When Esther Harms of North Newton died last fall, her husband, Wilmer, decided to honor her with a donation to Tabor College.
The college is putting the more than $300,000 donation into construction of a much-needed dormitory.
“My wife had a very warm heart for Tabor College,” said Harms, a former Tabor student and 17-year member of the Tabor Board of Directors. “It was her way of supporting me, and I want to honor her memory in this way.”
Harms studied at Tabor when there were only three buildings, one of which was a wooden barn converted into a gymnasium. After graduation, he went on to earn a doctorate and spent 35 years in the medical field as a general practitioner ophthalmologist. He worked for many years in Halstead.
Though retired from the medical field, he remains active in the Hillsboro community as a 35-year board member of the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies. He continues to serve as chairman of that board, and visited Hillsboro on Saturday to conduct business and check the progress of his donation dollars.
The Wilmer A. and Esther Harms Residence Hall, on the north side of the campus, currently consists of a full basement with egress windows and a big pile of dirt in the southeast corner.
The college had hoped to have the dorm ready by September, but contractor trouble moved the projected opening date into December.
“It’s good to see things taking shape,” Harms said. “I know there are students on a list waiting to move in here.”
Tabor’s enrollment has increased, and maintenance director Douglas Graber says the new dorm is much needed.
“We are having to rent nearby homes and find additional housing any way we can for this fall,” he said. “When the new dorm is ready, it will have the potential to house 16 students in the upper level, and we may finish out the basement for more housing in the future.”
The basement will be a tornado shelter with a concrete roof and open access 24 hours per day. There will be room for up to 100 people in the shelter.
“There was no real tornado shelter for the students on this part of the campus,” Harms said. “I am very happy that this hall will fill those needs.”
Harms said the 24-hour access would not compromise student security in dorm as a concrete wall separates the shelter from the student living area.
“Students living in the dorm will actually have to go out and around the building to get into the shelter,” he said. “It will be a very safe setup.”
In addition to providing shelter, Harms said, the unfinished basement will have laundry facilities and ping-pong tables.
Upstairs, the floor plan will reflect a modular arrangement, with a shared living room and kitchen, and eight bedrooms off to the sides.
Harms looks forward to the dorm dedication sometime in December.
“My wife would be very happy about this,” he said. “It would be nice if we could have one of her quilts on display, or something like that, but that is up to the decorators.”
Esther Harms hand-quilted more than 90 quilts — items her husband and two grown sons treasure.
“My sons don’t really want to get rid of any of her quilts,” Harms said. “But it would be nice to have one here where her name will be remembered.”
Harms said this was not his first donation to the college. He did not live an extravagant lifestyle or drive expensive cars, and he appreciates the opportunity to help an institution that meant so much to him and his family.