Condensed from a conversation between Max Gaebler, Craig Bradley,
Melissa Maly, Virginia Neal, and Michael Scott.
Written by Virginia Neal.
A Unitarian student group has been present on the Madison campus since the 1880's. The first group was founded soon after the dedication of the old downtown Church in 1883 or 1881+. This group was eventually named "The Channing Club." During the 1940's, the Church's minister, Ken Patton, started a second group called "Vanguard." Vanguard was designed to be a lecture and discussion group for University students. It didn't meet in the Church; it attempted to have a broader base and constituency than just people who called themselves "Unitarians" in the pre-merger days. This group existed on campus for only a few years.
When Max Gaebler began his ministry in 1952, the Channing Club was meeting every Sunday evening for supper and for a program in the recently completed Church on University Bay Drive. This group had a somewhat different composition from the present group, for the group was slightly older, and approximately one half of its members consisted of young families. Virtually all of the 15 or 20 members were graduate students.
In about 1955, funds became available to the Channing Club due to the sale of a Church-run rooming house located on Butler Street. This building, the Olsen house, had been given by a Mrs. Olsen for the benefit of the Church. Since non-segregated housing was difficult to find in Madison in the late 1940's, the Church used this building as an open-occupancy rooming house in order to provide housing to both blacks and whites. However, by the early 1950's, the problem of segregated housing had been mostly solved, so that private housing in the campus area was generally available to people without respect to race. Furthermore, the managerial problems of running the house had become quite difficult. After a couple years of this the volunteer committee from the Church that was charged with running the house decided that the initial purpose of the building had been accomplished, and that they were involved in a difficult managerial problem which a volunteer committee was not equipped to handle. Therefore, in about 1955, the Olsen house was sold for approximately 11 thousand dollars. Three or four graduate students took the initiative in proposing that the Church use the three and a half thousand dollar equity from the sale of the Olsen house as a down payment on a new house. They wanted to buy a student cooperative rooming house with living room space available for Channing Club meetings. The Church approved this purchase, and with the help of several Church members who served as co-signers for the mortgage loan, a house was bought. This house was located on Park Street in the middle of what is now Sellery Hall.
Although there were outsiders living in this house, the majority of the residents were active in the group, which by now was called the Channing-Murray Club. (The Channing Club became the Channing-Murray Club sometime in the 1950's. This change in names occurred when the Council of Liberal Churches was formed. The Council was an intermediate stage between the two separate Unitarian and Universalist denominations and the merged UUA.) Many Church members were actively involved in the house, for cooperative housing was a new concept and the Church members felt that they were contributing some momentum to an important concept in student living. Ed Crook, a mainstay of the Channing-Murray group and a Ph.D. candidate in veterinary medicine, served as the house resident. Every Sunday night the members would meet for supper and a program. The 12 or 14 residents of the house lived there for 3 or 4 years until the University bought the property in order to build the southeast dorms.
After selling this house in 1958 or '59, the proceeds were used to buy another house on Murray Street, next to the University Club. It was located on what is now the entrance court in front of the Elvehjem Museum. This house was larger than the previous one, had more residents (20 or 22), and operated on a larger scale. Since this was before the days of coed housing, the residents of this house and the house on Park Street were all men. However, while only men lived in the house, some women were involved in the eating co-op. The office staff at this house included a coordinator who was hired to assist in running Channing-Murray programs. One woman who had previously been the program coordinator at the YWCA served as Channing- Murray's coordinator for two years.
The Club was always self-sufficient, for the cost suppers paid for themselves and Club members were able to raise the funds for minor expenditures. In addition, the house was self- sustaining; the co-op was responsible for the maintenance of the physical premises. However, sometime in the mid-1950's a corporation called the Channing-Murray Foundation of Wisconsin was created in order to enlist the interest and support of churches and fellowships around the state. With the approximately two thousand dollars raised each year, the Channing-Murray Club was able to hire a coordinator and to pay program expenses. Additional support for programs came from the Billings Lectureship Fund, a fund that was established and operated by the UUA for the purpose of providing lectures on religious liberalism to college campuses.
The Channing-Murray Foundation soon found that owning a house and being a landlord for a cooperative living unit wasn't easy. About 1962 the board of the Channing-Murray Foundation concluded that it was too difficult for a board with members from around the state that met only three or four times a year to be responsible for the day-to-day decisions necessary to run the house. Therefore, a second corporation was formed--the Madison Channing-Murray Center, Incorporated. The Foundation simply gave the house, its assets, and its liabilities to the Center. The Center was formed exclusively of Madison people and its sole function was to manage the house.
Sometime between 1963 and '65 the house on Murray Street also fell to University expansion After this house was sold, a new house was purchased. This new house belonged to a family in the congregation who had used it as a rooming house for many years. It was located on Lake Street between University Avenue and Johnson Street (now the site of a parking lot). Both men and women lived in this house, which held about 15 members. As in the other houses, the Channing-Murray Club met every Sunday evening for a cost supper and a program. This house was sold in 1970 or '71, again due to University expansion.
At that point the Center Board came to the conclusion that it was too difficult for a voluntary organization to be in the position of being landlord to a co-op housing unit. Moreover, by then co-Op housing was well established in Madison. Therefore, all of the funds from the sale of the third house were invested in the Lake Park Corporation. This corporation had been organized as an effort to enable the small businesses on University Avenue to remain in that neighborhood after redevelopment. Due to the student unrest and University expansion, many shops on University Avenue had relocated away from that area. To the surprise of the Church, it was found that the Channing-Murray Center was one of the two principal investors. (The other major investors were the McCormick's, the owners of Paisan's restaurant.)
During the late 1960's, the Church's Sunday School grew tremendously. Therefore the Church engaged a second minister, Tom Savage, who was with the Church from 1966 or '67 to 1971 or '72. Three quarters of his job consisted of developing a ministerial relationship with the school age children. In his remaining time he was paid by the Channing-Murray Foundation of Wisconsin to serve as the associate director of Channing-Murray. He not only worked at First Society, but also travelled all over the state in order to gather with students on Wisconsin campuses.
Tom left in about 1971, and Mr. Gaebler spent a year in Germany in 1973. Then Mr. Gaebler returned in 1974, Channing- Murray had completely ceased functioning; there were no programs, no building, no activities. It was necessary to start from scratch in building up a list of student names. A supper was organized for the 30 or 40 people on this list, and these people continued to meet for occasional Sunday evening gatherings. Thursday noon lunches, which had been occurring for many years, were re-instituted. In 1976 Steve Eddington, a graduate student in social work, was hired as Channing-Murray's coordinator. After a year Steve went to Urbana, Illinois where he continued his studies in social work and served as the coordinator for that school's Channing-Murray program. After his departure, Holly Loring served as coordinator for three years (1977 to 1980). She was succeeded by Vicky Oace, who worked for Channing-Murray from 1980 to 1982, and by Michael Adamek, the 1982-83 coordinator. Present plans for Channing-Murray include re-activating the Center Board and hiring a new coordinator for the coming year.
Michael Scott was the coordinator, 1983-84, then Cinda LaMar took on that role.
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