Strong Hearts, Strong Lungs, Strong Legs

An appreciation of Seattle Pacific University’s largest dormitory, Ashton Hall

The journey is no simple task; it requires an enormous effort which breaches the limits of the human body. If one comes from Gwinn Commons or the Library, the voyage is not as difficult. However, start from any other class on campus, and one will be met with pain. Add on a backpack, and the journey becomes twice as hard. At a glance from afar, the shape that towers over the rest of the campus appears near. But the hill deceives the eyes of those who first see it. The shortest part of the journey, it takes the most strength to climb, forcing most residents to reconsider how many trips to take that day back and forth. With bent backs and sore abdomens, they begin the climb towards the top of the hill, heads hanging as if feeling too ill to go on. It is not uncommon to hear the wheezing of sore lungs along the way. Then, heads rising, they fight their way up the mountain, determined to finish. Each step, a struggle. Finally, the hill levels out, and the travelers are met with a stunning and awesome view of the fortress that looms above. Shoulders slack, backs still bent, each of them takes a few seconds to catch his breath. A feeling of accomplishment overwhelms the students. The journey is worthwhile. Why? Why do they come here? Not for a class, nor for a lecture. Not for a meal or a drink. Not even for the decent view. No, they do not come here simply because they want to, but because they must; this is their commons, their headquarters, their dormitory. This is their home — Ashton Hall.

Ashton Hall on a bright sunny day. CREDITt: Wright Images

The largest hall on campus, it towers above the rest, overlooking Seattle Pacific University. 150 feet taller than the lowest point on campus, its broad structure imitates that of a castle, tall and strong (SPU). Its tan color makes it stand out among the trees which neighbor it. It is shaped at a curious angle, like the letter M, but bent outward. From the outside, there are many windows, some already decorated with Christmas lights, some displaying plants, country flags, and closed drapes. There is enough room to fit 416 students. All the rooms look nearly identical (without student belongings of course), but each have access to a wonderful view. Rising more than 50 feet above the road below, it contains six floors with the first floor entrance one floor above street level. But there is more than one entrance to Ashton. On the sixth floor, there is a lounge which leads outside to the back of the hall, revealing a large parking lot. In the first floor lounge, there are many study tables and chairs where students typically go to do their homework. Contrastingly, the sixth floor lounge is a hang-out lounge. It contains a ping-pong table, couches, a vending machine, and large comfy chairs surrounding a fireplace. On the fifth floor sits a workout room filled with treadmills, yoga matts, and dumbbells. Finally, around the right side of Ashton lies a concrete basketball court, which lays dormant ever since the first day of school.

Ashton Hall was named after a former Vice President at Seattle Pacific University and Professor of Psychology, Dr. Philip F. Ashton. While not necessarily recognized for giving money towards the school, Professor Ashton is better known for his time he served at Seattle Pacific University. Starting out teaching high school mathematics, Professor Ashton was called to Seattle Pacific College in 1929 to teach Psychology after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Washington (SPU). In 1938, he was elected as Vice President of the college and was so for four years, until he moved to teach away at Houghton College, New York. In 1944, returning to Seattle to teach psychology again, Professor Ashton also chose to direct public relations. Three years later, he became the Dean of the College and held this position until 1964. It was during this time that the population of Seattle Pacific College began to substantially grow, and the maximum student limit was only about 800. Consequently, an idea was proposed on January 31st, 1964 to have a new resident hall built on campus.

Construction of this new building was announced by President Demaray in April of 1964, and it was scheduled to open in the Autumn Quarter of 1965. The final plans for the building revealed a very large resident hall set to be built on the far side of campus. It was to have a capacity for 416 students — 220 men and 196 women, increasing the current student capacity on campus to 1200. Due to the topography of the landscape, Ashton Hall was coincidentally built on the highest point of campus near Queen Anne Hill. This resulted in a very steep hill leading up to the entrance. One faculty member wrote that those living in this new hall would be sure to develop “strong hearts, strong lungs, and strong legs” (SPU). Professor Ashton served a total of 42 years at Seattle Pacific University, retiring in 1971, but lived to be informed that the newest and biggest resident hall was to be named after him. He also held the positions of Registrar and Director of Personnel and Guidance, though it isn’t known when exactly he took on these positions. He was frequently the speaker for many staff and parent related events and had been given a few awards of recognition. In 1964, he was named SPC’s Alumnus of the year. After his retirement, he was given an honorary doctorate in humane letters, and the first Philip Ashton Psychology Scholarship was also awarded in 1985. Dr. Ashton died on September 28th, 1986 (SPU).

