Robert Molleur is no Robert Frost, and he’d be the first person to tell you that. He can nevertheless get a bit elegiac when he talks about a certain favorite farm building on his alma mater’s campus.
“This barn is iconic and historic,” he said, “and while I’m no acclaimed poet, I can tell you that I know the soul of that barn.”
A native of Suffield, CT, Molleur studied animal science at UConn’s Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture in Storrs, graduating in 1981. The campus was home to an old yellow dairy barn, which was part of the school’s prior iteration as the Storrs Agricultural School. The barn, built in 1911, was equipped with living quarters for two herdsmen. While a student there, he worked at the barn in exchange for being allowed to live in one of those berths for three semesters.
“My only job was I acted like a night watchman – watched the place and helped cows give birth at night and did all that stuff,” he said.
Molleur was also a member of the school’s dairy club, which held meetings at the barn.
After a career for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Molleur retired to Manassas, VA, but he never retired his loyalty to his school and its beloved barn. He is concerned with how dilapidated the structure has become. To him, seeing his once beautiful yellow barn in the state it’s in now was like meeting up with a long-lost friend who’d fallen on hard times. Deciding that someone had to do something, he became a one-man army just “trying to save the place.”
“My goal is to find a consortium of benefactors or a single entity that could contribute in some way to save and restore the barn to its previous grandeur and stoic place on campus,” Molleur stated. “I’d like the effort to remain simple, a word-of-mouth undertaking perhaps, to bring the love of that barn that’s out there back together, to save it.”
Contributing letters to the school’s newspaper led to contacting the dean directly. He emphasized to the dean that the roots of UConn itself are tied to this historic building, which itself is situated in a National Historic District (the University of Connecticut Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989). The administration seemed receptive to his goals and asked him for his input on possible solutions and funding sources.
One possible solution Molleur pointed to would be to follow the example set by Texas Tech University. That school’s College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources was home to a similar barn built in 1926, though it ceased active use and fell into disrepair in the 1960s. Thanks to a $3.5 million restoration project completed in 2020, the barn became a fully functioning academic facility, complete with office, meeting spaces and conference space for students, staff and alumni.
According to university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz, UConn is aware of the barn’s value to the school and is looking for ways to secure its future. “The yellow dairy barn near Route 195 is one of UConn’s many treasures, and we appreciate its important history and the potential for future uses,” she said. “It has been architecturally stabilized, but it is not currently in use and there are no plans in the short term to renovate it. In the long term, the UConn Storrs Campus Master Plan envisions the potential for it to house an agricultural use such as the Dairy Bar.
“However, that possible use is given as just an example and is not definitive, nor is there a timeline or a funding source identified. For now, the university’s limited capital funds are focused on the projects currently in the planning, design and construction processes, most of which are connected to UConn’s academic and student housing needs.”
Molleur wants to get the word out, hoping that others who have fond memories of the barn can help come to its rescue. “To us Aggies,” he explained, “it’s sacrosanct.”
Those interested in helping to save the yellow barn can contact UConn President Dr. Radenka Maric at email@example.com or the university’s College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources by visiting cahnr.uconn.edu.
by Enrico Villamaino