Alumni Memorial Chapel History

Alumni Memorial Chapel

A place to celebrate and remember . . .

The UNM Alumni Memorial Chapel is a placeholder of significant events in the lives of alumni. Built in 1962 as a memorial to alumni killed in the nation’s wars, the UNM Alumni Memorial Chapel has served the campus community in joyful and trying times. Dedicated to UNM’s fallen soldiers of World Wars I and II, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, whose names are listed on its south wall. The chapel is a place of both reflection and remembrance. Thousands of weddings and numerous memorials have taken place within its walls. Its simple elegance complements any occasion, public or personal.

A Place to Celebrate and Remember . . .

Alumni Memorial ChapelIn the beginning, the idea of a memorial building or chapel was first proposed to the university by the Alumni Relations Office in 1944. By 1953, alumni, students, faculty, staff and businesses had raised $40,000 for the project. The following year, architect John Gaw Meem of the firm Meem, Holien, Buckley and Associates drew the first plans. By 1959, $75,000 had been raised. But costs were rising faster than donations.

Meem's firm was asked to eliminate the retablos and other furnishings from the bid. The plans were finalized in December 1959, bids were advertised in January 1960, and the contract was awarded to Bradbury and Stamm Construction in March 1960. The completed costs would run to $106,000. The university agreed to furnish the remaining funds.

The original three site proposals for the building were north of Mesa Vista (near today's Ortega Hall), in the grove of trees north of Zimmerman Library, and the current site near Scholes Hall. Architect John Gaw Meem had wanted the building centrally located north of Mesa Vista so students could get "physical refreshment" from the Student Union and "spiritual refreshment" from the nearby chapel. The Chapel was contructed of cinder block, shale brick and hollow tiles to create a gentle slope from the ground up.

The consulting firm of John Carl Warnecke and Associates, which was preparing a campus master plan, suggested that the chapel be built on the site near Scholes Hall, reserving the interior campus space for academic buildings. That swayed the decision toward the chapel's current location.

Chapel Details
  • Architect: John Gaw Meem of the firm Meem, Holien, Buckley and Associates
  • Landscape Architect: Edward Holien
  • Landscape Consultation: Committee members and the physical plant
  • Contractors: Bradbury and Stamm Construction
  • Architectural Style: Based on Franciscan Mission style
  • Construction: Cinder block, shale brick, hollow tiles
  • Completion Date: 1962
Commemorative Poster
Chapel Poster

by J.D. Wellborn, 16"x20"
Click here to order your commemorative poster

The UNM Alumni Association celebrated the Golden Anniversary of the Alumni Memorial Chapel, April 28 and 29, 2012

On April 28, UNM staff, representatives of the UNM ROTC, and alumni gathered to remember our alumni who gave their lives in our nation’s wars with a war memorial and flag ceremony. The solemn, moving program featured a reading of the names of the soldiers on the chapel wall, the addition of a new name to the wall, tolling bells, bagpipes, and the lighting of luminarias.

See the photos
on Facebook.

Then, on April 29, more than 250 people helped us celebrate 50 years of love. With music, song, cherished memories, and wedding vow renewals, couples celebrated their commitments. Following the ceremony and re-dedication of the chapel, everyone gathered in Hodgin Hall for a reception with great food, live music, conversation, and even a little dancing.

See the photos
on Facebook.


Alumni Memorial ChapelSEND US YOUR PHOTOS! We would love to have pictures of you in the Chapel, then and now, or any other chapel photos you are willing to share for future Chapel programs.

Please e-mail your high-resolution, copyright-free photos to alumni@unm.edu. Please include a signed photo release form. Or, post your photos to our Facebook page.

Inside the Chapel
Take a virtual tour!

Chapel BellsFurnishings: The furnishings were purchased with alumni-donated funds and added in 1964.

Carillon: The Chi Omega sorority donated the carillon bells in 1975, the group's 50th anniversary. In 1989, at the time of the university's centennial, the classes of 1947 and 1949 extended the sound to the east and west campus.

Pipe Organ: The pipe organ, from Wicks Organ Company of Highland, Illinois, was added in 1974 as a memorial to Walter Keller, former chairman of the department of music. Professor Wesley T. Selby designed it, trucked the parts from Illinois and assembled them. The only one of its kind in the state, it is a nine-stop baroque organ, with 432 pipes.

In 2009, Nancy Doolittle, along with her siblings and cousin, established the Willia T. Zimmerman Fund to benefit both the chapel and the organ. Willia T. Zimmerman, the donors' grandmother, was the wife of UNM President (1927-1944) James F. Zimmerman. The fund also honors the Zimmermans' daughters, Elizabeth Z. Cottle and Helen Emily Z. Brandenburg.

Chapel RetablosThe Retablos and the Retablo Mayor: Installed in 1964, the chapel's retablo mayor (altar screen) was designed by art professor John Tatschl following sketches by John Gaw Meem. The retablos (pictures drawn on a board) displayed on it were painted by santero John M. Gonzales of Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1984. All the santos depicted relate in some way to New Mexico. Gonzales also sculpted the bultos (sculptures) in the center of the display. This artwork was made possible by a gift from Bill and Jean Macey.

The chapel has a 15' x 25' American flag, donated by Bill and Jean Macey, which can be lowered over the retablos when desired. There is also a roll-down screen that can cover the reredo.