LDS living center offers students `haven from world'

The Church-owned student living center in East Lansing is one of Michigan's best-kept secrets, say the LDS students who live there.

In fact, several of its current 76 LDS residents did not even know the center existed until after they decided to attend Michigan State University or other nearby schools.The one-of-a-kind LDS Institute of Religion and student housing complex, under the direction of the Church Educational System, sits on nine acres of land adjacent to MSU. Students have such a good experience there that they want others to find out about what they consider to be a "haven from the world."

The living center complex consists of three buildings: the 6,000-square-foot institute of religion building, and two 17-unit apartment buildings for LDS student residents. Built in the mid 1970s, the complex was dedicated Oct. 12, 1975, by President N. Eldon Tanner, first counselor in the First Presidency.

Today, it remains the only Church-owned student apartment complex not associated with a Church school.

The living center was the dream of Howard W. Stoddard, who purchased the property and donated much of the cost of the apartments. Brother Stoddard passed away just before the complex was dedicated - but his son, Charles C. Stoddard, said the current facility is a fulfillment of his father's dream.

"Way back then I think he had the vision that BYU would not be able to take all the [LDS] students that wanted to have an excellent education," Charles Stoddard said, explaining that his father wanted to create a good environment for LDS students who stayed in Michigan.

"We are hoping that kids will not only get a good education, but also build some lifelong friendships and marry in the temple. . . . I think [the living center] has been a marvelous blessing in many people's lives throughout the years."

He noted that Stoddard Halls have helped many students stay close to the Church while living away from home. "You always wonder if the living center wasn't there, what would have happened," he said.

Steven E. Henrie, institute director and bishop of the East Lansing University Ward, said a person can't enter the living center without noticing the Church-centered environment. Pictures of Christ hang in the entry ways.

"We have exactly what they have at BYU and Ricks College, just not in the same numbers," said Bishop Henrie. "We have devotionals. The young adults meet together for scripture study in the halls. They just have to walk across the parking lot for Church meetings and institute classes. It has all blended together."

Bishop Henrie said the young adults are a strength to each other socially, as well as spiritually.

Students, he said, enjoy spending their time with others who share their same values. They participate in service projects, and dances are held frequently. They play in the center's recreation room, watch movies and enjoy each other's company.

In the summer they take advantage of the network of nature trails behind the apartments. They also have access to a campfire area and can canoe on the river that runs through the property.

"We are unified here," said Kristine Parker. "It is like family."

A graduate student at MSU, Sister Parker said there are times in her life when she has felt isolated. But she has never felt that way at the living center.

She pointed out that the buildings are convenient to campus, as well as a quiet place to study. And when she wants to have fun, she can always find other LDS students close by.

Sister Parker said she looks forward to the time she spends with her friends. Recently, she and several other students visited the elderly at a local rest home.

Many students from the living center are also actively involved with the American Red Cross. Living near a Red Cross Regional Food Distribution Center allows students to volunteer often.

Paul Abegg, also a MSU graduate student, called the living center a nice contrast to the dorms on the MSU campus - located just across the street. "It is nice to have roommates who have the same standards and values," he said. "I like being able to come home and be surrounded by an environment that I am used to and that is conducive to the spirit. . . .

"It is right on the border of campus, but at the same time it is a haven from the world and the world's ways."

In the four years Brother Abegg has lived at Stoddard Halls, he has seen more and more young single adult Church members choose to live there. When he moved in, one building was occupied by men and married students, the other by women and married students. Members of other churches are also allowed to live in Stoddard Halls if they agree to abide by Church standards.

However, this year fewer married students were needed to keep the apartments occupied. Brother Abegg thinks the change is a combination of people finally starting to find out about the apartments, a growing college-age single adult population in Michigan and a successful state-wide young single adult institute program.

The living center is just one aspect of the young single adult programs that are beginning to thrive in Michigan, he said. Through the Great Lakes Institute of Religion Council, young single adult representatives from 10 stakes across Michigan meet monthly and plan activities - including a college-age single adult conference held every summer at the institute and MSU campus.

Bishop Henrie said he is often asked by others how they can get a living center in their state. "You have to have someone donate the building and furnish it," he said. ". . . Brother Stoddard died in the process [of establishing the living center], but his family forged ahead. What they didn't donate, they recruited others to donate. The reason that the living center is here is because of the Stoddard family."

Today, Howard W. Stoddard's family still continues to help students at the living center. Through a trust fund, they provide scholarships to needy students that help with their housing costs.

Manager Cynthia Coakley said since it was built, the living center has become "a lifeline" to students.

The residents here, "are so excited for the living center to be a success," she continued. "They are all aware that it is something very rare and unique and, in all likelihood, something that will only exist in East Lansing, Mich."

For more information about the East Lansing student living center call Cynthia Coakley (517) 351-5874.

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