April 6, 2016 - This afternoon Ambrosians will gather north of the chapel to formally break ground for the new Wellness Center which is being built to enable us to better serve our students. This is the latest in a series of athletic fields and buildings that go back to 1885 when we moved to Locust Street.
At first the students used the flat ground behind Ambrose Hall for ball games. In the winter it was flooded for ice skating. Then in 1888 a barn-like building called the Play Hall was erected behind Ambrose Hall about where the grotto now stands (you can see it pictured on page 26 of A Great and Lasting Beginning). It contained gymnastic equipment and a hand ball court. But within a few years it was too small to adequately serve the needs of the students.
The large field behind Ambrose Hall continued to serve as recreation space (picture, page 47). There were rumors that a new gymnasium would be built but when the second addition to Ambrose Hall was erected in 1901 there was no gym. Meanwhile the field behind the building was laid out for baseball and football and in 1907 the alumni donated the money to build a new grandstand (picture, right).
When the third addition to Ambrose Hall was completed in 1908 there was finally a gymnasium which included gymnastic equipment and a bowling alley (picture, page 53). But it quickly became apparent that it was too small to serve the needs of a growing student body so in 1916 LeClaire Hall was added to the back of the building. The ground floor contained a swimming pool and locker rooms; the main floor was a basketball court; there was a running track above that; and above that was a rifle range, complete with targets and equipment. The rifle range was used by students, some of whom would soon be in the military and on their way to France once the United States entered World War I. (picture, page 66) The 1908 gym was turned into space for woodworking and drafting classes for the high school students. Much later it became the site of the Bee Hive which students still frequent for snack breaks and study.
LeClaire Hall, a named rarely used since for most students it was simply "the gym," continued to serve our needs for decades and not just as a gymnasium. Over time it was used for banquets, band concerts, large meetings, and at least once commencement was held in it when rain spoiled the outdoors venue. As the picture on page 89 (notice how well-dressed the fans are) indicates it was the site of varsity basketball but after Assumption High School was erected in 1959 the basketball team moved there for its home games. More recently the old gym served as the headquarters for the physical plant and housekeeping.
In 1926 a new football field was created on the north side of the campus in the space where the new Wellness Center will be built (picture, page 91). It also had a track around the outside and it served the needs of the college for decades. In 1974 with a gift from long-time supporters Robert and Rosemary Motto the field was rebuilt and named Timmermann Field in honor of her father, Gerard J. Timmermann the founder of Mid-West Timmermann.
Tennis courts were built just east of Timmermann Field. Named for Fr. Joseph Hratz, himself a champion tennis player and long-time coach, they served well for physical education classes, recreational tennis, and for the tennis teams. They disappeared when the Rogalski Center was built.
As the number of students continued to grow competition for space in the gym in LeClaire Hall also grew. In 1973 Mrs. Robert Murphy donated money to remodel an area on the third floor of Ambrose Hall for a gym in memory of her late husband Robert, a 1954 graduate and member of the basketball team. The space that became Murphy Gym had been the auditorium when the 1908 section of Ambrose Hall had been erected. More recently it had been a storage area. Now the two story room, with high north windows accommodated physical education classes and with a net batting cage it accommodated the needs of some varsity sports. Later when it was no longer needed as a gym the maintenance department brought in steel beams and created a fourth floor. The former auditorium/Murphy Gym now houses the cluster of classrooms and offices in 313 and 413 Ambrose Hall.
On September 30, 1983 Ambrosians gathered to dedicate the new Lee Lohman Arena, named for 1957 graduate Lee Lohman. The basketball court had seating for 2,200 fans and around it was a running track, four racquetball courts, two weight rooms, a training room, and locker rooms. On the second floor of the west end there were classrooms and office space for the physical education program and coaches of the many varsity sports. In the meantime the student body grew and with Title IX of the 1972 Education Act, the number of opportunities for women in varsity sports also grew. With more students, more varsity sports, and a larger intramural program, the competition for space in Lee Lohman Arena became acute and people began to dream of an even larger facility that would serve those needs. Today we formally begin that facility!
The Play Hall, the grandstand behind Ambrose Hall, the Ambrose Hall gyms, Timmermann Field, Murphy Gym, and Lee Lohman Arena were built to fulfill the needs of a larger and changing student body. An in large measure they came about because of the generosity of alumni and friends, and the support of the Davenport and Quad City community. With the continued support of Ambrosians and the greater Quad City community the new Wellness Center, along with the new Assumption athletic fields on the St. Vincent grounds, will serve the athletic and fitness needs of all Ambrosians for generations to come.
-Fr. George McDaniel