A very insightful and lovely letter from Marjorie Longenecker White

Dear Matesa, Staci, Jennifer, John and Doris,

My heart goes out to you and all who helped put together the Longenecker Lecture this year, and in past years. That my parents’ gift of bringing the Tulane family together continues at TUWA is rewarding to me. Thank you. Thank you. I am thrilled to be a part as I was in the fall of 1960 when we arrived in New Orleans.

The black and white photo of the Longenecker family on the steps of Gibson Hall, then the office of the President — showing my father at 48 years of age, my mother, 47; my youngest brother Stan, 12; my brother Geoff, 14; and myself, 15 — must have announced the arrival to the Tulane community of the new, young president and his family (minus my brother Bart, 17). The children were NOT excited about the move to New Orleans, but we appear to have changed our perspective by the time this photograph was made. We had moved from the University of Pittsburgh to the University of Illinois where my father was in charge of the Chicago campus, then (according to family lore) the world’s largest medical center. “The Joes” (Joseph Merrick Jones, chairman of the Tulane board, and Joseph Morris, a physicist who lived on State Street) recruited my father to Tulane, principally to build up Tulane’s science program and the medical center. Father came to Tulane with pledges of financial support from the Ford and other national foundations. It would be harder than he imagined and there were also major social movements he could not have imagined. First came the race issue. Tulane was not open to all; the national funds would be lost. Then the student unrest led by history graduate student Newt Gingrich. When father’s alma mater, Penn State, called him to become President, his lifetime ambition, he would not leave Tulane. The medical center and scientific program were not yet built.

Father’s autobiography stops with the move to New Orleans. He did not write the Tulane chapter. When asked, in a Times Picayune exit interview in 1975 when he terminated his formal stint at Tulane, what his legacy as President was, he said that, he hoped he had improved life for the students. No one understood what he had done in the physical (and social) building of the institution. The first TUWA Longenecker Lecture by the Tulane architect was a revelation. I think father built more on the Tulane campus and at its then newly established satellite campuses than anyone before or after him. He had had lots of practice building academic programs and institutions at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Illinois.

How does all this musing relate to the photograph of the family in 1960 on the steps of Gibson Hall? And to the important role of TUWA?

Now, with hindsight, I see that our introduction to “the Tulane family” came during the trip to Latin America that preceded father’s employment at Tulane. Father’s purpose for that trip was to establish personal contact with medical schools and faculty with whom Tulane had and would continue to work. For more than two months, we traveled via DC-3 prop planes from city to city in central and South America. Everywhere we went we were welcomed by medical faculty and Tulane alumni — the Tulane family. My younger brothers and I were teenagers who had lived in a tiny suburb north of Chicago where life revolved — within a few blocks — about home, school, and church. In Latin America, we expanded our horizons and met many fascinating individuals who were indebted to Tulane for improving their lives.

Why do I share this with you? Because I am so grateful that you have rekindled these memories for me and my family and because you and TUWA continue the tradition of “the Tulane family” that was there before my parents and I arrived in New Orleans and also supported and nurtured by them.

When we moved into No. 2 in the spring of 1961, the Tulane family, TUWA moved in with us. No. 2 was smaller than No. 12, but parties happened there: lunches and dinners on card tables, teas and receptions. I recall Katie Arimura, the artist who now lives in a retirement community near Tulane, held a formal Japanese tea ceremony in the front entrance hall with me as her guest. She and I were dressed in kimonos. The other guests watched the ancient ritual!

Our family — and the greater Tulane family — moved to No. 2 in late 1967. Mother’s first family function at No. 2 was my engagement party on New Year’s Eve 1968. My wedding reception was also there in July 1968. The ladies from TUWA, who had free run of the third floor for their interest groups, arranged my wedding presents throughout the third floor as an engaging exhibit that represented the generosity of the Tulane family to my parents—and to me and my husband as most fortunate beneficiaries.

