The following text is from a book, “Rockland Community College: the early years,” by Jamie Kempton, published in honor of the College’s 40th anniversary in 2000, by the Donning Company of Virginia Beach, VA. The book chronicles RCC’s early years from conception, to its founding in 1959, to a transitional phase ending the “Almshouse era” and ushering in a new chapter in the growth of the College.

Over its 40-year lifespan, Rockland Community College has opened its doors to more than 200,000 students seeking a quality two-year education that is affordable and accessible. Many have gone on from RCC to productive and rewarding careers. Others have used the college as a vehicle for intellectual development.

Everyone who has benefited from this institution, however, owes a debt of gratitude to the pioneers whose foresight more than four decades ago kindled the flame that became a beacon of higher education in Rockland County.

In the short time that I have been here, I have gained an appreciation for the sense of history that permeates Rockland Community College. My office is located in our administration building, Daniel T. Brucker Hall, named for one of the founding fathers of the college. The building formerly served as the county Almshouse, a tangible link to the college’s early days.

Please join me and the entire college community in taking a look back at those formative years, in the pages that follow. You will see why I am proud to be associated with an institution as rich in history as Rockland Community College.

George Hamada

The Vote

It came down to one vote.

The date was April 28, 1959. For the previous three and a half years, a group of business, civic and education leaders had worked assiduously to prove that Rockland County was ready for a community college:

  • The county’s population was exploding, especially among schoolchildren.
  • Higher education was becoming more accessible to the masses.
  • An increasingly specialized society demanded a skilled and knowledgeable work force.
  • The economy was prospering and New York State had passed several multimillion-dollar bond issues dedicated to higher education, including one for $250 million.1 Governor Averell Harriman was the bond’s biggest proponent. His successor, Nelson Rockefeller, elected in 1959, sustained ardent support for education.
  • After initially rejecting it, state university officials had approved the proposed site for the college, a former almshouse for destitute residents set amid 26.5 acres of cabbage and tomato fields, apple orchards, a pumpkin patch and a grape arbor in the pastoral hamlet of Viola.
  • A two-year, community college would provide an affordable, quality education in a convenient location and would raise taxes by just $4 a year – the cost of a tank of gasoline or two cartons of cigarettes.2
  • Perhaps most important, Rockland residents were eager for a community college. Comprehensive surveys distributed to adults and high school students in the county revealed large majorities favoring the idea.

Now it was crunch time. The fate of a community college in Rockland rested in the hands of the Board of Supervisors, the five town chiefs who ran the county in the days before the Legislature was created in 1970.

Last-minute presentations were delivered by Dr. Lester Rounds, the superintendent of Ramapo Central School District No. 1 (Suffern), whose doctoral dissertation at Columbia University had provided a blueprint for the establishment of the college; Frank Manley of Nyack, president of Orange and Rockland Utilities and chairman of the steering committee to create the college; and Dan Brucker of Valley Cottage, a prominent lawyer in Nyack and vice chairman of the committee.

Two supervisors, Democrats Victor Shankey of Haverstraw and Edwin Wallace of Ramapo, wanted to put the issue to a public referendum, despite the fact that no community college in the state – there were 17 at the time – had resorted to such a measure.3 All had been approved by vote of the local governmental sponsor.

The amendment to referendum was defeated, 3 to 2.4 The vote was now squarely in the hands of the supervisors. John Coyle of Clarkstown and Arthur Jobson of Stony Point, both Republicans, were known to be in favor of the college. Clarence Noyes of Orangetown, the board chairman and also a Republican, had been noncommittal in previous public meetings. It was to him that Brucker and Manley directed their most fervent entreaties.

Harold Laskey, a book publishing consultant from New City and key steering committee member, was too nervous to witness the taut proceedings, held in a basement meeting room of the county courthouse in New City. Instead, he stood outside the door and listened.

“I could hear Dan Brucker inside begin to wind down his last plea urging them to finally take action,” Laskey remembered. “I heard one of the supervisors, Victor Shankey I think it was, say something like: ‘Why do we need a half-baked college school here anyway? Our kids can go to school anywhere.’ The tireless efforts of so many good-hearted, dedicated people, the work of those who had prepared the presentations, the work of all of us for all of those years, stood riding on one vote.”5

Supervisor Coyle introduced a resolution that the college be approved.6 Jobson seconded the resolution.7 Shankey and Wallace voted against it.8 That left it up to Chairman Noyes. One month before, in the steering committee’s final appearance before the board, Brucker and Manley had ratcheted up the pressure on the supervisors, mindful that Noyes had not yet tipped his hand.

