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Christian Union
June 24, 2017

Christian Union Dedicates Robert L. Melrose Center

By Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

Christian Union marked the much-anticipated opening of the Robert L. Melrose Center for Christian Leadership with a jubilant but touching celebration.
Melrose Center Grand Opening 258
On June 2, representatives and supporters of Christian Union attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the commissioning of the Melrose Center, which is adjacent to Princeton University.   

“This is a really, really wonderful day,” Christian Union Founder and CEO Matt Bennett told a crowd on the lawn of 19 Vandeventer Avenue. “This center is going to do so much for the purposes of Jesus Christ… Our hope and desire is to see so many Christian leaders come out of this university.”

During the dedication, which coincided with Princeton Reunions, Bennett highlighted the university’s remarkable legacy for producing scores of leaders on both the national and international stages, including U.S. Supreme Court justices, heads of state, and titans of industry. In October, Christian Union purchased the nearly $2 million structure to provide an enhanced home base for the flourishing ministry at Princeton. 

“We, by God’s grace, are trusting that this center will rapidly accelerate ministry on campus,” said Bennett, Cornell ’88, MBA ’89. 

Bennett also paused to express profound gratitude to retired executive Ken Melrose, Princeton ’62, for his role as the lead benefactor behind the 4,100-square-foot center, which now bears the name of his cherished late brother. 

“We are so thankful to Ken,” said Bennett, after helping Melrose maneuver a pair of 3-foot scissors to slice an orange ribbon across the facility’s porch.

As for the building’s namesake, Robert Melrose was a committed Christian, history major, and Princeton alumnus of 1954. The member of Dial Lodge also participated in varsity track, the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, and the Student Christian Association.

After graduation, Robert Melrose served in the U.S. Navy and subsequently entered graduate school at the University of Florida, where he also became an assistant professor. Melrose’s goal was to join Princeton’s faculty. In 1959, the Orlando native and his wife, Jamie, died together in an electrical accident in Gainesville, Florida. 

Ken Melrose’s support for a welcoming ministry center near the heart of Princeton’s campus dovetailed with his desire to honor his extraordinary older brother and with his passion for sharing the concept of Christian leadership with future professionals. 

The former chief executive officer of The Toro Company documented much of his faith-based corporate journey in Making the Grass Greener on Your Side: A CEO’s Journey to Leading by Serving

During a celebration dinner for the ministry center on June 1, Ken Melrose recalled both his personal commitment to reflecting Christian principles in industry and his influential, brilliant, yet fun-loving sibling. “Robert’s Christian faith was very strong,” Ken Melrose told 110 attendees at the Nassau Inn. “He was a great role model for me. His love for Princeton helped shape my life and career.”

Over 170 supporters raised $2.4 million for the Melrose Center’s acquisition and renovation.   

The facility features office space for ministry fellows, as well as meeting areas for Bible courses, mentoring, prayer, coaching student ministry teams, and alumni events. A reference room contains biblical commentaries and translations, biographies, and other materials, while an impressive, state-of-the-art kitchen allows students to host dinners and other gatherings.

The Melrose Center provides Christian Union the ability to hold five Bible courses, totaling 50 students, simultaneously. The ministry expects that most of its weekly Bible courses for the more than 400 students enrolled will be held at the Melrose Center.  The spaciousness of the Melrose Center reduces Christian Union’s dependence on Princeton to secure ministry space for its programs. In an era when many university administrations are making Christian ministry more difficult, this security is a great blessing.

In addition to the dedication, the Melrose Center also was the scene for the ministry’s annual Reunions celebrations. About 150 alumni attended a reception on June 3, and many marveled at the elegant but inviting ambience of the celebrated, historic home.

Ultimately, the purchase mirrors Christian Union’s goals of providing practical resources to believers at top universities. 

Originally on Nassau Street and across from the Bainbridge House, the building originally known as Beatty House dates back to about 1780. Jacob Hyer, a former colonel in the Continental Army and tavern proprietor, reportedly sold the house to Erkuries Beatty, a Revolutionary War officer, around 1815.

Beatty, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, was a member of Princeton’s class of 1762 and later a trustee of his alma mater. The edifice stayed in the Beatty family until 1875 when Jacob Vandeventer bought it and moved it to its current location, according to a newspaper account. 

Over the years, the house functioned in a variety of capacities, including as a girls’ school, boarding house, and antiques dealership. The Historical Society of Princeton purchased the property in 1991 and leased it to commercial tenants until private owners bought it in 2005 for a stately residence. 

With Christian Union’s commissioning of the Melrose Center, the storied structure now will be “used for the glory of God on this campus,” Bennett said.
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