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Tresidder and Old Union Histories

Tresidder History: Who Was Tresidder?

Donald Bertrand Tresidder, AB '19, MD '27, was the fourth president of Stanford University, serving from 1943 until his death in 1948. Born in Tipton, Indiana, on April 7, 1894, Tresidder enrolled at Stanford after meeting many of its faculty members during a trip to the Yosemite Valley. It was also there that he met his future wife, Mary Curry.

Following his graduation from Stanford Medical School, Tresidder returned to Yosemite to head the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. Although he had always planned to be a physician (both of his parents were physicians), Tresidder never came to practice medicine. His time at Yosemite, which included the construction of the famed Ahwahnee Hotel, came to an end when Tresidder was selected to succeed Ray Lyman Wilbur as president of Stanford.

Even from the valley, Tresidder had stayed involved in the business of his alma mater. He organized the 50th anniversary celebration of Stanford's founding and became a member, and eventually president, of the Board of Trustees. It was Tresidder himself who led the three-year-long search to find Wilbur's successor. Following another fruitless trip along the East Coast, he returned to find that the Board had already decided to offer him the position.

The Tresidder years at Stanford were marked by the financial and societal strains of World War II. During his term, there was little campus expansion, but his administration laid the groundwork for new classrooms, labs and residences through innovations in fundraising, and the creation of the first campus planning office.

Tresidder's managerial style was decidedly unlike that of his predecessor. While Wilbur seemed to see and sign almost every piece of paper at Stanford, Tresidder found it necessary to create an organizational structure that would allow the university to grow from its bucolic roots. Still, the man preserved the pleasant, tight-knit community of Stanford, with students affectionately referring to him and his wife as "Uncle Don and Aunt Mary." A few days into Tresidder's term, a Stanford Daily editorial said of the new president, "Spontaneously and genuinely, we like this rugged, friendly man."

Tresidder died of a heart attack on January 25, 1948, while in New York City on university business. His death shocked the campus, and many desired a lasting memorial of the man's life and contribution to Stanford. In his last address to the Academic Council, Tresidder had called for the creation of a new building to replace the aging Stanford Union (now Old Union). In 1962, with the dedication of Tresidder Memorial Union, Stanford finally had its fitting memorial: a students' union for a student's president.

Old Union  History

In the 1920s, Old Union was built as the first campus union to bring men and women students together. The YWCA provided programming in the Clubhouse (originally the Women’s Clubhouse, built with the help of Cap and Gown) for many years. Religious Life activities have been housed in the Clubhouse for a number of years.

Over the last decade, Stanford has made major investments in undergraduate education and in residential/living environments for undergraduate and graduate students. Complementing these investments, and in support of the “whole” student, in 2005 the Board of Trustees authorized the renovation of the Old Union complex to return to its original use as a student center.