Preserving a Piece of Graceland History
By Melissa Shephard
The area between Tess Morgan Hall and the F.M. Smith Library started out as nothing more than a bean field.
Then, in 1977 the Roy A. Cheville Chapel was built. Designed to be an area for small worship services, the Cheville Chapel has been one of Graceland’s most distinguishable buildings for over 30 years. With its stained glass windows, pebbled floor and north-facing wall of windows, the Chapel has hosted countless worship services, weddings, baptisms and recitals. Currently, this classic Graceland building is undergoing renovations. The Campus Ministries team, with a donor gift from alumni, hopes to preserve unique aspects of the Chapel, while adding new, necessary updates. According to Matt Frizzell, Campus Minister, “Our overall vision for these renovations is to update the chapel by brightening the sanctuary interior, improving the utility of adjacent rooms and restoring certain aspects of the original design.” He added, “This will contribute to the goal of updating the appearance and functionality of the chapel while also reflecting the post-modern aesthetics of the chapel’s original architecture and interior design.”
The sanctuary of the Cheville Chapel. Dry wall has covered the wooden paneling, which was beginning to come apart.
With these goals in mind, Facility Services has already made a number of changes to the chapel. The folding wall in the building’s back room has been replaced with a new permanent structure, creating a space to store Praise Band equipment. The chapel’s prayer room has been enclosed with a double-glass door, creating a more personal, private area. Two walls have been removed to open the chapel’s lobby, creating a more accommodating place for socializing.
A fresh look for a beautiful building
One of the building’s restrooms has been converted into a kitchenette, where food and drinks can be prepared and stored. Campus Ministries Intern Christy Pratt noted that this will give the Ministries team the more sustainable option of using glassware for communion, as opposed to using disposable cups. The flooring in this back area is being replaced with vinyl VCT flooring. The pebble flooring in the sanctuary will remain the same for now. In the sanctuary, the baptismal font is being replaced, lighting is being upgraded, and drywall is being installed over the previous wooden paneling, which was beginning to tear loose.
“By covering the paneling with drywall, we’ve created a flat uniform surface that we can now paint different colors, hang things on, and easily repair,” said Kurt Remmenga, Director of Facility Services. “It gives us a lot more versatility for what we can do with those walls.”
The drywall, which is now painted a neutral, creamy yellow, will allow the Campus Ministries team to project song lyrics onto the sanctuary walls.
Perhaps the most notable change from this renovation will come on the chapel’s south wall. The wall’s large sunshades are being removed from the wall and a new, wooden pattern is being added to the wall. Using different geometric panels, varying in size and set off at various depths, the wall will be covered in an artistic pattern, envisioned in the buildings original design, and complimented by the ideas of Campus Ministries Intern Jessica Montague.
This fall, when the renovations are completed, Campus Ministries and Facility Services say the chapel will be a welcoming space that remains true to its roots.
The south wall of the sanctuary has been remodeled with geometric wood panels, a pattern envisioned in the building’s original design.
“Worship can happen anywhere and in any conditions,” said Frizzell. “Yet, the unique design and natural feel of the Cheville Chapel remains important to generations through its architecture and approach to creating sacred space. The vaulted ceiling, north facing windows, and mix of natural textures in the Chapel will continue to shape students’ sense of spirituality and worship for years to come.”
“Perhaps our gifts will inspire others.”
The special alumni gift came from Ken and Joan Johnson, Community of Christ members from Warwick, Rhode Island. The Johnsons partnered with the large corporation where Ken worked for 47 years to create a matching-gift donation for the chapel renovations.
“Joan and I have always been interested in supporting the efforts of high education,” said Ken. “We have found opportunities to help with projects here and there at Graceland. Our friendship with Graceland has been rewarding for us, and we hope for the Graceland students of today, and of tomorrow.”
The Johnsons have also helped fund endowed scholarships and they have blessed the university with annual gifts when they were needed. The Johnsons believe in the mission of the Church, and they appreciate the close relationship between the Church and Graceland. “It is so great that the kids get the chance to attend a school like Graceland,” Ken added. “We very much enjoy playing a small part in that education process.”
Ken added, “Perhaps our gifts will inspire others to support Graceland’s mission.”