“This time we threatened them; 1959 was an election year, and they all were running,” Brucker recalled. “We said that if they didn’t pass the vote, we’d have a representative at every meeting they attended, someone who would ask them over and over again what their position was on the community college. By October or November, they’d be so damned sick of hearing about it that they’d wish they had passed it in the spring.” 9

The full-court press apparently worked. Noyes voted yes.10 The college had been approved by a margin of 3 to 2. “For all of us, it was quite a moment,” Laskey said.11

Just two weeks later, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York in Albany granted approval of the plan, the last legal step required, thereby making Rockland the 18th community college in the state system.12

Hatching The Idea

Although Rockland County was isolated by its location in the lower Hudson River Valley, in the shadow of the Ramapo Mountains, local forefathers held a progressive view toward higher education. An institution called Rockland College, chartered by the state Board of Regents in 1878, thrived for 16 years in Nyack13 More than a century before, the antecedents of Rutgers University were conceived in an academy founded by a minister of the Reformed Church of Tappan.14

Rockland Junior College was established in 1932 as one of several Depression-era two-year schools modeled after the California Junior College movement of the early 1900s.15 The school was federally funded, disbursed through New York State, and sponsored by Nyack High School, where classes were held.16 New York University and Syracuse University accepted two years of credit from the college.17

Kenneth MacCalman, the superintendent of Nyack Public Schools, served as the college’s president.18 Student enrollment rose from 150 at inception to about 350 at its peak.19 The school was host to student organizations, a basketball team, student publications, and dances.20 After three years, however, federal support was withdrawn and the state followed suit soon thereafter.21 The college shut down in 1935.22

The impetus for Rockland Community College came some 18 years later. Lester Rounds could see momentum building for some form of post-high school education locally. The state Legislature had filled an educational void in 1948 by establishing the State University of New York as a legal entity.23 Governor Thomas Dewey recommended to the Legislature an appropriation of $2 million to initiate the community college movement.24

Furthermore, Rockland’s population was one of the fastest growing in the state, expected to double from 107,000 to 215,000 between 1956 and 1970.25 In the same span, the number of high school graduates was projected to rise from 700 to 2,463.26 Rapid technological advances in society left people hungering for commensurate education. Large local industries like Avon Products in Suffern and Lederle Laboratories in Pearl River required more skilled workers, and the growth of hospitals such as Nyack and Good Samaritan in Suffern warranted the creation of a nursing program.

Cognizant of the swirl of progress sweeping Rockland and beyond, Rounds pondered a topic for his doctoral thesis – not some theoretical treatise but a practical plan that would benefit people directly. Garrett Nyweide, executive director of the Vocational Education and Extension Board – the precursor of the Board of Cooperative Educational Services – suggested that Rounds delve into the possibilities of a local community college.

It was perfect.

“This fit neatly into my own educational philosophy, for I’ve never been much of an elitist,” said Rounds. “I’ve always felt that all the schools are for all the people.” 27 His dissertation, titled A Plan for Meeting the Post-High School Educational Needs of Older Youth in Rockland County, was composed in the summer of 1954 on the shores of serene Skaneateles Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region, his boyhood home.

Rounds established the need for a local community college through interviews with personnel officers of county industrial firms regarding their needs for local, technical and semi-professional education beyond high school, as well as surveys among educators and professions. In September 1954, Rounds, participating in a panel discussion on public education in the county, first presented his concept of a community college at a conference of Parent-Teacher Associations in New City.28 A year later, the program of the annual district PTA conference was devoted entirely to the prospect of a community college. PTA leaders embraced the proposal and sought details for their members.29

Community support for Rounds’ idea crystallized on December 2, 1955, at a countywide forum called by a temporary committee of educators, PTA leaders, and others.30 Some 300 citizens attended the event, held at Clarkstown Junior-Senior High School.31 They approved a proposal to set up a steering committee of about 40 people from all strata of society to make a thorough study of the community college concept.32 This group, which eventually expanded to become the Rockland County Community College Committee, spent the next three and a half years immersed in an urgent pursuit to transmute Lester Rounds’ vision into reality.

Shaping a Plan

The twin pillars of the steering committee were chairman Frank Manley and vice chairman Dan Brucker, guided by a step-by-step checklist from Lester Rounds’ seminal work. They coordinated a group of unrelenting volunteers that met at least once a month for more than 40 months, examining every facet of a community college.33

“It seemed my dad was on the phone or at a meeting someplace every darn night of the week,” said Loring Manley, a New City attorney who was Dan Brucker’s law partner for many years. “Traveling to Albany, talking a lot with Dr. Rounds and others. He really worked hard on that.”

Surveys conducted by the committee manifested a clear need for a proposed post-high school public institution. (Dominican College in Blauvelt and St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill were private schools with a Catholic emphasis each founded in 1952 by neighboring orders of the Dominican Sisters.)

