Newsletter promotes community relations
‘Webster to Webster’ also makes first mention of presidential residence
BY COLLIN REISCHMAN & CARLOS RESTREPO
(WEBSTER GROVES, Mo, April 6, 2011) Webster University began distributing a four-page newsletter to the Webster Groves community in 2004. The purpose was to encourage more communication and promote positive relationships between the two entities, said Barb Ehnes, director of media and community relations.
Ehnes has worked at Webster for 15 years. She published the first edition of the “Webster to Webster,” newsletter. Originally in black and white, the letter is printed twice per year, although no official publication deadline exists.
“It’s kind of become habit that it prints once in the winter and once in the summer,” Ehnes said.
The most recent issue, which was directly mailed to more than 16,000 residents, dealt primarily with the recent land-acquisition deal between Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary.
“This issue was very important,” Ehnes said. “We put forth the positions and hopes of both (Webster and Eden) institutions.”
The issue featured messages from Webster President Elizabeth Stroble and Eden President David Greenhaw. Each spoke to the academic advantages of a recent land transaction between the two schools. Webster acquired more than five acres of land from Eden, located opposite Lockwood Ave, for $5.2 million. The expansion process is still moving “quite slowly,” Stroble said. However, Eden has already vacated the buildings Webster intends to use.
The acquisition would clear the way for a new science building for Webster, a building opposed by the local group Residents For Webster Groves. Residents argue that continued university expansion will negatively affect the appearance and aesthetic value of the community.
“I think residents think we won’t expand wisely,” Ehnes said. “Our buildings have always been tasteful and respectful of the community and the neighbors.”
Residents for Webster Groves don’t approve of university expansion, claiming the school is violating its original master plan. The Residents have established a website to oppose the expansion, where they detail their grievances with the university.
“I think we need to see the master plan for the university,” said Webster Groves mayor Gerry Welch. “If Webster honors the green space and the feeling of Eden, then I think the community will be accepting.”
Welch said the community “absolutely” supports the university, and wants both the university and the community to continue their positive relationship.
“I’m not sure how many people are really against the university,” Welch said. “How many people are there? Four? Ten? I honestly don’t know.”
Improving relations with the community is a major goal for Ehnes, who serves on several committees within the Webster Groves community, like the Old Orchard Taxing District Commission and the Shepard Center of Webster-Kirkwood. Ehnes said this involvement allows her to get direct feedback on the newsletter, and better ideas on how to relate to the residents.
“I get a lot of feedback from regular residents because of the work I do in the community,” Ehnes said. “I think this gives me a good view on what their concerns are.”
Although at first the letter was intended for Webster Groves residents at first, it is now mailed to a much larger number of residents surrounding the university. The direct-mailing area now includes the entire 63119 zip code.
The winter edition features changes reflecting the new emphasis the university is placing on community relations. The issue is redesigned, glossed and printed in full color. Despite the direct mailing, some residents are unfamiliar with the newsletter, sometimes confusing it with junk mail.
“I probably threw it in the wastebasket,” said Gerry Anderson, Webster Groves resident.
However, Welch believes the newsletter is recognized as a helpful tool by most of the community.
“The newsletter is a really positive place for informing the community about the university,” Welch said.
As part of a more cohesive relationship, students invited Mayor Welch and the Webster Groves City Council to the faculty response to the Delegates Agenda, and invited their input on issues relating to the community.
“I think we can certainly expect to see (Welch), her staff and city council members on campus more,” Stroble said.
A house for Stroble:
The newsletter also makes the announcement for the first time that an official university-owned residence for Stroble will be part of the Eden expansion. According to the newsletter, the house would be located in the area of the corner of
Lockwood and Joy Avenue.
In 40 years, this would be the first time a president of Webster is also a resident of Webster Groves. Sister Jacqueline Grennan Wexler, who was president of the university from 1965 to 1969, rented a house that was owned by the university.
This, however, was not the same as a presidential residence, Stroble said.
“It was not exactly a president’s residence where you could entertain,” Stroble said. “And that’s really what a president’s residence is all about. It’s not so much just a place for the president to live, though that’s clearly part of it.”
Stroble said she wants a place where she can host students, faculty, staff and visitors and that it’s close to campus.
“I think that it would make the job that I want to do easier,” Stroble said. “I think we really don’t have a place on this campus where we can host alumni and donors in a sit-down dinner. “
The board of trustees has not decided on the specific location for the residence, although Stroble said it would more likely be in the current Wehrli Center.
Mayor Welch said the city would have no problem with that land used for a residence for the president.
“It’s a residential building for a residential use, so it’s pretty straightforward,” Welch said.
For now, Stroble said the residence is only in the planning stages and said what she cares most about as president is meeting the university’s academic needs.
“My need of living in a place of proximity to the campus is not as important to me as getting our science building needs met and all of our other needs,” Stroble said.
She also said for now, she does not care to participate in the discussion of her possible future residence.
“Presidents know, if they are smart, not to get involved in the conversation about a president’s residence, because it can be perceived as too self-serving,” Stroble said. “I think that living close to campus is the right thing. Will this work out? I don’t know. It’s really a board decision, not mine.“