The Daniel House: Celebrating Over 30 Years

Samford students outside the Daniel House in 1997 and Samford students in London, Fall 2013. Photographs courtesy of Marlene Rikard and Blakely Lloyd.
Samford students outside the Daniel House in 1997 and Samford students in London, Fall 2013. Photographs courtesy of Marlene Rikard and Blakely Lloyd.

The Daniel House “changed the culture of this university for both students and faculty.” –Dr. Marlene Rikard

Just over thirty years ago, Samford University purchased a Victorian home in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London.  This pivotal real estate transaction, made possible by the Daniel Foundation, provided exponential travel and cultural learning opportunities for generations of students.  Located in the heart of London, the house serves as a window to the world.  Students can walk out the door and explore the gardens at Kensington Palace, attend Evensong at Westminster Abbey or meander through remains of the Parthenon at the British Museum.  During a weekend in London they can take a train to Paris, or a short flight to Morocco, Dublin, or Milan. It’s location allows for an enormous amount of options that serve, in the words of Dr. Stephen Todd, as “a living laboratory – a museum that they get to live in and explore for days and weeks on end, seeing the actual places and architecture, tasting the food, and meeting the people as they walk the ancient paths.”

Originally called Samford’s London Study Centre, the Daniel House opened in 1984. Over the years, Samford professors made it into a home – some with hammers and nails and others with home cooked meals shared in the community kitchen. This 130-year-old Victorian home has been a beloved landmark for the Samford family and the site of fun student memories as well as academic achievements. The first professors to live in the Daniel House braved cold nights with no heat and took on construction projects to make the house livable for students. To commemorate this special anniversary, a few professors who shaped the Daniel House that students know and love shared their personal memories.

Samford's London Study Centre when it was purchased in 1984
Samford’s London Study Centre when it was purchased in 1984

Samford’s longtime theatre director, Harold Hunt, was in the first group of professors to live in the Daniel House.

Harold Hunt: [My wife] Barbara and I were chosen to go and start the program for that first semester . . . Tom [Corts] and [his wife] Marla, and Ben Brown and [his wife] Francis, and [Ben] Harrison and his wife, those three couples [also] went.

He went on to explain that it was not easy to convince students to come to this new place.

Harold Hunt: We like to have never gotten a group of students to go. It was like shaking the trees . . . . They didn’t want to leave Samford. Even for several years, [they would say] “I don’t want to leave my fraternity [or] I don’t want to leave this.” 

When they got there, he explained, there was still more work to be done.

Harold Hunt: We had to walk across a plank to get into the building. It was – I’ll give you my word – chaos . . . . There were people working [but] nothing had been finished . . . this was Monday morning before the students were coming Wednesday . . . . [Once the students arrived] they were constantly having to move from one room to another [because] it [was] still being worked on.

All and all, though, Hunt’s group ended up having a wonderful time.

Harold Hunt: It was a wild semester, but I wouldn’t take anything back . . . and the students felt the same way . . . . It was an interesting group of people, but we loved them all, we really did, and it was just a good experience for us.

L:  The First Group of Samford Students to Study Abroad in London                                                      R:  Dr. and Mrs. Hunt at the Daniel House.

Marlene Rikard, a former History professor, focused on the cultural benefits Samford students receive through their time at the Daniel House.

Marlene Rikard: It’s the most cosmopolitan city in the world. I mean the entire empire has gone to London. It was a way that you could take sheltered students…and introduce them to that wider world and from there they might go on out to other places, other opportunities. And so it was something that Tom Corts did that changed the culture of this university for both students and faculty. Tom was the one who was the inspiration behind it. The Daniel Foundation provided the money, and they wanted to be anonymous. And that’s why it was just called the London Study Center for so long . . . It has become a remarkable program for the university.

As the years progressed, more and more students began to come, and a new batch of professors came with them.  As Karen Joines of the Religion Department explained, the house itself was always a work in progress.