Some 69 percent of parents polled expressed interest in their children attending a community college in Rockland, and 183 high school juniors indicated a strong interest in and an ability to attend such an institution.34 Based on projections of Rockland high school graduates and the experience of neighboring Orange County Community College’s early years – it was founded in 1950 in Middletown – a local community college could expect a growth in full-time enrollment from 150 the first year to 680 in six years.35

The steering committee heard loud and clear the financial concerns of higher education by parents and school officials. At $266 per year, the tuition at a proposed Rockland community college would be one-quarter to one-third less than that of a typical four-year privately endowed college or university in New York.36

Rockland voters also registered robust support for public education in general; 65 percent of them pulled the lever for an amendment in the 1957 general election authorizing $250 million for higher education facilities, including community colleges, in New York State.3

All the work of the steering committee was beginning to pay dividends. A meticulously executed public relations campaign yielded endorsements from more than 80 community organizations – educational, civic, military, religious, municipal, business and others.38 Every development was reported to the Board of Supervisors, one of two ultimate arbiters for the project.

The other decision-maker, the State University of New York, originally had not factored in Rockland County when its master plan was crafted in 1954. “The fact of the matter was, we weren’t in it,” said Lester Rounds. “We had to convince them that we were big enough to be added to the master plan . . . it meant many trips to Albany.” 39

It also meant an Everest of perseverance, which Rounds summoned with unremitting conviction. “He was a principled man, and when he believed in something, he would go to the mat for it, whether it was a belief in a student or a teacher or a vision,” said his son, David Rounds, a retired elementary school principal.

The main stumbling block to that vision became the building planned as the cornerstone of the campus – the former Rockland County Welfare Home, or Almshouse. The other site considered was Iona Island, a former Navy munitions depot just south of Bear Mountain with plenty of buildings to suit a growing educational enterprise.40 But its location in the sparsely populated northern reaches of the county, in the mountainous Hudson Highlands, proved too great a handicap.

The Almshouse had been vacated in 1957, when residents were moved to the renamed Rockland County Infirmary and Home at Summit Park. The original welfare home was a frame structure built in 1837, the year the 47-acre parsonage farm property was bought for that purpose by the county Commissioners of the Poor from the Dutch Reformed Church of West New Hempstead.41

The frame edifice was replaced in 1883 by the first of three sections – today’s north wing – constructed of brick from the thriving Haverstraw brickyards.42 The south section came later, followed by the connecting west wing to form the current “U” shape.43

The surrounding 26.5 acres, centrally located on pristine farmland in the Ramapo Mountains foothills, provided ample room for the immediate space needs of a community college. Seeing its potential, Manley and Brucker asked the Board of Supervisors not to sell the property until a decision on the college had been made.44 The supervisors agreed. That cooled the ardor of suitors such as the Bais Yaakov congregation of Spring Valley, which sought the tract for use as a rabbinical school and dormitory.45

But the college proponents faced a formidable hurdle: the Almshouse itself had been condemned by the state as unfit for instructional purposes.46 “The rooms (were) nothing more than small cubbyholes,” said Harold Laskey. “The basement – it was a dungeon used to hold uncontrollable inmates – was littered with dead rats. Everywhere there was a dreary, institutional green. No wonder the state condemned it.” 47

Here is where Frank Manley performed his greatest work. A civil engineer with a real estate law degree and a knack for pulling people together for a cause, Manley assembled a group of four volunteers – architect George Schofield of Nyack, engineers Earl Jacobson and Edward Keine of Orange and Rockland Utilities, and contractor John Holt of Pearl River – to rehabilitate the structure sufficiently to conform to the state’s specifications.

After a thorough engineering study, the group concluded that the three-story building was salvageable and that with a few structural changes, it could be adapted for college use at a cost of $150,000 to $160,000, almost 10 times less than the $1.5 million price tag for new construction.48 The group prepared two separate floor plans for renovation that they said would render the building school-worthy for 5 to 10 years with minimal maintenance, and for 20 to 25 years with regular maintenance and periodic alterations for arising school needs. 49

The building committee’s detailed plans won over state university officials. After originally red-lighting the Viola site, the SUNY leaders, spearheaded by Dr. Lawrence Jarvie, executive dean for institutes and community colleges for the State University of New York, appraised the property’s educational value at $145,500, all of which would be matched by the state.50

The county was in a no-lose situation. Besides the estimated $160,000 to prepare the building for college use, Jarvie figured another $50,000 to $55,000 would be needed for items such as furniture and lab equipment.51 Since the state, by law, would finance half the capital costs – that is, buildings and property – the initial capital costs for the county amounted to only about $27,500.52 (Operating costs of $800 per student would be split equally by the state, the county and student tuition.53 )

At the same time,” Jarvie said, “it would be converting an unused asset to broad civic use.” Jarvie added that the county would be “well advised” to sponsor a community college that would be up and running by the fall of 1959.54

The state’s imprimatur legitimized the efforts of the building committee and of the entire steering committee. Manley and Brucker submitted their final report to the Board of Supervisors in March 1959.

