For Generations To Come

June 3, 2021

The most visible legacies on college campuses are often the physical structures and gathering spaces where campus life happens: classrooms, residence halls, gymnasiums, studios, lounges and so on. These testaments remind us of community, generosity, dedication, lives of impact and the importance of places to gather. Along with those who have given generously to Houghton University, such as the Kerr-Pegula, Rothenbuhler, Lambein and Van Dyk families, we also remember those who have made significant contributions in other ways—Ken and Doris Nielsen, Frieda Gillette, Stephen Paine, James S. Luckey, and Dan Chamberlain—whose names are honored across our picturesque campus.

No less important than the donors and culture-builders are the leaders we remember who inspired the gifts and labor that led to these construction and renewal efforts. Since the beginning of her tenure at Houghton, President Shirley Mullen has worked quietly behind the scenes to bring important renovations to some of Houghton’s most utilized buildings and to inspire the new construction that has already become vital to the future.

“President Mullen’s influence on the landscape of Houghton goes beyond buildings,” notes Dean of the Faculty Paul Young, ’76.

“We now have swings, hammocks, disc golf courses, a courtyard, forest trails and a new town park with walkways— all inviting us to rejoice in the beauty of this place and contributing to our students’ emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing.”


The first major construction project undertaken during President Mullen’s tenure was the addition of a third floor to the Willard J. Houghton Library. This included the walkway connecting the library to the Chamberlain Center (formerly known as the New Academic Building—“the NAB”), which houses many faculty offices and classrooms. The third floor became home to the Religion and Philosophy Department and set the standard for classroom design.


Perhaps the largest and most recognizable capital project completed during President Mullen’s tenure was the Kerr- Pegula Athletic Complex, funded primarily through the generosity of Kim (Kerr ’91) and Terry Pegula. This complex, including the Kerr-Pegula Field House, baseball field and softball diamond, is a tribute to President Mullen’s vision for Houghton to thrive in NCAA Division III. These first-rate venues enabled Highlander Athletics to field an expanded number of intercollegiate teams and attract more prospective students who understand the vital impact of the student-athlete’s experience on personal and spiritual formation as well as becoming a hub for regional events and activities.

“The KPAC has significantly impacted our ability to recruit student athletes to Houghton,” shares Matt Webb, Director of Athletics. “Our outdoor turf fields and indoor complex are among the best in the region, which has resulted in a competitive advantage for us in multiple sports. We have also become a destination site in Western New York. Hosting both Section V and Section VI indoor high school track and field events has brought thousands of visitors to our campus.”


The expansion and renovation of the Paine Center for Science had been on the drawing table for many years. President Mullen approached this capital project with her characteristic grace, determination and perseverance. Even when revisions and reimagining seemed to hinder and delay, she never relinquished the plan to complete this vital work in the course of her tenure. That determination will pay off for generations of Houghton STEM students—seeing the creation of new lab spaces, new faculty offices, new spaces for collaborative student work and room for new academic programs that didn’t exist 15 years ago: Engineering, Data Science, Biochemistry and Science Honors. The two-phased reconstruction project was fully funded with generous gifts from Houghton’s faithful alumni and friends, and the final phase of work, delayed by COVID, will be completed in the summer of 2021.

“It takes a great storyteller to create a narrative around a topic so the listener walks away saying, ‘I want to be part of that.’ That was Shirley,” shares Robert Van Dyk ’75. “She shares her visions with a passion in such a way that you want to participate. Within every story and vision, Shirley set the stage contextually by beautifully describing the journey and then explaining what role we could play in helping Houghton complete that important journey.”


Like the work completed in the Paine Center for Science, the addition of the Equestrian Event Center was completed without incurring any capital debt. The vision of Jo-Anne Young ’69, Program Director Emerita, caught the eye of an anonymous donor who contributed the lead gift. With the support of many other generous contributors, the Event Center encompasses an indoor riding arena, the Jo-Anne O. Young Competitor’s Wing and the Faith of a Mustard Seed Atrium.

Partnered with her passion for growing Houghton’s endowment, it is perhaps this commitment to debt-free construction that will be one of President Mullen’s most enduring legacies. This firm insistence to use current resources rather than borrow from the future is an indication of her gift to think far ahead and consider carefully how the acts of today will impact tomorrow.

“As Chairman of the Board’s Finance Committee,” states Gary Larder ’62, “we are delighted with the very disciplined approach President Mullen has implemented in these volatile times.”

President Mullen’s calling as an historian has provided her with a strong sense of the ripple effects of our actions and decisions. But it is her dedication, determination and perseverance that has made debt-free capital construction a reality for Houghton University. This reality will be looked upon with gratitude for generations to come.