Karen Joines: I did a lot of work. I painted the balusters for the handrail, sanded down the handrail; I hid a lot of the electrical cords with caulk and painted over it. The fire chief [gave me permission to] redo the door [to the] reading room so it would be more attractive . . . . I did some carpentry on that and the door at the very top of the stairs . . . . On occasion, I ran into Dr. Corts with a saw in hand.  

Samford’s faculty made the Victorian house in London into a home away from home where students can enjoy a unique experience of living and learning alongside their peers and professors – under the same roof, at the same breakfast table.  International travel can seem daunting and always out of reach, but the Daniel House makes this an attainable goal for many by providing an accessible platform for students to explore other cultures.  After thirty years, Samford students know they will never be ‘tired of London.’

Original artwork by Kaleigh Warwick, Class of 2014 and Daniel House study abroad participant.
Original artwork by Kaleigh Warwick, Class of 2014 and Daniel House study abroad participant. Prints are available for sale here at this link to the Samford University Alumni Association website.

Adapted from:

Department of Classics International Travel Pamphlet, Dr. Stephen Todd.

Samford University Entre Nous 1985.

The Daniel House in London, Student Handbook, Samford University.

Oral History Interview with Harold Hunt.

Oral History Interview with Karen Joines.

Oral History Interview with Marlene Rikard.

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East Lake to Paris via Quebec

Harold Hunt's Senior Year paris

With Spring Break behind us, we are all looking forward to summer plans.  What will your summer hold?  Many students find themselves in the same situation as Harold Hunt, 1954 Alumni and Retired Samford Theatre Department Chair.  Just shy of the language credits needed to graduate Howard College in 1954, he and a handful of students set sail for Paris to immerse themselves in the French language, travel Europe by train, and for Hunt himself — to enjoy the last semester of college before being drafted to Korea.  Read below an excerpt from an oral history interview with Hunt as he recounts what was most likely the first semester abroad for Howard College students.

I transferred [to Howard College] . . . so I didn’t start French until my senior year and I had a year to go . . . the option was to stay in East Lake for the summer (you could take a full year in the summer), but several of us, . . . there were seven, maybe eight of us, that decided that it would be a lot nicer to go to Paris rather than East Lake. So we convinced Dean Percy Burns that we would learn more French if we were in Paris and convinced our parents. [Dean Margaret] Sizemore taught French and spent every summer in Paris. So seven of us got on a ship, completely unchaperoned, in Quebec, Canada and sailed to Paris, France. And the girls stayed in a facility [for] American university women, I think it is a national organization and they had a, like a Samford center type of thing in Paris. So the girls stayed there and the guys stayed in a small hotel nearby. We went to class and of course it was all in French. I wasn’t the best French student in the world to begin with, [but] somehow we got where we could kind of get around and we went to class and ran all over Paris.

We planned to travel [around Europe]. I knew that the moment I set foot back on American soil I was going to get drafted so I waited as long as I could. So we mapped out this plan [for the] seven of us.   At that point you could buy first class, second class, or third class tickets (you can imagine what 3rd class was like). But seven of us, with all this luggage, [got] on a train, and I can remember pushing suitcases through windows to get them all [on]. So we traveled and just did this circuit. And gradually, one by one, they would come home and I was left in England by myself for maybe a week or 10 days.  I traveled up into Scotland and did a lot of things. All that sounds like it was a very wealthy kind of thing but it was very cheap to travel.

Actually, there was a civic club, Kiwanis Club or something in Woodlawn that [gave] us a loan. [It was] a student loan and I think mine was just several hundred dollars that we would agree to pay back; and then my family [contributed].  My father said he had never been to Europe but he had wired money to every major city in Europe.  He said, “I know that as soon as you get drafted you’ll be sent back to Europe” and sure enough I was. That was, as far as I know, the first student travel study.

Adapted from Oral History Interview with Harold Hunt, January 4, 2013.