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December 13, 2018

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Celebrating 90 years of music at ONU and Presser Hall

If the building could sing its performance would cover the musical landscape

Theodore Presser had taught at Northern during its first year, and he maintained cordial relations with President Henry Solomon Lehr. After leaving teaching, Presser entered the field of music publishing and founded the firm which still bears his name.

In 1925, Presser's will provided funds for music buildings on 10 campuses, including Ohio Northern's. In ONU’s case, this gift amounted to around $100,000 (equal to $1.5 million in today’s dollars due to inflation).

The funds were administered by the Presser Foundation. Fortunately, an excellent site existed for the new building. In the fall of 1925, the university purchased the house of former Governor Frank Willis. By spring of 1928, two other adjoining properties had also been acquired. That August, engineers began staking off the foundation.

One notable feature of the Presser recital hall was almost omitted when the Presser Foundation recommended sepia glass windows. President Albert Edwin Smith wished something more decorative, and the result was eight stained-glass windows, each commemorating an individual composer.

An impressive dedication ceremony was held on May 26, 1929.

Presser housed the university library for several years before Heterick Library was built.  It is no secret that the Presser Foundation was unhappy with this.

Soon after the books were moved to Heterick, a renovation of Presser began, returning the building to its original splendor. An addition to Presser has been built on the west side, mostly to accommodate instrumental practices. Some of the stained-glass windows from Lehr Memorial were installed in the addition.

Today, Presser serves as a performance space, with practice rooms and offices for the music department. Many programs are held there annually, nearly all free and open to the public.