Juniata president Thomas R. Kepple will attend the ceremony, along with many other current and former Juniata administrators. David Steele, executive of the Middle Pennsylvania District of the Church of the Brethren, members of the Church-College Relations Council and the Church trustees also will attend. There will be a collection of historical photographs on display.

Founders Hall was dedicated April 17, 1879 in the chapel. President James Quinter gave a sermon and Jacob Zuck, Juniata's first faculty member, was quoted saying, "The day of success is dawning."

Before the Stone Church was built in 1910, the College used the chapel as a congregational church for Brethren churchgoers from Huntingdon. In addition, in 1892, the College installed a baptismal pool at the southeast corner of Ladies Hall (now torn down, located roughly between Founders and the von Liebig Center for Science), where Brethren worshippers could be ritually immersed. Previously baptisms took place in the Juniata River. The Stone Church, which has an inside baptistery, was used after 1910.

The chapel, a vast open space in Founders Hall capable of seating hundreds of people, was constructed without the benefit of any supporting pillars so that no person would have an interrupted sightline. This unique architectural detail required the Founders builders to use an innovative construction system that hung each floor of the building from massive trusses atop the building.

Over time, vibration and stress from everyday use caused the walls of the north wing to bow outward, resulting in unstable cracks in the upper two floors of Founders Hall. The two upper floors were sealed off in 1979.


Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.