Since approval from Albany was now assured, it fell upon the supervisors to weigh the scales of a community college for Rockland County in the balance.

One month later, they tipped those scales in favor of educational opportunity for all.

Assembling The Players

The new institution was officially named Rockland Community College. But where did it go from there? How do you go about starting a community college? From the state approval date in mid-May until the college’s projected opening in late September, each passing day brought a greater sense of urgency, a collective pulling of oars to carry this vessel across the finish line before the academic year began slipping away.

Things started percolating in late May with the appointment of the first five members of the Board of Trustees by the county Board of Supervisors, one from each town in Rockland: Frank Manley of Nyack in Orangetown; Dan Brucker of Valley Cottage in Clarkstown; Belle Mayer Zeck of Suffern in Ramapo, a lawyer who, during and after World War II, served in the U.S. Department of the Treasury and was a prosecuting attorney at the Nuremberg Trials for German war crimes; Crystal Potter of Tomkins Cove in Stony Point, the former New York City deputy welfare commissioner under Mayor Fiorello La Guardia; and William Cobb of Garnerville in Haverstraw, a sales manager for a New York City firm.

In mid-July, the four appointees by Governor Rockefeller were named to complete the board roster: Lester Rounds of Suffern; John Bratton, an insurance broker and former Orangetown councilman from Pearl River; Harold Laskey of New City; and Frank Ciancimino, a doctor from Nyack. The board chose Manley as chairman; Brucker, vice chairman; Zeck, secretary; and Potter, treasurer.

Even before the governor’s nominees were chosen, the locally appointed trustees had begun the legwork: completing arrangements for pre-registration of prospective students, for preparing capital and operating budgets, for planning the building renovation, and for selection of administrative and teaching staff. 55

None of it was familiar territory to these custodians of a freshly minted college. “I must say I don’t think anybody quite knew what exactly we were supposed to do,” Brucker said. “That is, we knew what we had to do, but we didn’t know what the exact qualifications of people were, what they were supposed to be, what a president did, what a dean did. It was all thrust upon us very quickly.” 56

Garrett Nyweide, executive director of the county Vocational Education and Extension Board, and his staff helped shepherd the effort through from its incipient stages. Orvis Hazard, who had coordinated many of the survey projects in the research phase, served as acting director of admissions, conducting interviews with prospective students at the VEEB offices on South Main Street in New City. Hazard was assisted by Dr. Jane Freeman, who became director of student personnel shortly thereafter, and Doris Marquardt, who became executive secretary to the dean and executive assistant to the president.

“It was like sailing into uncharted waters,” said Freeman, who is 80 and has lived in Sun City, Ariz., since 1970. Working closely with SUNY, Freeman designed forms and developed procedures for admissions, registration, student records and class scheduling. “It was daunting, yes. But the excitement and enthusiasm on the part of everyone made it a lifetime experience.”

The trustees hired the very first applicant for dean of students – Henry Larom of Montana State University. Larom was originally from the Saranac Lake region of the Adirondacks.57 A pipe-smoking, fun-loving man who wrote Western novels for children and cultivated a close rapport with the students, Larom learned of the position through Dr. Lawrence Jarvie of SUNY, with whom Larom had taught at ranch schools in Montana. Larom hit the ground running when he arrived in August, setting up the college curriculum and selecting the teaching staff.

The final piece of the administrative puzzle was hiring a president. The board chose Dr. Charles Hetherington, on loan from his post as educational consultant at Colgate University, to serve as acting president until a full-time chief could be brought in.58 Hetherington’s expertise in the recent founding of Auburn Community College, near Syracuse, proved pivotal.

Hetherington devoted four days a week to his tasks in Rockland: completing administrative arrangements for opening the college and working with various constituencies, including the architects chosen to spearhead the building refurbishment, Schofield and Colgan of Nyack; the Board of Trustees and county officials in financial and budget matters; the admissions staff; the teaching staff; suppliers of furniture and equipment; and others.59

The call then went out to fill faculty positions at the college. Trustee Belle Zeck wanted to postpone the college’s opening until January because she thought all qualified teachers would have been signed to contracts by that late stage. Some gentle persuasion by Lester Rounds changed her mind.

“He said, `Nonsense,'” recalled Zeck, who is 80 and still practices law part-time in Suffern. She is the only surviving original trustee. “He said he could hire retired teachers, housewives who were well educated and certified but had not taught because they had young children, and others with teaching degrees. He was right.”

