Hunter J. Smith '51 gives $15 million for Alumni House expansion and renovation

William & Mary announced in April 2017 a $15 million gift from alumna Hunter J. Smith ’51 for the expansion and renovation of the nearly 170-year-old Alumni House. This is the largest gift ever given to the university specifically to support alumni engagement.

The William & Mary Alumni Association’s expansion and renovation project will cost a total of $20.7 million and add approximately 35,000 square feet to the current building. This will make the Alumni House — which sits along Richmond Road next to Zable Stadium — one of the largest social gathering spaces on campus and in Williamsburg, at nearly 55,000 square feet. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2018 and end in fall 2019. For architectural renderings of the renovated building, see the Alumni House project website.

“Hunter has once again graced William & Mary with her extraordinary generosity,” said President Taylor Reveley. “The Alumni House must be greatly expanded to meet the needs of our growing alumni body. Hunter’s glorious gift will allow us to do just that.”

The house has been part of the university since the 1920s. Originally known as the Bright House in honor of its first owner, Samuel Bright, some research suggests that it was built prior to the Civil War — likely in the 1850s — on a farm. Over the past century, it has served as the Kappa Alpha fraternity house, faculty housing, and in 1972, was finally converted into what is officially known as the Alumni House.

From 1995 to 1996, the Alumni House was renovated when the alumni population was more than 71,000. Since then, the Alumni Association has expanded the scope of its mission in providing world-class opportunities and programming and has seen the number of alumni increase by more than 35 percent. Today, there are nearly 100,000 alumni.

In recent years, the Alumni Association has sharpened its focus on advancing robust career and networking events, alumnae leadership programming, regional alumni engagement activities, travel opportunities, weddings and support for affinity groups such as the Hulon Willis Association, Order of the White Jacket, the William & Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae and others. It is also responsible for hosting events such as Homecoming and Reunion Weekend as well as its newest signature event, William & Mary Weekend.

“This expansion with its prominent architectural features will transform the current Alumni House into an impressive gathering place that all alumni will be able to enjoy when they come home to Williamsburg,” said Smith. “Preserving the elegance and character of the historic house is an important part of the upgrade, and I eagerly await construction to begin on this project.”

Smith, a resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, has been a major benefactor of the university for more than 40 years. Her previous gifts have supported a wide range of programs and initiatives across campus, including Freshman Seminars, the recent enhancements to Zable Stadium, renovations to the Pi Beta Phi sorority house, the Fund for William & Mary, scholarships, Swem Library and the Tribe Club.

The new major additions to the Alumni House include the following:

  • New entrance with a dedicated reception area
  • Event space that will accommodate up to 800 people
  • Lounge and business center
  • Additional restrooms, storage and catering areas
  • Third floor space for future operations and activities
  • Outdoor improvements such as a new terrace, enclosed garden area and plaza

“The Alumni House serves as a distinctive gateway to campus for visiting alumni, parents and friends to gather, learn and celebrate in a multitude of ways,” said Marilyn Ward Midyette ’75, executive director of the William & Mary Alumni Association. “Hunter’s generous gift will allow us to preserve the historic look and feel of our iconic building, even while we update and expand it, and will substantially enhance all of the unique opportunities and experiences we offer to the entire William & Mary community.”

An additional $4.2 million has been raised to fund the project, and the university has undertaken efforts to raise the remaining $1.5 million to complete it. William & Mary also aims to create a $4.5 million endowment supporting the operations and maintenance of the upgraded house, added Midyette. To learn more about ways to support this project, go to the Alumni House project website.

“We are enormously grateful for this gift — it will greatly strengthen our alumni engagement efforts and provide better avenues for alumni to build lifelong relationships with one another and the university,” said Matthew T. Lambert ’99, vice president for university advancement. “Hunter has a long legacy of inspiring, empowering and enriching the lives of so many in our William & Mary family and we are deeply thankful for her extraordinary loyalty and support over the years. She is a most cherished alumna.”