Santa Fe Campus Groundbreaking

Richard and Mary Weigle boarding TWA plane to Santa Fe with the groundbreaking shovel used previously for the Key Memorial and Mellon Hall

Meanwhile, work on the new campus had begun in earnest at the start of the new year in 1963, beginning with the installation of the eight-foot culverts that would enable the campus’s access road to bridge Arroyo Chamisa, followed by the laying of the water and gas lines. On April 22nd an official groundbreaking ceremony was held, with John Meem using the same shovel that had been used in 1956 when ground had been broken in Annapolis for the Key Memorial and Mellon Hall.

In The Colonization of a College, Richard Weigle quotes from a letter Meem wrote later that week describing the event:

There were about 60 persons there; they parked on the causeway and slowly climbed the hill to the designated spot—it was like a pilgrimage and perhaps that set the tone for the event—that and the fact that the site looked particularly lovely, in spite of a chill wind blowing.

Meem himself made the following remarks at the ceremony:

This simple ceremony has a three-fold significance. In the long history of St. John’s College in Annapolis, it marks the moment when, because of a sound and successful program in liberal education under dynamic leadership, it has outgrown its physical limitations and must expand. This ground-breaking is a symbol of that growth.

It is also an historical event for the City of Santa Fe and the State of New Mexico. One of the oldest colleges in America and one of its most distinguished is about to construct a campus on our soil, thus increasing our educational facilities and immeasurably enriching our culture.

And, finally, it is an important event in the history of education in the United States of America for here—for the first time in our country—a college has adopted a policy of expanding, not by enlarging its local facilities, not by constructing regional branches, but by establishing extensions of its campus throughout the nation. Santa Fe has the honor, in response to our invitation, of being chosen for the first campus extension to be so established.

Ladies and Gentlemen: By virtue of authority invested in me by the Board of Visitors and Governors, I hereby break ground for the first group of buildings to be constructed on the campus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe.

Financial Support and the First Library Plans

The future Library as envisioned in 1963

The business of building an entire campus from scratch meant not just the design and construction of the campus. It also involved the vital and equally complex work of the fundraising necessary to bankroll it. Santa Fe had been chosen by the Annapolis Faculty and by Weigle and the Board for a clear and explicit list of academic, cultural, and historical reasons. In The Colonization of a College, Weigle recounts the six criteria that led to the committee’s choice of Santa Fe. The first was the city’s parallels with Annapolis, both being small capital cities of about the same size, one in the Spanish colonial and the other in the British colonial tradition. The second was the rich cultural life of Santa Fe, with its many museums, its opera, its symphony orchestras, and its many arts galleries. A third was the proximity of Los Alamos National Laboratory, with its world-class scientific facilities and staff, who had extended a warm welcome to St. John’s. A fourth was that, at the time, neither New Mexico nor Arizona were home to any other independent liberal arts college. A fifth was the warmth extended by the entire Santa Fe community at the prospect of having the College’s new campus sited here.

But also paramount among these was the sixth—the prospect of good financial support for the campus in Santa Fe. As Weigle pointed out to the members of the Board of Visitors in 1961, he had drawn a circle with a radius of twenty miles around Santa Fe and could count at least that number of millionaires within it. For a new campus that was to be built 1,500 miles from its sister campus and from the ground up, that was an auspicious sign of the financial resources the College would have among its neighbors in this ancient but also cosmopolitan city. For Richard Weigle, an energetically driven man who was in his own way as visionary as Buchanan and Barr had been in theirs, was a ceaseless fundraiser, one who sought support for this small College from any and all possible sources: foundations, philanthropists, alumni, campus neighbors, his own college classmates, and just about anyone else he thought might take an interest in its program. And more often than not, his overtures were successful, because the simple fact was that, two and a half decades into the New Program, no other college in the county was doing what St. John’s had been doing with ever-increasing success since 1937.

