The Secret Beginning of “The Fritz”

As many of us know the Chester Fritz Library first opened its doors in the fall of 1961. What many of us do not know is that before the dedication and the official opening of the library, many secrets were kept and packs made.  Chester Fritz did not simply donate his money to the school, he made sure the school, in particular the library system, was in need of his generosity.

In 1957 Chester Fritz first had the idea to donate his money to UND for a library, but he did not immediately send a letter to the University President or even the Head of Libraries on campus.  He instead contacted his aunt living in Illinois at the time, who would become an essential player in the final result of the donation money being given to UND, Kathrine Tiffany.  Tiffany’s role as the intermediary initially between Fritz and the head of libraries on campus, Jon R. Ashton, and then between Fritz and President Starcher, cannot be overstated in its importance.  Fritz’s initial letter to Tiffany outlined his ideas about the donation.

When Tiffany first contacted the university on Fritz’s behalf, she contacted only Jon Ashton. Fritz wanted an opinion on the condition of the current library from the head of libraries only, his unbridled opinion, Tiffany actually swore Ashton to secrecy so that only he was aware of the plot.  About one month after Tiffany contacted Ashton, she, on Fritz’s behalf, sent a letter to President Starcher regarding the possibility of a sizable donation from a former alum.  She did not tell Starcher who the donation would come from, but needless to say, Starcher was on the edge of seat for more information.

It would take a much closer inspection of President Starcher’s personal papers to gage his mood on being left out of the loop and strung along for those first months of communication between Fritz, Tiffany, and Ashton, but it would more than likely make for an interesting blog post, if such papers exist.

Chester Fritz sent Starcher the official donation letter from his villa in Rome on February 8, 1958, which finally named him as the donor and outlined the terms of his donation.  It is evident that Fritz had been planning the donation for a long while because only a little more than a week after he had mailed his donation letter to Starcher, most likely before Starcher even received the letter, he mailed a letter to Tiffany regarding a room in the Fritz that could be dedicated to some of his artifacts he had accumulated on his travels in Asia.

There were a few different ideas about where to place the library initially, here is one of the ideas that was not chosen, see if you can spot the library. Tiffany periodically checked in on the construction of the library to be able to send correspondence back to Fritz about the progress, an activity President Starcher regularly engaged in as well.  Finally on October 18, 1961, the library was dedicated with President Starcher’s speech.

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Also, our official website for the Fritz at 50.