Jan Dean’s new book showcases the home and the families who have lived there

Tuesday, April 30, 2024
Jan Dean sitting outside of the president's house with her book

Jan Dean's new book chronicles the history of UNH's president's house.

Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak struck in the spring of 2020, Jan Dean found herself staring at a dining room table covered in a sea of tiny puzzle pieces.

With the world locked down and her husband, UNH President Jim Dean, navigating the uncharted waters of figuring out how to guide a university through a global pandemic, spending hours building 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles proved an ideal escape.

“We were just desperate to have something to think about besides what was going on in the world at the time,” Dean says.

More than three years later in May 2023, 17 members of the UNH COVID Task Force – the key players who did, indeed, successfully guide the university through the pandemic – gathered around that same table, toasting the US Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement that the COVID-19 public health emergency had been declared over.

That dining room table, located in the president’s house – also known as the PresRes – on campus, has served as a gathering place during a host of significant and influential moments in UNH history, many of which occurred years before the Deans arrived in Durham. It was just one of the many things inside the house that intrigued Dean when she and Jim first arrived, a curiosity she ultimately turned into a book, “On the Corner of Garrison & Main: Inside the University of New Hampshire’s Home,” which is now available through Amazon.

President's house in digital watercolor format
The front cover image of jan dean's new book.

The table certainly figures prominently. It’s where university leaders huddled on the morning of 9/11, where governors and senators – and even Meryl Streep – have dined during formal get-togethers, and it actually sparked controversy itself when it was purchased in 1982 during the tenure of Evelyn Handler, the university’s first woman president, thanks to what many perceived as an extravagant price tag.

Despite the table’s time in the limelight, though, there isn’t one single star of the book. Instead, there are dozens of lead characters, all of whom had previously been relegated to bit roles in the university’s history. Dean sought to tell the story of the house and its evolution over the years but also the stories of the families and first men and women who have lived in the residence.

“There has been a lot written about the university presidents, but very little about the first gentlemen and first ladies,” Dean says. “I hope that the book gives a voice to those other people who play such an important role in a president’s time at the university. I just wanted to sort of humanize the whole thing. We are the 20th of these families to come to campus, and we have all had something to share and to give.”

Dean’s account moves chronologically through the history of UNH presidents and their families living in the house, shedding light on the changes both the residence and campus underwent during each tenure.

The result is a chronicle of life on campus for presidents and their families through many memorable and often turbulent historic eras, including World Wars I and II, the societal tumult of the 60s and 70s, 9/11 and its aftermath and COVID.

For instance, Dean notes that President Harold Stoke and his wife, Persis “Esther” Stoke presided over the university during World War II, when everything was in short supply due to rations and most of the male students were away from campus in battle. The return of the veterans ushered in the arrival of the GI Bill.

The most challenging era on campus in her eyes, though, was the late 1960s and early 1970s, particularly the stretch under President John McConnell and his wife, Harriett McConnell, when the leadership had to “balance out the furor of the students” over so many cultural issues.

One thread that carried through it all, Dean says, is the way the university community consistently united in the face of difficult circumstances, from both world wars to the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. to 9/11 to COVID and more.

“During times of crisis the university has definitely banded together. I have never once doubted in the goodness of this community,” Dean says.

"I hope that the book gives a voice to those other people who play such an important role in a president’s time at the university."

Dean also recounts the changes and updates made to the PresRes itself through the years, from minor cosmetic adjustments made to suit the preferences of each new family to more significant alterations like the enclosing and screening in of a second-floor balcony in the 1920s and the most extensive refresh in the building’s history under President Mark Huddleston in 2007, which included a complete makeover of the kitchen, the addition of a second-floor laundry room and the retrofitting of central air conditioning into the home.

Dean leaned on the university archives and student newspaper for much of her research, and also tapped into ancestry.com and newspapers.com. She gives particular credit to the UNH library’s Morgan Wilson, public services coordinator, and Eleta Exline, scholarly communication librarian, for their key assistance.

Dean even found university connections where she wasn’t expecting to throughout the process. She reached out to Sue Hertz, a professor in the English department, to find some freelance editing help and was connected to Maggie Wallace, an MFA graduate who took on the task. Another alum, John Herman, played a key role in formatting the book for publication.

Dean opted to self-publish through Amazon and will be donating all of the proceeds from the sale of the book back to UNH. A digital copy will be placed in the UNH Repository, as well – and the latter placement, Dean hopes, could provide an opportunity for the story of the house and its inhabitants to continue to develop well into the future.

“I really just want it to be a part of the university’s history, and I feel it will be invaluable for future residents of the house. I can’t wait to share it with the next people who are going to be moving in,” Dean says. “At the very end, as I wrote in my epilogue, I am hoping that the chronicle of life inside this house will carry on. The book will be in the digital archives, and I hope there will be people that will be able to add to it, that they’ll take the time to put their experiences there, so in that way it will sort of become a living history.”

Jeremy Gasowski | UNH Marketing | jeremy.gasowski@unh.edu | 603-862-4465