Among these early donors to the Santa Fe project was Tom Evans, an old Yale classmate of Weigle’s who gave the money to construct the campus science lab (Evans Science Lab, or ESL) that now bears his name. Another committed donor in these early years, and someone who would continue her financial support for several more decades (she lived to be 102), was Baltimore-based philanthropist Clementine Peterson, whose recently-deceased husband Duane had been a Board member, and after which couple the Peterson Student Center was ultimately named. And, as always, there were the ever-supportive John and Faith Meem, who in addition to donating most of the original 260 acres of land (worth over $750,000 in 1960’s dollars) had also committed another $500,000 in direct financial support. Also in the ranks of these founding campus donors were newspaper publisher Robert McKinney of Nambe, oilman Robert O. Anderson of Roswell, Oscar B. Huffman of Nambe (at the time the owner of much of the Valle Grande in the Jemez Mountains), retired businessman Marshall McCune of Tesuque, and Annapolis alumnus Walter Paine of Vermont, all of whom were later honored in the Upper Dormitories that still bear their names.

In addition to all of the above, there was another couple of renown who were also early and significant donors to the College: actress Greer Garson, winner of the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in the film Mrs. Miniver, which won the award for Best Picture that same year, and her husband Buddy Fogleson, a Texas businessman who also owned the 13,000 acre Forked Lightning Ranch on the Pecos River outside of Santa Fe, where he raised Santa Gertrudis cattle.

Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice (public domain)
Buddy Fogelson and Greer Garson (public domain)

As related by Richard Weigle:

E.E. Fogelson, better known as Buddy Fogelson, and his wife, Greer Garson, owned a ranch near Pecos, New Mexico, named Forked Lightning. I had hoped to meet them, and Fletcher Catron, their local attorney, promised to let me know the next time that they were in town. One afternoon I was surprised to receive a phone call from Buddy, who said that he was staying at La Fonda and that he would be glad to have me show him the plans for the new college. Buddy introduced me to Greer in Los Angeles over the long distance telephone. Soon thereafter, while I was staying at the Meem guest house, Buddy telephoned to ask me to spend the weekend with them in Beverley Hills. I accepted with alacrity and was put up in the Bel Air across Stone Canyon Road from the Fogelsons. At breakfast the next morning Buddy made a gift for the preparation of architectural plans for the new college’s library and music and fine arts building.

A July 22, 1963 letter to Richard Weigle from Buddy Fogelson illuminates just one of the many practical and financial challenges that went with building a new campus from scratch, and also illustrates the high standards of this group of founding benefactors:

Dear Dick:

I am dictating this letter from the ranch at six o’clock on Sunday morning to a machine. Although we discussed several things about the College yesterday, we did not go into one of the questions I had in mind regarding air conditioning. In your letter of July 11, you attached a memorandum dated July 5, which relates to the library plans and revisions. On page 2 of this memo it specifies “40% humidity controlled”. I am not sure what this means. What I am concerned about is whether you will have first class modern buildings with regard to air conditioning, so that summer classes can be conducted in comfort. I feel that the time is fast passing when first class construction should be done without fully air-conditioned premises.

When air conditioning is provided for during initial construction, the cost is relatively reasonable. When it is added after construction, the cost is high, and the operation is usually inefficient as compared to the construction-designed air conditioning. This is not intended to refer only to the library, but to the entire school….

Buddy

Nor was Buddy the only one of that well-known couple to make a lasting contribution to the new campus (though, as we shall see later, it would be nearly three full decades before his vision would come to fruition). Greer, who served on the very first campus Library committee, left her own calm and quiet mark in the very heart of the Santa Fe campus, for it was she who funded the installation of the small green oasis off the Peterson Student Center placita we now know informally as the “Fish Pond,” the actual name of which is the Nina Garson Reflection Pool, given to the Santa Fe campus by Greer in honor of her mother.

Greer Garson and Buddy Fogelson at a Reception for the Greer Garson Film Festival, St. John’s College, Santa Fe (1970)
Greer Garson Signing Autographs at a Reception for the Greer Garson Film Festival, St. John’s College, Santa Fe (1970)
Students by the Nina Garson Reflection Pool, aka the “Fish Pond” (1990s)