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Murray State's first family relishes small town living

Story by Leigh Landini Wright Photography by Vicki Hunkler

Dr. Bob Davies doesn't have to go far to his office at Murray State University. He rarely needs to use his parking pass or place.

Instead, he walks out the side door, also called the friend's door, across the yard and down a sidewalk to his office at Wells Hall. It's one of the perks of living in the president's home, known as Oakhurst.

And the short commute came in handy during Murray's unpredictable winter, which featured a multi-day university closure during a storm named for a mythological god. "I love walking to work and to student plays, events and activities," Davies said.

Davies is a well-known fixture on the Murray State campus. He pauses frequently to talk with students, take selfies and engage with them on social media.

For Davies, living in Oakhurst marks only the second time in his academic career that he has lived on a college campus. The first came as a 14-year-old during the summer when his father became provost at the University of Nevada-Reno. He and his father lived in a tent at the football field until the rest of the family moved to Reno and into a house off campus. At his previous campus, Eastern Oregon, the Davies family lived in a private residence off campus.

The Davies family moved into Oakhurst a little more than a year ago.

Built in 1918, Dr. and Mrs. Rainey T. Wells named the stately red brick home with white columns "Edgewood," and lived in it until June 1936, when the Murray State Board of Regents purchased the house to use for the president's quarters.

The board then renamed the home Oakhurst, and Dr. James Richmond, the third president of Murray State, lived there from 1936 to 1945. Every president except one has lived in Oakhurst. Tim Miller, the previous president for the 2013-14 school year, and his wife, Patsy, only used the home for entertaining as they already had a residence in Murray.

Davies quickly immersed himself in Murray State lore and history, so much so that when people talk about the history of the buildings on campus, he quickly points out that Oakhurst was the first. The next oldest building is Wrather West Kentucky Museum, followed by Wilson Hall, which houses the journalism and organizational communications departments.

"We are at the front door of the university on a busy and popular street," Davies said, as he looked out the front door toward Main Street. "It's an honor to live here. During the school year, students cut across our driveway to go to class.

Most of the time, it's a fun deal."

When he and his family first moved in, they walked across the street to one of the fraternity houses to "meet the new neighbors." Davies recalled that the young men looked at him and his wife, Cindy, for a minute and then realized that their new neighbor actually was the new university president.

Last August, hundreds of sorority members cut across the yard from the sorority suites on Poplar Street to meet their new pledges at the end of the weeklong recruitment session. "It's fun to be part of that tradition," he said. And last winter, during one of the two times the university closed for snow, the Davies family invited students to make snowmen in the front yard. He tweeted about the contest, which drew several students to the yard for a lively snowman building session. They then opened the doors of Oakhurst and invited them in for hot chocolate.

Davies said several students noticed the grandeur of the home and exclaimed they had never been inside. With a smile and his trademark friendliness, Davies invited them inside to warm up and partake of what he calls the mystique. It's that sense of history - the little architectural details that he's noticed like the molding around the ceiling - the antique furnishings like the clock in the hallway.

With that sense of history, the Davies family wanted to honor the mystique. They kept the university-owned traditional furniture and added a few antique pieces, bought locally, to round out the decor in the living room. They had the walls painted taupe gray and had new beige carpeting laid. He explained that the previous carpet was 20 years old.

"We want to make sure that we are able to do the things that needed to be done and add to the element of Oakhurst and give it what it deserves," he said. By keeping the walls and floors neutral, they could add pops of color with paintings and accessories.

The public floor, on the main level, features a parlor, living room, two dining rooms, a kitchen and screened-in porch. The family's private quarters are upstairs with some space in the basement.

Daughter Katie, a freshman at Murray High School, turned to her dad several months ago and asked if Oakhurst qualified as on-campus housing.

She had already read the residency requirements for incoming Murray State freshman that specifies freshmen must live in the residence halls unless they commute from their homes. Katie told her father she planned to live in Oakhurst and stay in the basement.

The Davies family uses one room of the basement as Katie's hangout. They paid for decorating it themselves and adorned it with bright pinks, purples and greens with a comfortable couch and entertainment suitable for a 14-year-old girl.

But most visitors will stay on the main floor, which is used for entertaining. Dinners. Receptions. He said they have had 35 or so people in the formal dining room for an event. In the formal dining room, Davies points to a sideboard. The silver on the sideboard dates to the Wells family. "It's really maintaining that sense of tradition," he said.

Still it's that mystique, and he's discovered more and more now that he has talked to former presidents and longtime Murray State supporters. His conversations with former President Constantine "Deno" Curris showed him some of Curris' favorite spots in the house. Curris enjoyed sitting in the parlor after long days at the office and watching the campus.

Davies wants to use a portion of the parlor to spotlight the artwork of Murray State faculty, staff and students.

While Curris liked to unwind in the parlor, Davies prefers to sit on the screened-in patio. He drinks his coffee there while catching up on the news in the mornings and returns there in the evenings to watch the university wind down for the night. A year into his life in Kentucky, Davies has discovered a passion for barbecuing in the back yard.

"When I lived in Oregon, what I thought was barbecuing actually was grilling," he said, noting that his year in Kentucky has helped him develop a few recipes for ribs and pork shoulder. As he enters the second year of his presidency, Davies looks forward to continuing the traditions of Oakhurst and living a life on Main Street. "We've enjoyed it and continue to be amazed by Murray," Davies said. "Living on a college campus is so much fun." n

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