Much More Than a Front Door

Bonta Admission Center has warmly welcomed prospective students and their families to Albion College for more than two decades. A 2019 expansion, with lead support from the family of Frank Bonta, ’49, addresses needs and will make the space even more visitor-friendly in the years to come.

By Chuck Carlson | Fall 2017

They will always remember that bay window, big and inviting and somehow soothing. And they will always remember that when all else was chaos and uncertainty in their lives, that window was a source of light and warmth, literally and figuratively.

Lucas Scott, ’18, remembers.

“I remember the sun coming through that big bay window and it was kind of calming,” he says. “It’s such a stressful time for high school seniors and there was something relaxing in that.”

Kody Smith, ’20, remembers.

“I love that bay window,” he says. “My grandmother and I came for a Distinguished Scholars Program and when we left the building where I gave my presentation, she said, ‘Where do we go now?’ I said, ‘I know the perfect place.’

“And we sat in front of the bay window and decompressed,” Smith continues. “We sipped hot chocolate in front of the bay window in the middle of winter for an hour and a half. It’s funny how many people share the same feeling of comfort there. Even the cross country team, we’ve lined up there and sat.”

Christina Vo, ’19, remembers the spot as well.

“I didn’t know about the window when I first got here,” she says. Then she smiles.

“I like that window now.”

For more than 20 years, nervous high school juniors and seniors, uncertain college freshmen, curious parents, and countless others have walked into the lobby of the Bonta Admission Center, at 100 N. Hannah St. Many were instantly calmed and often convinced that Albion would be the place for them.

The dark wood, the inviting fireplace, and, yes, the bay window that looks out onto Hannah Street have gone a long way toward making those who enter feel like they have been here before. And, perhaps more important, that they would like to stay.

At the Corner of Hannah and Cass

Completed in 1996, the building is named for Frank Bonta, ’49, who served as admissions counselor, director, and dean from 1951 until his retirement in 1995.

The following year, when the Center was dedicated, Bonta was honored, if a bit embarrassed, that the school was making a big deal of it.

“He was the kind of guy who didn’t want to draw attention to himself,” says Chuck Frayer, ’77, Bonta’s son-in-law. “He said it wasn’t necessary. He was a pretty humble guy.”

Chuck and his wife (and Frank’s oldest daughter), Julie, ’77, are also the driving forces in updating and reimagining the Bonta Center. And though Frank Bonta died in May after a long illness, he knew of the plans to expand the building to make it more accessible and functional.

Fundraising is well under way and, along with a gift from Chuck and Julie Frayer and support from Bonta’s youngest daughter, Amy, ’78, and her husband, Steve Bender, plans are moving forward.

The building will be enlarged, but the key change will be making better use of the available space. Since it opened, the Center has been used exclusively for admission and the various needs that go along with it.

But going hand in hand with admission is the unavoidable topic of financial aid, which, since 2002, has been housed in the Ferguson Student, Technology, and Administrative Services Building, about a five-minute walk from Bonta.

The bigger Center will put the offices of Admission and Student Financial Services under one roof, and eliminate the short walk that Julie Frayer believes has had consequences over the years.

“Kids walk across from Bonta and then they begin to have second thoughts,” she says. “With the new Center, you don’t lose the kids when they say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ There’s less risk in losing the prospective student.”

Making Important Conversations More Comfortable

Chuck Frayer, who majored in economics and was a member of the Professional Management Program (the forerunner to the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management), was drawn in a very personal way to the benefits of financial aid.

From the time he was 17 until he graduated from Albion, Frayer struggled just to keep a roof over his head. He would remain on campus through holidays and summer breaks, babysitting for professors, staying in dorms or annexes, and at one stage even house-sitting for the Bontas.

“Something always worked out,” he says. “Albion took care of me.”

But he also knew that without substantial financial assistance, he would not have been able to attend Albion.

So moving Student Financial Services into an expanded Bonta Center combined the hopes and wishes of both Chuck and Julie Frayer.

“We were attracted [to the project] not only because of admissions but financial aid as well,” Chuck says. “The space in the existing building doesn’t have a lot of room for families; couple that with walking across campus to get to the financial aid office, and it just didn’t seem like a good setup. Putting admissions and financial aid together provides a chance for families to meet, and it kind of spoke to us.”

Continuing the Legacy

Scott, a Canton, Michigan, native who is majoring in communications with a minor in economics and management, came to Albion in the footsteps of his father, two uncles, an aunt, and two sisters among other family members. He sees the combination as a necessary improvement.

“As it is now, you don’t see how much scholarship money is available,” he says. “The financial services staff members tend to do a lot for our students.”

In the end, though, it’s the actual brick-and-mortar structure on the northeast corner of Hannah and Cass that has come to mean something more to students than just another place on campus.

Smith remembers his junior year in high school when he visited two colleges. One of them was Albion.

“The financial packages were almost exactly the same for both schools, but I visited Albion first and the first place I walked into was Bonta,” he recalls. “There were six people at the front desk or in the office and they all turned around and said, ‘Hi.’ It was an open and warm environment. I felt appreciated and valued.”

He went to the other college, similarly sized and also in Michigan, two weeks later.

“It was almost the polar opposite,” he says. “It was a glass-and-steel building, almost like an office building. I think I talked to one person and I’m not even sure they were actually staff. I was given a packet of information and told to find my parents and hopefully find my tour group. It was supposed to be a six-hour day and in the first half-hour I scratched it off my list. It was an easy decision.”

And one for which he has no regrets. Indeed, Bonta remains what Smith calls his “home base.”

The hope is that the new Bonta Center sparks those same feelings for generations of students to come.

“It’s our hope and desire that people will not only look at this as a great help for the College in attracting students, but hopefully people will think about Frank and everything he gave to the College,” says Chuck Frayer, who hopes the expanded facility will be ready sometime next year. “This continues the legacy for the College.”

As for the bay window? That stays.