The enormous response for faculty applications left Hetherington and Larom flabbergasted. They interviewed 150 applicants in four days.60 Rounds himself interviewed many applicants and assigned them a rating of A, B, or C. “Dr. Hetherington took my bundle,” Rounds recollected, “and removed all the `A’s’. I think he hired all of them.”61

Charter members of the fledgling RCC faculty were: Robert Burghardt of Stony Point, mathematics, physics, and engineering drawing; Dale Hunt of Nyack, biology and chemistry; Raymond Rossiter of Valley Cottage, social sciences; Michael Tulevech of Pearl River, English; Marjorie Markham of Suffern and Marion Manning of Pearl River, business and secretarial sciences; Maureen Haberer, psychology; Elaine Magid, French – the only foreign language offered at first; and Elizabeth Phelps, librarian.

Burghardt recalls being torn between keeping his teaching job at Haverstraw High School and accepting an offer from Henry Larom to stand at the cusp of a new era in Rockland higher education.

“It was a tremendous decision to make,” he said. “But how often do you have the opportunity of starting a college from scratch? After a lot of thinking and praying, with fear and trepidation, I said `Yes.'” 62

Fashioning a Campus

The transformation from Poor Farm property to community college campus proceeded right through the first year. From a place housing the dying, the impoverished, the infirm, this tranquil 26.5-acre plot evolved into a vibrant epicenter of intellectual vigor.

Nestled on the crest of a sloping rise in a former farm community known as Mechanicsville, renamed Viola when a post office was established in 1882, the property included: 63

  • A wooden barn that once housed cows and horses, replete with cow manure, bird’s nests, cobwebs and shards of broken equipment. The cattle stalls, stanchions, hay lofts and milk shed still remained before the barn was renovated into a theater and assembly room in the second semester.64
  • Fields leased to local farmers that yielded succulent tomatoes and cabbage. Unharvested cabbage often was left to rot in the field, which was just south of the college.65 “When the cabbages were ripe, they did not have to broadcast the fact,” said Jane Freeman. (The college later acquired 150 acres of farmland – 100 to the south from the Hurschle Brothers Farm, and 50 to the west from the Springsteen Farm – for its current 175-acre campus.)
  • A “potter’s field” cemetery, the burial grounds for many of the Almshouse residents.66 (Shortly after the college was founded, the county deeded a tract of land in the northern section for establishing a veterans cemetery, which remains today.)67
  • A small square building with barred windows that served as the first Rockland County jail, later the Ramapo town police headquarters, and still later a police radio station.68 It was converted into offices and men’s locker rooms for the physical education program in the second semester.69 Today it houses campus security.
  • A decrepit, two-story brick laundry building that was demolished soon after the college opened.70
  • A three-car garage adjacent to a water tower that was toppled that autumn.71
  • A root cellar that had stored farm produce harvested by Poor Farm residents from the surrounding fields.72
  • A grape arbor that produced Concord red and white grapes.73
  • In front of the Almshouse, a wooden gazebo that still stands today.
  • A narrow, tree-lined country lane known as Almshouse Road, which became an interior access road when the current College Road was built.74

One other remnant of the property’s Poor Farm lineage was its county-salaried caretaker, John Rypka. When the Almshouse was abandoned in 1957 for new quarters in Summit Park, Rypka stayed behind and didn’t cotton to these “strangers” intruding on his fiefdom. Both Henry Larom and Maureen Haberer told harrowing tales of being chased off campus by a shotgun-wielding Rypka before the college opened.75

Jane Freeman, whose office was adjacent to Rypka’s first-floor apartment in the Almshouse’s south wing, often scheduled interviews around his cooking times because of his fondness for garlic.76 “John guarded the property like it was Buckingham Palace,” she said. “If his shotgun didn’t keep people away, his garlic cooking would.” By the end of the first school year, however, Rypka – along with a beautiful flower garden he maintained – had departed the grounds.

Of course, the centerpiece of the complex was the three-story, colonial design Almshouse, which was to serve as the main academic and administrative building. Under pressure by the Board of Trustees to have the structure ready for instruction by late September, supervising contractor Theodore Perini of Haverstraw and his workers accepted the gauntlet as if it were a personal crusade.77

The attractive exterior remained untouched. Inside, partition alterations and new lighting constituted the major structural changes. Roof repair, floor renovation and room painting took care of the bulk of maintenance work.78

Perini’s crew toiled seven days a week – working the extra time gratis – to complete the job. “They got the mission, caught the `disease,'” said Lester Rounds. “They wanted to get the college into use. It was phenomenal.” 79

By September 8, the first-floor renovations had progressed enough to allow faculty and staff to shift operations from the VEEB offices in New City to the new campus in Viola. Large rooms at the front of the south wing, which had been used as the Almshouse director’s residence, were converted into administration offices.80 Henry Larom’s office had the only working telephone on campus.81

A small room further down the south corridor became the library and bookstore, managed by Liz Phelps.83 With an inventory of zero, Phelps borrowed books from the state library, which supplemented the handful of magazines ordered and books received as gifts.84 By January, two rooms on the second floor were ready to accommodate the still-modest library.85

Through generous funding from Albany, the school gradually built a respectable stock of volumes. In 1959-60, 244 books and 120 periodicals were obtained.86 (By 1963-64, those numbers had risen to 13,495 and 233, respectively.87 )

“The state provided us with millions of dollars with a deadline to use it,” said English professor Michael Tulevech. “We spent every penny wisely.”

