The University of Chicago’s South Campus Residence Hall will be renamed Renee Granville-Grossman Residential Commons, providing a new identity to a vibrant and important center for residential life in the College.
Granville-Grossman, AB’63, died in 2012 and directed $44 million to the University, the largest bequest in University history. The residence hall will be renamed in honor of her generosity.
“Renee Granville-Grossman’s experience of the College, and her response through this bequest, will help ensure that we can provide and enhance the distinctive opportunities of the College for future generations,” President Robert J. Zimmer said. “We are pleased to be able to honor her and commemorate that inter-generational link by naming this important facility for her.”
Renee Granville-Grossman Residential Commons, which opened in 2009, was designed to reflect the priority the College puts on opportunities for intellectual exchange outside the classroom and on cultivating community. The 331,193-square-foot building, at 6031 S. Ellis Ave., is currently the University’s largest residence hall, housing more than 800 students who live in eight College Houses—Cathey, Crown, DelGiorno, Halperin, Jannotta, Keller, Kenwood and Wendt. Students study and socialize together in lounges and other communal spaces, including two large community commons, a reading room and an expansive interior courtyard, and share meals in the spacious, light-infused Arley D. Cathey Dining Commons.
Renee Granville-Grossman Residential Commons grew out of a vision for undergraduate campus housing that dates back to the 1920s. At that time, then President Ernest Burton proposed a large residential quadrangle that would stretch south of the Midway Plaisance between Woodlawn and Ellis avenues. The idea was to create a residential college to accommodate the majority of students who lived off campus. Plans for the ambitious project were drawn up but never realized.
Many decades later, Dean of the College John Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75, revived that vision, as part of a larger sustained effort to build a vibrant, densely integrated campus culture and an enhanced College experience. The College grew, and in 2001 Max Palevsky Residential Commons opened north of the Regenstein Library. Now Renee Granville-Grossman Residential Commons—soon to be joined by a major residence hall on the north end of campus, slated to open in 2016—brings new momentum to these efforts.
“We recognize now, as University leaders did then, that residential life is a place where the conversations and intellectual friendships that begin in the classroom can continue and amplify and become even more intense,” said Boyer. “This gift is a wonderful expression of the critical importance of residential life to the central mission of the College.”
Granville-Grossman, formerly Renee Rupert, was born in 1943, grew up in Chicago’s Kenwood and South Shore neighborhoods and attended the University from 1960-1963, majoring in linguistics. She spoke fluent French and, during her time in the College, studied French and Russian. Her mother, Aimee Heineck Rupert, also was an alumna, graduating from the College in 1928.
After graduation, Granville-Grossman attended Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City and taught elementary school briefly before becoming a stockbroker. In 1981, she married British real estate developer Leonard I. Granville-Grossman, an avid art collector, and moved to London. Together they built a collection of primarily 20th-century British art. Art collecting remained her passion after her husband’s death, when she returned to New York.
Friends remember Granville-Grossman as vivacious, bright and successful in her career. “She knew how to connect with people,” said John Gibbons, who had known Granville-Grossman since the late 1960s. Gibbons and others said she never discussed a gift to the University of Chicago. They suspect she did so because of her fondness for the institution and the fact that her mother was a graduate, as well as her mother’s four siblings, Irene Heineck, PhB’30; Camille Heineck, PhB’33; Aime Heineck, Jr., SB’38; and Joffre Heineck, SB’40. “She was very proud of her family connection to the University of Chicago,” Gibbons said. “She was very proud she’d gone there.”
“Renee Granville-Grossman’s generosity serves as an extraordinary reminder of the indelible affinity our alumni have for the University of Chicago and how that affection can have a lasting impact on our campus community,” said Karen Warren Coleman, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services. “Our alumni are an important part of what makes this institution great.”
Boyer said Granville-Grossman’s generosity demonstrates the “continuum of philanthropy” that stretches back into University history and carries strong symbolic importance. “One generation extends its help to the next generation with a gift defined by the power of place,” he said. “This is what we ask alumni of the current era to do—help us continue to strengthen all dimensions of the College’s intellectual and cultural community.”
Renee Granville-Grossman’s bequest is one in a long history of significant gifts from women that have had a major impact on the University from its earliest days. Founding donors included Elizabeth G. Kelly, whose generous contributions funded construction of the Classics Building as well as Kelly and Green Halls, which were residence halls for women, and Helen Culver, who contributed more than $1 million in the 1890s to construct four research labs known as the Hull Biological Laboratories.
The bequest comes as the University undertakes The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, the most ambitious and comprehensive campaign in the University’s history, which will raise $4.5 billion to support faculty and researchers, practitioners and patients, and students and programs across the University. The campaign supports priorities in every division, school, department and institute. Expected to conclude in 2019, the UChicago Campaign aims to engage 125,000 alumni and friends over its five-year duration.