Alaska Pacific University a legacy of Methodist Church’s commitment to higher education
Grant Hall in about 2005. Except for the landscaping in front of the building, Grant Hall
looks much the same as it did inthe early 1970s when my wife and I attended there.
Anchorage’s Alaska Methodist University (now Alaska Pacific University) opened its doors in 1960. It was born from a desire by the Methodist Church to provide a religiously-affiliated liberal arts college for the Territory of Alaska.
Peter Gordon Gould (1901-1988), an Aleut and the first Alaska Native to be ordained as a Methodist minister, was instrumental in helping establish the university. According to Larry Hayden’s 2008 history of AMU/APU, Gould said in an interview that the university was important for training young Alaskans to be “tomorrow’s leaders—in Alaska,” at a time when 95% of Alaskan students who attended college outside Alaska did not return home.
In the late 1940s the Methodist Church became interested in establishing an Alaskan college and found strong support throughout the territory as well as from the national Methodist Church. Fred McGinnis, a Methodist minister who became the first president of AMU, noted in 1955 that 11 Methodist colleges across the nation had been founded while in areas still classified as territories.
Between 1952 and 1954 planning for the university proceeded. Eleven communities across the territory, including Auke Lake near Juneau, Wasilla in the Matanuska Valley, and Anchorage submitted proposals, and in January of 1954 an Anchorage site was chosen.
The location for the university is a wooded tract centered on a large gently-sloping hill near Goose Lake in east Anchorage. Except for limited wetlands, the land is forested, predominantly with spruce and birch. (For a time, the university operated a small ski hill that even boasted a ski jump, and the campus still has numerous hiking and ski trails.)
The university received patent from the Bureau of Land Management in March 1955 to 242.5 acres. In 1956 it acquired an additional 227.5 acres of BLM land adjacent to the first parcel.
A charter for Alaska Methodist University was approved by the Methodist Board of Missions in January of 1957, and Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Territory on February 8, 1957 (the day considered the university’s official charter date).
The first major building on campus was Grant Hall, shown in the drawing. It is named in honor of Bishop A. Raymond Grant who served as the first chairman of the AMU Board of Trustees.
Perched on a slope at the entrance to campus, this three-story building is one of the first structures visitors glimpse upon arrival. Construction began in March of 1959, but a labor strike in Anchorage delayed completion until October of 1960. Although the building’s dedication was October 13th, its doors opened September 30th and classes started October 3rd.
The building’s facilities have changed over the years, however, when Grant Hall opened, it contained administrative offices, 14 classrooms, 6 labs, faculty offices, a library, cafeteria, art gallery and theater.
Other campus buildings, including Gould Hall, the Student Union Complex (now the Atwood Center) and several faculty housing units were also constructed during the 1960s. In 1973 the AMU library moved out of Grant Hall into a new Consortium Library facility a half mile away near Providence Hospital. The Consortium Library, a joint facility serving the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University, sits on land donated by AMU.
AMU was land-rich but cash-poor and experienced a financial crisis during the early and mid-1970s. In 1975 the university closed for a sabbatical year to re-chart its future. It re-opened in May of 1977, and in 1978 changed its name to Alaska Pacific University to reflect a new focus and broader mission. Although its name changed, the university kept its Methodist Church affiliation.
APU has continued to refine and even expand its programs. It has also constructed additional campus facilities such as the Mosley Sports Centers, Segelhorst Hall, and the Carr-Gottstein Academic Center.
According to the Alaska State Historical Society, Alaska Pacific University was designated as a United Methodist Historic Site in 2017 in recognition of its contributions to Alaska since opening over 50 years ago.
- “A History of Alaska Methodist University: 1948-1977, Alaska Pacific University:1978-2008.” Larry Hayden. The Alaska Conference, A Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church. 2008
- “Alaska Pacific University becomes a United Methodist Historic Site.” Alaska Historical Society Blog. 10-4-2017
- “Historical Overview.” Alaska Pacific University website. 2019