The building’s face lift included more than a dozen classrooms, including a former chapel that served as the first classroom, used for engineering classes; an assembly hall in the connector wing formerly used as a recreation area for Almshouse residents; a chemistry/biology lab in an old basement kitchen; and a cafeteria and lounge, also in the basement.88 Later came a secretarial/business machines room – equipped with only a handful of manual typewriters – on the second floor, and a physics lab.89

The early phase of remodeling steered clear of the north wing, where the poor-house ambience was unmistakable: 6 foot-by-10 foot, sparsely furnished cell-block rooms; dark, narrow corridors; residents’ names posted on door cards, duly noting those recently deceased.90 Also excluded from the primary renovations was the south-wing cellar and its dank, prison-like cubicles used to punish recalcitrant residents.91 (Today this space is used for the college mailroom and computer technology center.)

From these unprepossessing beginnings, the old Welfare Home metamorphosed from a sterile monolith on the far side of hope to a welcoming hearth with a warm embrace for those who sought its illumination.

“When I started here as a student in 1960, it had bats on the third floor, cheap old toilet paper, still-rotting cabbages in the field,” said Joan Silberman, who later taught English at RCC for 32 years, retiring in 1998. “It was, in many ways, a sad place that turned into a happy place.” 92

A Spectrum of Students

They came from all walks of life, plunging into an entirely unknown entity. Who could foresee the fate of this bold step into the future of higher education in little Rockland County? A county that was the state’s smallest geographically, outside of New York City, but one that was growing exponentially in population and in demand for a skilled, educated work force?

There were 139 of them that first year: 87 men and 52 women, 119 full-time and 20 part-time.93 They were high school graduates uncommitted to a career path but eager to capitalize on an affordable, two-year alternative brought to their doorstep. They were homemakers with children to care for. They were veterans thankful for a second chance. Some – like James Wentz of Suffern, a paraplegic veteran of the Korean War – used a wheelchair, in the days before facilities were required to be accessible to people with disabilities.94

One was a woman who had never completed high school because she had lived in Africa during her teens. A few were recent immigrants who had completed high school equivalency requirements. Fourteen of them – 10 percent of the class – were college dropouts from four-year institutions.95

Most, but not all, hailed from Rockland. Several came from northern New Jersey, which had no community college at that time. (Many more New Jersey students would flock to RCC in ensuing years.) Those out-of-state students paid double tuition to attend Rockland.96

The very first student to enroll in that pioneer class was Sophie Fink of Garnerville. Fink’s first husband had died in June of Hodgkin’s disease at age 38. Her mother died of cancer three months later. Fink, who was then 33, searched desperately for a way to support her three young children.

“That was a very sad and a very hard time in my life, and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Fink, who remarried in 1961 and is now Sophie Long. “I picked up the paper and saw that a college was opening. I wanted to learn typing and steno to be a secretary, but Jane Freeman convinced me to take accounting. It was a godsend for me because I learned a trade that was very profitable for me.”

Fink worked as a bookkeeping assistant in RCC’s administrative offices while still a student, then spent five years as a full-time member of the school’s accounting staff. She later enjoyed a 20-year tenure as a bookkeeper at North Garnerville Elementary School.

David Sauberman of Spring Valley was married, with children on the way, when he enrolled in the fall of 1959, looking to enhance his job prospects. Galvanized by teachers who transmitted their passion for learning, Sauberman found a calling in business and finance. From RCC, he transferred to New York University, and later became a vice president for a major brokerage firm in California.

“Everything the professors said to me at RCC, all the business concepts, stayed in my head,” said Sauberman, who moved West in 1979 and lives in the San Francisco suburbs. “The faculty was first-class for a school just beginning. Everyone jelled so well. It was more like a family than a college.”

Before the arrival of students, the college was nothing more than a building-in-transition surrounded by farm accoutrements. All the visions and projections in the world would mean little without the lifeblood of a student body. As the calendar turned to the last week in September, everyone with a stake in the genesis of this educational experiment held their breath and hoped their strivings were not for naught.

The answer was forthcoming on the first day of registration in late September. Trustee Harold Laskey remembered driving to the college that day mindful of the vicissitudes of the five previous years.97

“As I turned into the campus from old Almshouse Road,” he said, “I saw the parking lot filled with cars. The people in this community really wanted this college, and they were showing it. It was, I might say, the most exciting day of my life.”98

Curriculum: General and Vocational

Like all New York State community colleges, Rockland was established under Article 126 of the state Education Law. As such, it is legally authorized to “provide two-year programs of post-high school nature combining general education with technical education relating to the occupational needs of the community. . .”99

Courses are registered by the state Department of Education. The college is authorized by the SUNY Board of Regents to award Associate in Arts degrees and Associate in Applied Science degrees, and is approved for holders of state scholarships.

