SMU’s Founder House continues to foster sense of community

“Mouzon’s Folly” is the oldest remaining house in University Park and it is just down the street from campus. For some it’s referred to as the old Kappa Alpha Order house, the old Pi Kappa Alpha house, the old Kappa Alpha Theta house or even an old boarding house.

But if walls could talk.

The home of Melissa and Philip Wise would tell you that it has strong ties with SMU and the Highland Park United Methodist Church, and that the people who enter through its doors leave with stories.

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The house at 3444 University is the oldest remaining house in University Park (Photo by Lauren Castle).

“The most important thing that happened in this house was that Melissa and I met on the front porch on January 1, 1976, at 9:45 a.m.,” said Philip Wise.

The white house at 3444 University was built by Bishop Edwin Dubose Mouzon, a founder of SMU, in 1916. However, when he moved to Dallas and began building the house, he did not know he would be creating the foundations of a community.

SMU law student Penny Shumway came to the house weekly during her time at SMU.

“The Wise’s house was a home away from home during my last few years in undergrad at SMU,” said Shumway ’15. “Even going there just one day a week, getting off campus and being with other SMU students fostered a sense of community that transcended the boundaries of campus.”

Early years

In 1905, Vanderbilt University decided to separate from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS). This led church leaders to discuss a new location for a flagship university for the church, and they wanted the new school to be in a major city.

Robert S. Hyer, president of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, believed that his school could offer a solution, but that it needed to move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. However, the school’s board of trustees shot down Hyer’s idea. Hyer later became the first president of SMU.

The ties between Vanderbilt and MECS were officially separated in 1910. Dallas became the location of a new Methodist university due to large offers from the citizens and city itself.

At the time of the final separation, Mouzon was made a bishop within the Methodist church. He instantly became popular in Dallas, and rumors filled the Texas newspapers about the possibilities of him moving to the city.

A Dallas Morning News article published Nov. 9, 1913 said, “Bishop Mouzon has been one of the strongest friends of the new institution, and he is greatly interested in the work it is to undertake.”

Mouzon would eventually move to Dallas, buy a plot of land and build the house now owned by the Wises for only $13,000. SMU lent him the money for the property.

When SMU first opened its doors, Mouzon continued to show his love for the university. He became the first dean of the Perkins School of Theology and he also helped with the creation of another Dallas institution: the Highland Park United Methodist Church.

At the time, it was a part of school policy for students to attend church.

Bishop Mouzon worked with the MECS superintendent to create University MECS. The two men convinced student leaders and some members of other Methodist churches to join the new congregation, which met in Dallas Hall. The church was renamed Highland Park MECS and had 134 charter members in November 1916. In 1917, the church moved out of Dallas Hall and into the “Little Brown Church” at the southwest corner of campus.

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Highland Park United Methodist Church moved into the “Little Brown Church” in 1917 (Photo Courtesy of Kent Roberts).

After helping with the creation of SMU and HPUMC, Mouzon continued to be a pillar for the Methodist church. He spoke out against 1928 presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith for opposing Prohibition.

“In addition to presiding over most of the conferences of the MECS from one time to the other, he was also the first Bishop of the Brazil Conference,” said Kent Roberts, archivist of HPUMC. “He was a bishop of the Japan, Korea and Cuba Conferences during his career.”

Bishop Mouzon’s wife became ill and died at their house in 1917. He moved to Tulsa in 1921 and later died of a heart attack in North Carolina in 1937.

His son, Edwin D. Mouzon, Jr., was a mathematics professor at SMU from 1922-1971.

Flashback

While growing up in his white house on University, Philip Wise didn’t think much about its history. His family has owned it for 53 years.

“I thought it was normal,” Wise said.

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The Wise family poses on the front steps of their home at 3444 University (Photo Courtesy of Melissa Wise).

Wise’s childhood was different than most. Growing up next to a university allowed him the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.