My mother insisted that I bring my three babies home to visit her in the President’s House for the month of December each year. I looked after the children while Mother continued her busy schedule with Tulane activities. Each baby had its own crib and room…in hallways and closets –lit with glow-in-the-dark stars and constellations. In this manner, the grandchildren got to know the greater Tulane family and their New Orleans cousins. Dr. Marjorie Lee White, the eldest grandchild, came for five years to stay at the wondrous No. 2. She and her first cousin Dr. Lani Longenecker Paxton became lifelong friends at No. 2. Lani who lives in Atlanta came to the TUWA lecture at the Tulane Center for Culinary Medicine last year with her daughter Aimee. Can you believe that Santa also arrived at No. 2? My husband and I transported three children in car seats, a large doll house, and an electric train set in our station wagon. The train ran on a board placed on that great table in the side living room as my two- and three- and four-year olds looked on in amazement.

Matsea, you are correct about the Tulane president living on State Street. Rufus Harris who preceded my father lived in his own house on State Street. When the two Joes promised my parents a President’s House, there was none that Tulane owned. A call to the Board of Trustees must have gone out. But no house arrived by the time we arrived in New Orleans. We lived in an apartment at Lee Circle until Mother restored No. 12. Father never knew about the Zemurray gift of No. 2 Audubon. The Zemurray family with whom he had frequent association never mentioned it. But university records now indicate that furnishings from several Garden District homes and two houses — the J. Blanc Monroe family home at No. 12 Audubon Place and the Zemurray home at No. 2 Audubon Place were given to Tulane c.1960-1961 for the President’s residence. We first moved into No. 12.

Mother “restored“ No. 12 and No. 2 –very respectfully. She found the craftsmen who had originally decorated the houses to work on them once again. The Fortuni silk on the dining room walls of No. 12 still glows in vibrant amber in my visual memory. Somewhere in the university’s collections, the art faculty found Italian Renaissance Revival paintings and sculpture that completed the furnishings of the public rooms of No. 2. Henry Stern, dean of the New Orleans antique world, and Elva Weiss, the widow of Seymour Weiss, Huey Long’s top administrator and owner of the Roosevelt Hotel, headed up the furnishing committee. Elva Weiss was always part of my parents’ Tulane and family gatherings at No. 2.

At this time in 1960s, no one in New Orleans wanted these large houses that needed lots of work and funds for upkeep. They were, however, delighted and amazed to visit the restored homes, especially the grand rooms of the No. 2 when the doors reopened as the Tulane President’s House. Doors on St. Charles Avenue and Audubon Place were open for parties and receptions. The family rooms were on two, the Tulane family was welcome on one and three. When I was home, I was expected to help cook and prepare meals and pass. It was fun eavesdropping on grown-ups’ conversations. In those days, bourbon and scotch were poured in tall, glass glasses and positioned on trays at the entrance doors before the party started. Guests picked up a glass at the door. Party sandwiches and other sweet treats from Gambino’s were passed. In this way, little service personnel were needed to serve receptions, of which there were many. Of course, one had to wash the glasses and the silver trays. The silver trays belonged to my parents and were given later to each of the children.

My mother organized and ran the President’s House, including all the receptions, dinners, and parties. She was not a salaried employee. She was not paid. Father saw to it that Coritha and Albert Numa and Bea Woodfin who assisted at the President’s House were Tulane employees.

All of the Longenecker siblings obtained degrees from Newcomb and Tulane in the liberal arts, biomedical engineering, law, and medicine. I am still crestfallen that the Newcomb College that nurtured and supported me is gone.

“Think happy. Be happy.”

Thank you for this ceramic. But thank you, most importantly, for continuing the warmth of TUWA and its role in fostering the “greater Tulane family” as I knew it … and of which I am now so “happy” to be a part.

 

Yours truly,

Marjorie Longenecker White

PS Thank you, John and Doris, for sending the photographs digitally. We had never seen these photographs. I shared them with my brothers, children, nieces, and nephews. The picture of my mother IS my mother.