The Alexander House: Maryville College’s hidden gem

This historic building, the Alexander house, houses offices for Maryville College and Leadership Blount. Photo courtesy of Maryville College website.
This historic building, the Alexander house, houses offices for Maryville College and Leadership Blount. Photo courtesy of Maryville College website.

There are many buildings on the Maryville College campus that students probably visit on a daily basis. One building that does not have the good fortune of getting visited as often is the Alexander House.

The Alexander House is perched on the edge of campus. Hidden by the physical plant, the Alexander House overlooks East Lamar Alexander Parkway and Blount Memorial Hospital. This early 1900s farm style house bridges the relationship between Maryville College and the Blount County area—specifically in regards to churches.

In 2004, when the Alexander House was renovated, Mark Cate, the past president for advancement and admissions, wanted to offer a space for Leadership Blount, as well as extra space for advancement. Leadership Blount, Blount County’s non-profit leadership enhancement and developmental organization, is currently located on the first floor of the Alexander House.
The group uses Maryville College’s space to house their organization but plays an important role throughout Blount County. This organization serves to identify and motivate individual citizens in community service.

“Leadership Blount is a model program for many communities,” Cate said at the time. “We believe students interested in community developmental initiatives and non-profit work will benefit from interning and volunteering with the staff at the Alexander House.”

Prior to being an office for advancement and Leadership Blount, the Alexander House housed the Rev. John Alexander, class of 1887  and 50-year member of the College Board of Directors, and his wife, Jane Bancroft Smith Alexander, who taught English and history at Maryville College for more than 30 years.

The Alexander House’s legacy expands further than that. The Rev. John Alexander’s brother, Dr. Thomas Alexander, was Maryville College’s first graduate to serve in overseas missionary service. Recently, Dr. Alexander’s great niece, Joanna Shelton, visited campus to discuss a non-fiction novel she had written about her great uncle’s journey of faith in Japan.

“Tom Alexander was a missionary to Japan, serving from 1877 until his death at age 52 in 1902,” Shelton said in an excerpt from an email she had sent to Dr. Bogart, President of Maryville College. “He [Dr. Alexander] founded churches throughout central and southern Japan, taught young theologians at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo and wrote several books and numerous article on theology.”

This deep history reflects to the Alexander House’s mission today— not only in advancement but at Leadership Blount as well. In the eyes of the advancement staff, it is to get students involved in missionary service, as well as volunteerism with theological organizations. For Leadership Blount, they strive to connect people to service.

Dr. Alexander’s role, although somewhat indirect to the Alexander house, shows the true mission of Maryville College that reflects the Maryville College covenant: producing citizens that serve within their community.

“If you look at the College’s mission and commitment to the liberal arts, the education here [at Maryville College] is focused on the preparation of citizen-leaders.” Mark Cate said. “Obviously we are very interested in promoting and supporting leadership development among our students and in the wider community.”

The best way to think of the Alexander House is as an extension to the Willard house. The employees housed within the Alexander House work in the areas of advancement that deal with church relations and bringing the Maryville College community to area churches.

Everything that happens in relation to Maryville College functions on the top floor of the two-story house. “We work in the office of church relations,” said Jordan Conerty, program administrator of Maryville Adventure in Studying Theology (MAST program), “The goal of our efforts is to, essentially, bring the college and all of its resources to the life and ministry of local churches.”

Recently, the staff in the Alexander House was able to assist in combining scholarship and service while helping a church and college scholar a site at which to serve for his scholarship. Sam Phillips, a sophomore church and college scholar, became connected through the Alexander House.

“We connected him, after being informed about a lack of a service site for this year, with a church that we visited with that said, ‘Hey, we could really use somebody to come in a work with our high school youth,’” said Conerty. “That would be an example about how we bridge the gap of student and ministry.”

All students may recall the “Faith Community Breakfast” that is put on for freshmen during orientation. This event is put on in the Clayton Center by Kathleen Farnham, Director of Church Relations. This event is a way to get students involved with a local church that identifies with the student’s particular faith.

It is fair to speculate that most students did not know who put on this event. The Alexander House works to get students headed in the right direction in order to advance their learning and faith with local churches and groups.

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