Wise remembers when a college student with a pet monkey lived across the street from him. One day, the monkey was sitting on the Wises’ front porch.

Melissa likes living close to campus.

“We taught our kids how to ride their bikes there,” Wise said.

One of Melissa Wise’s favorite memories of the house is of her mother-in-law Gloria. She was known to entertain.

Philip’s mom would invite intellectuals and socialites from SMU and around Texas to the house for her spring garden parties. His mom also worked at SMU for some time.

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SMU professors at one of Gloria Wise’s many spring garden parties (Photo Courtesy of Philip Wise).

Wise remembers when he came into the living room one day and saw a stranger sitting on the sofa.

“Philip — you must be Philip. I’m James Earl Jones. Your mom has gone to the grocery store to fix us something for dinner,” Wise recollected.

Jones was at SMU getting ready to perform “Of Mice of Men” at the Bob Hope Theatre.

Many SMU faculty and staff lived in the neighborhood surrounding SMU. Jane Albritton was like another family member to Philip Wise. She was the wife of SMU Dean Claude Albritton, who worked at SMU from 1947-1979.

Wise remembers it clearly. Mamama, AKA Albritton, urged him to come with her to campus. The Umphrey Lee Student Center was in flames. She begged him to go inside the building to save a picture. He did. The firemen just watched.

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Philip Wise ran into Umphrey Lee to save a photo for Jane Albritton (Photo Courtesy of Philip Wise).

And now every time Wise sees the photo of the Umphrey Lee fire, he can point himself out on the steps.

Attending college at SMU was not on Wise’s mind growing up. But he did. He went on to serve as Student Body President, twice. He earned a bachelor’s in political science in 1978 and graduated from SMU’s Dedman School of Law in 1981. He was awarded the M Award in 1981.

But one of Wise’s favorite memories is of SMU’s 1982 Homecoming.

He decided to help the student body as an alum. Wise contacted supermodel Cheryl Tiegs to be the grand marshal of the parade, and she agreed. Tiegs is known for her 1978 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover.

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Phillip Wise ’78 ’81 with Sports Illustrated Model Cheryl Tiegs at SMU’s 1982 Homecoming (Photo Courtesy of Philip Wise).

“The president of the University didn’t think it would be a good idea since she didn’t have a connection with the university,” Wise said. “But I assured him that the male population would be engaged with homecoming that year.”

Present

People continue to stop by the white house on University, and they speak with the Wises about their connections with the house.

The doors remain open to the SMU and HPUMC communities and the Wises host events regularly. The couple was the host family for HPUMC’s college ministry for two years, where college students met regularly to escape from campus worries.

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One of the first adult Sunday school classes at Highland Park United Methodist Church (Photo Courtesy of Kent Roberts).

“When I first went to the Wises’ house sophomore year, I was really struggling to find my place at SMU. The Wises’ opened their house and welcomed our Bible study with enthusiasm,” SMU alumna Sarah Telle’ 15 said. “Whether we were hanging out in the basement or the back porch, I started building a new church family and close-knit community.”

HPUMC’s connection with SMU grew closer this year. In September, the church announced its gift of $1.5 million to endow the Umphrey Lee Professorship for the Perkins School of Theology. Umphrey Lee was a prominent pastor of the church, serving for 13 years. He earned a master’s from Perkins in 1916 and became SMU’s fourth president. The church’s current head pastor, Rev. Paul Rasmussen graduated from Perkins in 2004.

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President Umphrey Lee was a pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church for 13 years (Photo Courtesy of SMU Archives).

HPUMC is turning 100 years old in February 2016. However, the church has begun its centennial celebration. The church’s membership is now more than 15,000.

Penny Shumway believes community is an important force in keeping things together.

“The Wises’ house has a rich SMU history, but what made it so influential to my SMU experience is the wonderful family that lives inside and their willingness to open up their home to students looking to form a community founded on faith,” Shumway said.

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