Coming home

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Mary Armacost Hulst grew up in the President’s Mansion during her father’s presidency at University of Redlands. She recently returned to campus with her granddaughter to revisit a place filled with very fond memories.

The Rev. Dr. Mary Armacost Hulst hasn’t lived in the Alumni House in more than 50 years, but it still feels like home.

Hulst came to Redlands in 1945, along with her mother, three brothers and father, George Armacost, the newly appointed fifth president of University of Redlands. There was a carton of Redlands oranges waiting for them, the first of many the family would eat during President Armacost’s 25-year tenure. Hulst remembers with fondness the many parties, meetings, receptions and dinners held in the President’s Mansion.

“It was a remarkable place to grow up,” Hulst said. “There’s not a room in this house that doesn’t have amazing memories. I cannot remember a time that wasn’t meaningful and joy-filled.”

In September, Hulst returned to her childhood home during a campus visit with her granddaughter, Maddie Hulst. For Maddie, it was an opportunity to see the orange groves, stately home and sprawling campus that her grandmother has always told her about.

“The history of it all is coming alive,” said Maddie. “It’s cool to see somewhere that’s really important to her, and being able to really appreciate it.”

Hulst was three when her family moved to Redlands, and “Little Mary” would serve as a mascot at football games. Along with her brothers, Hulst traversed the campus, swimming in Currier Gym and watching the L.A. Rams train in the pre-season. Every day, the siblings would climb an avocado tree next to their house.
“I remember one time selling tickets to climb the tree,” Hulst said. “I was told to never do that again.”

Her parents often entertained, and Hulst said she would peek through the staircase railing to see what was happening downstairs. “I think part of my love of people was planted by the number of people who came through the door of this house,” she said. “The doors were never locked. People would come by, and dad would invite them in. One Thanksgiving after my brothers left home, it was just the three of us. Dad went to the dormitories, gathering students without plans. That was very typical of my dad. There was always a full table.”

When dignitaries and celebrities would come to campus, they often made a stop at the Armacost home. Hulst remembers Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg coming by, as well as Bennett Cerf of “What’s My Line?” fame.

Under President Armacost, the University experienced substantial growth, enrolling more students and constructing 21 buildings, including Hornby Hall, Cortner Hall and Watchorn Hall.

“I remember the energy Dad put into a lot of that,” Hulst said. “I remember being taken to building sites, seeing the foundation and framework of one of those dorms. He was instrumental in starting the Salzburg program, and every student I have met has mentioned how wonderful that was for them. My dad would be so happy to know that.”

After graduating from Redlands High School, Hulst left for Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Today, Hulst lives in Highlands Ranch, Colo., with her husband, Jack. Her sons, Douglas and Stephen, and their families all live within 10 minutes. She has served as a member of the University of Redlands Board of Trustees, and during one visit, stayed in one of the bedrooms of her former home. She decided to look up in the built-in bookcase, and found something in a secret hiding space: Her brother Sam’s old homework.

Hulst worked as a teacher after college, but began to feel a calling for ministry while in high school. Once her children were older, she served in the educational and pastoral ministry at Calvary Baptist Church in Denver. It appears that being able to assume a presidency must run in the Armacost DNA, as Hulst is a former president of American Baptist Churches USA; her brother Peter has served as president of Ottawa University in Kansas, Eckerd College in Florida and Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan; her brother Michael was ambassador to the Philippines, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and president of the Brookings Institute; and her brother Samuel was president of Bank of America.

Hulst’s childhood home now serves as the Alumni House, but to her, it will always be the place where she ate dinner every night with her family, spied on her parents as they entertained guests, met thousands of students and faculty members, and ate her first Redlands orange.

“It’s a house that captures wonder and challenges and inspiration, but mostly love,” she said. “It was a great place to grow up with a wonderful family.”

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