June 25, 2022

Locals devastated as Wilson Hall is torn down

A lone chimney stands out amongst the rubble of the once grand Wilson Hall. The Southwestern Community College (SWCC) dormitory started the demolition process last week.

Wilson hall was SWCC’s first dormitory, erected in the mid 1970s. The building was entirely built by the students and faculty of the college. The carpentry and masonry classes built everything from the ground up.

“It’s hard to tear down,” said Tom Lesan, vice president for economic development. “There’s a lot of history there.”

The decision to tear down came down to several key factors. After a bad rain several years ago, the basement of the dormitory flooded, and despite many efforts, Lesan said they haven’t been able to waterproof the building since.

Wilson Hall also lacked accessibility with stairs going both up and down as soon as the building was entered. The dormitory was designed in the older style with rooms in the middle and a shared bathroom on the end. “It’s not what students want today,” Lesan said. The more common dorms now are apartment-style where it’s only two people to a bathroom.

The building came to be shortly after the death of Mary Wilson, who was the secretary of instruction in the 1970s. Her daughters, only 6 and 2 years old at the time, have looked at the building with pride for the last four decades.

A working mom at 28 years old, she spent most of her time at SWCC. “That’s where I spent time with her,” her oldest daughter, Marnie Cline, said. “We went in and sat at her typewriter. Those are the memories my sister and I have.”

Wilson passed away on a Sunday morning in a farming accident. After the students where informed of her unfortunate passing, all classes were cancelled for the day in mourning.

Wilson’s youngest daughter, Deborah Casebolt, was too young to have memories of her mother. “The building is a piece of our mother to me,” she said. “I could drive by and see it, and always think of her.” Even Cline’s kids know Wilson Hall as “grandma’s building.”

After making a post on social media about the demolition of the building, Cline said that SWCC President, Dr. Marjorie McGuire-Welch, reached out to her personally to let her know why they had decided to tear down the building, and to apologize for the history lost. While Cline has a lot of emotions about the demolition of the building, she acknowledges that nothing lasts forever. “I get it,” Cline said. “Time goes on. It’s been 45 years; I’m sure it’s outdated.”

For those who built the dormitory with their own hands, the loss is harder to accept. “It blew me away,” said John Kawa, 1976 SWCC alumnus. “To me, it was the best building out there. It was a beautiful building. I almost shed a tear. It meant something to me.”

When Kawa, now a contractor, started working on Wilson Hall, it was close to being done. He started helping on the roof. He says it was a great experience and a special place. “You can come back and look at something and say, ‘I worked on that. I built that,’” he said.

“The building is all brick and well built,” Lesan said. “It was a tough decision. I know it meant a lot to John.”

While working on the building, Kawa remembers a time he had a fall off the roof onto the second level of scaffolding. He said he jumped right back up and the rest of them climbed up to help him get the job done. “Every time I went by there, I had a good memory. And now it’s gone.”

Tracey Evans, SWCC student activities coordinator, cherishes her memories of living in Wilson Hall. She lived there in 1983 and 1984 when it was a girls only dorm. “It was a great atmosphere. Almost family-like,” she said. “Our dorm ‘mom’ Lavoune Fulton, who lived in the tiny apartment in Wilson, truly had her hands full!”

There was a community area where Evans and other girls would gather. “So many fun times and great memories were made there,” Evans said. “Myself along with many past Spartans that lived there are sad that it is being torn down. We wished there was a way to keep it, but we all understand that progress needs to be made.”

It was so special to Kawa, and he’s most upset that he didn’t get a call. “You don’t tear stuff down,” he said. “You fix it. It’s very disappointing that my school would do something like that and not seek the advice of people in town who know how to fix it.”

Both Cline and Kawa have been avoiding driving by Wilson hall in its current state as the memories have been too painful. “I was thinking I would go down a long time before that building,” Kawa said.

For Evans, it has sparked conversation with her former Wilson Hall residents. “Several of us have been talking about all our memories made there,” she said. “That will never go away.”

As the college is still coming back from COVID, they don’t have immediate plans for the building lot, but if the need for another dormitory comes up, Lesan said it would be a great spot.

Bricks from the building will be used to create a memorial bench.

“It’s a heartbreaker,” Kawa said. “It meant something to that family, and every guy like myself that worked on it.”

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.