College alumnus Arley D. Cathey pledges $17 million

Learning Center, dining commons, residential house to be named in recognition

As Harper Memorial Library approaches its centennial, the University of Chicago is celebrating another major milestone for the historic space: the creation of the Arley D. Cathey Learning Center.

The new learning center comprises the existing Harper Library Reading Room and the Stuart North Reading Room, and will be named in honor of Arley D. Cathey Sr., MD. The name recognizes the generosity of his son, Arley D. Cathey Jr., PhB’50, who has made a pledge to UChicago of approximately $17 million.

Future plans for the space include architectural restoration and infrastructure upgrades in Harper.

“Harper Memorial Library stands as a testament to the vision of our first president, William Rainey Harper,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “Arley Cathey’s generosity is a tribute to Harper, and it will allow this beautiful memorial to flourish in its second century.”     

The Arley D. Cathey Learning Center will be dedicated Friday, June 1, at the annual Alumni and Faculty Reception during Alumni Weekend. The celebration at Harper Memorial Library, which is open to alumni and friends, leads up to the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the library, which took place on June 11, 1912.

Two additional spaces will be named in recognition of Cathey’s commitment to the College. The South Campus dining complex will be renamed the Arley D. Cathey Dining Commons, and the South Campus residential house currently known as Chautauqua House will be renamed Cathey House.

Cathey, a native of El Dorado, Ark., entered the College at age 16. He spoke fondly of his years as an undergraduate at UChicago, where he was first exposed to classic texts like the Iliad and the Odyssey under then-president Robert Maynard Hutchins.

“I really think that reading the classics have helped shape my beliefs to a great extent, probably as much as my family’s instruction has guided me,” Cathey said. “The University plays a good role in shaping a person’s beliefs for life. It did mine.”

During his final two years at UChicago, Cathey lived in Burton-Judson Courts, which now adjoin the dining commons that will bear his family name.

He recalls many happy mornings reading on the Judson patio, looking south toward 63rd Street over an expanse of lawn. “I enjoyed that, never dreaming for an instant there would be a large building there … and certainly never dreaming that there would be anything that would bear my name,” he said. “A lot of things happen that you never dream of happening, and that’s what makes it so exciting and so rewarding.”