The first year three programs were in place for students transferring to four-year colleges after graduation: liberal arts and sciences, business administration, and business administration with accounting major.100 Completion of these led to the Associate in Arts degree.101 Three other programs served those who sought employment right after graduation: business management, secretarial science, and accounting major.102 These led to the Associate in Applied Science degree.103

New York State community colleges in that era emphasized vocational and technical courses of study. For example, Farmingdale Community College on Long Island was renowned for its poultry design and aircraft mechanics curriculum.104

Rockland, however, placed no such stress on occupational courses. Of the 139 original daytime-division students, 84 concentrated in the college’s strong liberal arts curriculum.105 Among the remainder, 39 majored in accounting, nine in secretarial science, and seven in business.106 Most intended to transfer to four-year schools and obtain bachelor’s degrees.

“Our trustees wanted, and they felt the community wanted, a two-year liberal arts program,” said Ray Rossiter, the founding social sciences professor. “That was pretty significant in those days.” 107

Before instruction in those disciplines began in earnest, an opening convocation was held September 29 in the renovated assembly room. Charles Hetherington, the acting president, placed the new college in perspective and buoyed the spirits of its principals when he noted that, at that moment, RCC was the smallest college in the largest university in the country, the State University of New York.108

“I think we all felt a little taller and braver, which we needed to be,” said psychology professor Maureen Haberer.109

The occasion also was highlighted by the irrepressible Henry Larom leading the assembled students in their first college cheer: Rah, Rah, Rockland!110 That established an atmosphere, a joie de vivre, that would be reprised countless times in Larom’s tenure: the dean of students playing the drums at the annual holiday dance; jumping in a car with students and waving their protest banner; feeling honored when the students affectionately hung him in effigy; bellowing so loud after getting stuck in a doorjamb with a student that he could be heard clear across campus.

“Henry Larom would literally stand on his head to get people excited, to get kids cheering,” said Trustee Belle Zeck. “He would just about put on a clown outfit. But these things were wonderful. They worked.”

Larom’s humor leavened the fear and uncertainty as RCC took its first baby steps. The whole operation still had the feel of an unfinished production whose players were improvising their lines as they went along.

Classes started without blackboards or chalk, textbooks or a true library. Math instructor Bob Burghardt tacked up large sheets of wrapping paper and wrote with a crayon.111 Ray Rossiter roamed the halls lugging huge National Geographic maps.112 Instructors arrived on Mondays without a clue where they would hold classes.

Teachers’ straining voices competed with the thumping hammers and groaning saws – and salty conversation – of workers continuing Almshouse renovations. (By the end of the first year, all three floors were in use.113 )

“We would be working in one room, and have a sandscraper working in a room next door, or right over our heads,” said Maureen Haberer. “We were running almost daily ahead of the sanders, the wall breakers-down and wall builders-up. It was a very noisy place. We taught under extremely rugged conditions.” 114

Despite the initial hardships, everyone recognized the need to pull together for the common weal. An esprit de corps developed, born of necessity. In the days before a custodial staff was hired, it was not unusual to see someone like Jane Freeman – an accomplished professional educator – sweeping floors. Even trustees got in on the act, says Belle Zeck: “I was literally washing windows the day before the school opened.”

The first semester culminated in a dedication ceremony held November 1 in the outdoor courtyard shaped by the Almshouse’s “U” configuration. Although a hail shower delayed the start and rain accompanied the end, some 300 people turned out to hear the college’s virtues extolled by several speakers.115

The highlight of the afternoon came when Frank Manley, the Board of Trustees chairman, accepted a commemorative gavel for his leadership role in the college’s founding. Manley immediately presented the gavel to his 85-year-old mother, Anna Loring Manley, who had traveled from Boston to attend the event.116

Manley came from a poor family of eight children. His father, Herbert Manley, a Baptist clergyman, died at a young age. That left his mother to care for him and five surviving sisters. At his mother’s urging, Manley obtained a college education – the only one in his family to do so – graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the last two years on full scholarship. He never forgot his mother’s transcendent influence.

“He acknowledged that he was indebted to her,” said Frank Manley’s son, Loring, “and she was the primary factor in his life that got him an education. And that got him interested in education for other people.”

A Full-Time President

After helping orchestrate the start-up of the college, Charles Hetherington took on the role of overseer. As interim president on loan from Colgate University, he would make periodic visits to the Viola campus. But the day-to-day operation of the college that first semester was handled by Henry Larom and his assistant, Doris Marquardt.117

The second semester signaled the arrival of the college’s first full-time president, Dr. Frank Mosher. Mosher had spent 10 years as superintendent of schools in Liverpool, N.Y., and taught summer courses in education at Syracuse University. When Lester Rounds notified him of the opening, the temptation was too strong to resist.

