Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the University of Denver Magazine in 2010. It is being reprinted in honor of DU’s 150th anniversary.
Evans Chapel was so narrowly finished when Tom and Ruth Drabek were married in it in 1960 that then-Chaplain William Rhodes told Tom before the couple’s ceremony: “Hopefully Ruth’s gown doesn’t drag along a wall of wet paint.”
Evans Chapel was rededicated to the University of Denver at 2 p.m. on June 10, 1960. The Drabeks were married at 5 p.m. that day.
“She was convinced it wouldn’t be ready by then,” Tom says.
“Well, it was close,” Ruth says with a laugh.
Indeed it was. The chapel had been disassembled stone by stone from its downtown location and then reassembled in the heart of campus during the winter and spring of 1960.
“I was living in Aspen Hall at the time and would see them bringing the pieces of Evans Chapel to the campus,” says Ruth, who was studying journalism. “Day by day, I would go to class and watch the process of more pieces being put together.”
In 1960, Ruth Obduskey and Tom Drabek were both enrolled at DU. She was 19; he was 20. They were high school sweethearts from Pueblo, Colo. “I invited her to join the debate club [at Central High School in Pueblo],” Tom says. “But we found that we enjoyed looking in each other’s eyes, I guess.”
At DU, Tom got involved with the school’s chapel committee. He had worked on issues regarding DU’s Buchtel Chapel and regularly attended Sunday services there. The committee also spoke about Evans Chapel coming to DU. Rhodes was very involved in the planning—everything from new paint to an updated interior, Tom says. “The chapel was important to Tom,” Ruth says. “Because of his involvement in the committee and his relationship with [the chaplain], we decided we wanted Chaplain Rhodes to marry us and we wanted it to be in Evans Chapel.”
The couple didn’t stray from the University after graduation: Tom taught sociology and criminology at DU for years; Ruth worked in the library and in the alumni department. Their son, Russell Drabek, and daughter, Debi (Drabek) Kerr, attended DU as well.
Many other couples have followed in the Drabeks’ footsteps. The chapel holds an average of 53 weddings each year, the majority of them DU-affiliated. The chapel’s small size creates a feeling of intimacy—it holds 60 people at most. Members of DU’s Fellowship of Catholic University Students attend mass there weekly, officiated by a local priest. Current DU Chaplain Gary Brower holds meditation there. And many have been mourned and remembered at memorial services held at the chapel.
To many, Evans Chapel has filled a void on campus. Buchtel Chapel was very large—which was useful during an Easter service, for example—but at most services, it made attendees seem dwarfed, Tom recalls. When Buchtel Chapel burned down in the 1980s, it only increased Evans Chapel’s presence on campus.
“So much of what we do at universities is aimed at the mind and the body—think classroom buildings and sports facilities,” Brower says. “To have this one small chapel is a great visual reminder of that other part of the human experience: that of the heart.”