Dr. Philip Ashton’s time serving at Seattle Pacific University is a testament to his philanthropy to the school, which can be demonstrated using an excerpt out of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Within this excerpt, Ellison describes a day in 1935 called Founders Day, where founders of a college come to visit the campus to see what has happened since its beginning. A young man attending the college gets the opportunity to drive one of these founders around the campus for a short tour. The excerpt takes place during this car ride as the young man converses with the older gentleman about his giving to the school.

It strikes a very similar resemblance to that of Professor Ashton’s giving towards Seattle Pacific University, because in both cases, they are both very generous men who laid the foundations for a new school and lived to see it through. In Ellison’s excerpt, the student questions Dr. Bledsoe, the founder, about his reasons for starting the school in the first place. Dr. Bledsoe responds, “it was because I felt even as a young man that your people were somehow closely connected with my destiny” (Ellison, 70–71). Later, Dr. Bledsoe states, “You are bound to be a great dream and to a beautiful monument. If you become a good farmer, a chef, a preacher, doctor singer, mechanic — whatever you become, and even if you fail, you are my fate” (Ellison, 72). What the founder is saying is that because he put in so much money and time into building this college that the student now attends, whatever the student chooses to do with his education all stems from the founder. Whatever the boy chooses to become is a sole product of Dr. Bledsoe’s philanthropy.

This text connects well with Dr. Ashton’s kind of philanthropy, because it shows that philanthropy itself does not have to be material. Neither Doctor merely offered their money, but also their time and legacy. When one thinks of giving in this kind of sense, it becomes clear to see that what Dr. Ashton did for this school wasn’t simply something he pulled out of his pocket. It took time and much dedication, and that is what made him admired and respected enough to have the biggest resident hall named after him.

I did not realize just how big Ashton Hall was when I walked in on my first day. The only thing I knew about it was that it was by far the biggest dorm on campus. But the more I walk around every day in this hall, the more I find it astounding the amount of space which was dedicated to it. There are so many rooms, all so similar, it almost feels like a hotel. However, I do appreciate it for everything that it is. For me, the best feeling of college so far just so happens to come right after the worst feeling, which is the feeling of walking up the dreaded hill towards Ashton Hall. The best feeling is the realization of getting to ride the elevator to my room instead of having to climb more stairs! Moreover, there is a feeling that I don’t get anywhere else on campus that I feel here. Every time I reach the top of the hill at the foot of Ashton Hall, there is a feeling of accomplishment that overcomes the pain of climbing the hill, a feeling that makes every single journey worthwhile. The path to the destination is a hard-fought battle, but when one reaches the destination, the journey taken is suddenly meaningful. Such as in life.

I believe Ashton Hall serves as a symbol that every path to a goal, every aspiration for success never begins or ends with an easy and simple road to the finish line. I stumble along the path sometimes and want to convince myself that it’s over for me. But then I lift my head up and see the destination, the goal, and I fight to stay afloat. When I reach the foot of Ashton Hall, I look behind me and see the path I have just conquered, all the obstacles I’ve overcome, and I know that it’s not just the destination that counts, but also the journey it takes to get there. And that is why I appreciate Dr. Ashton and why I appreciate Ashton Hall.

Works Cited

1. Seattle Pacific University. “Seattle Pacific University, A Growing Vision.” Seattle Pacific University, A Growing Vision, pp. 132–134.

2. Lapham, Lewis H., and Ralph Ellison. “Sentimental Education.” Lapham’s Quarterly: Philanthropy, 3rd ed., VIII, American Agora Foundation, New York, NY, 2015, pp. 69–72.

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