“When I heard of the position as a first president of a new educational institution, I felt it was a real challenge and I was ready for it,” said Mosher, who is 92 and lives in Tucson, Ariz., with his wife, Onnolee. “It was especially exciting to be involved in establishing a new learning center and to work with a faculty who was equally excited about the new adventure.”

Upon starting his term on February 1, 1960, Mosher immediately launched an expansion of facilities, the development of a larger library and three new science laboratories for use in the fall.118 But the physical plant was not the only area Mosher improved. Before he arrived, instructors held no academic rank. “We were just Mr. so-and-so and Mrs. so-and-so,” said Bob Burghardt.119

To raise faculty members’ salaries, Mosher established a system that assigned every instructor a rank of associate professor.120 Although their education credentials varied, the teaching staff accepted the move as a well-intentioned step toward adequate compensation for their experience.

Mosher’s was not a charismatic leadership; he would not influence people by sheer force of personality. Yet everyone agreed they had the right man at the rudder, navigating the shoals with the hand of a seasoned veteran.

He was variously described as steady, efficient, methodical, organized, businesslike, a “shirt, tie and coat man” and a “clean desk sort of person.” He enjoyed sitting in on classes – unannounced, of course – to familiarize himself with students and to observe the classroom dynamic firsthand.

Mosher could be firm when he had to be, especially when occasional flareups tested his mettle. “There was one Ph.D. who arrogated to himself the privilege of speaking for the faculty,” said Bob Moseley, who has taught social sciences at RCC since 1960. “He was full of testosterone and would speak up, sometimes truculently. But Dr. Mosher handled it all neatly and quietly. It was his quiet spirit that steered us through a period that could have been fairly rocky.”

Three days before Mosher took office, the college received its official registration from the state Education Department, granting approval of its curricula.121 This authorized the awarding of Associate in Arts degrees in liberal arts, science, pre-engineering, and pre-teacher education; and Associate in Applied Science degrees in business management, accounting, and secretarial science.122

The registration also made RCC students eligible for state scholarships, such as Regents and War Service grants – the Veterans Administration also validated the curricula, for those with GI benefits – and paved the way for them to transfer to four-year institutions.123 Jane Freeman, the director of student personnel, was instrumental in securing agreements with colleges to accept the transfer of credits from RCC graduates.

Freeman first made contact with Fred Crossman, the director of admissions at New York University, who assured her acceptance of academic credits of students holding at least a C average, and offered scholarship aid as well. The University of Buffalo, St. Thomas Aquinas and Dominican College followed soon thereafter.124

“His announcement even made The New York Times,” Freeman said, “which told other colleges we were `OK.’ That was a real boost. I spent many months and two summer vacations visiting New York colleges and universities selling RCC and in many instances drew up parallel programs to assure transfer credit. Our transfer record was great and the loss of credit very minimal. The personal contacts paid off.”

With all the kinetic energy churning through the modest campus, it was well into the school year before stability seeped into the daily routine. Since graduation ceremonies were still one year away, the academic campaign was climaxed by the inauguration of Mosher as president.

The man who would be standard-bearer during Rockland Community College’s sink-or-swim infancy accepted the official confirmation with typical equanimity.

“He was very steady, very traditional,” said Belle Zeck. “He directed his attention to essentials. He was not adventuresome, but he was what we needed to get that college started.”

Evening Division

A true community college cannot ignore any segment of its citizenry. From its earliest days, SUNY Rockland held fast to its mission to serve, in Lester Rounds’ words, “all the people.” The RCC braintrust recognized that a separate division was needed for the adult working population, for those whose jobs prevented them from attending during the day but who still sought to better their lot through further education.

The Evening Division was established during the very first semester to address this need. Ray Rossiter was tapped to serve as acting director, an unofficial title he held for two years until Arnold Rist was appointed full-time director in 1961.

Students in the evening sessions, who earned part-time credit, outnumbered those in the day sessions for the first five years.125 In 1959, 162 students – 94 men, 68 women – enrolled in the evening versus 139 during the day.126 By 1963, the numbers had grown to 783 evening and 674 day.127

Who were these evening students? “A range of students, from right out of high school to people in their 50s and 60s,” said Rist, a school psychologist and guidance counselor who served until 1965. “A lot of them had been out of high school for 20 years. Many worked in New York City. Many were coming to pursue knowledge, then that turned into getting a degree to move up in industry.”

A full menu of courses from the liberal arts, sciences and business were taught. One of the first evening instructors was Bob Moseley, who then resided in Nyack and had been teaching an evening sociology course at Orange County Community College.128 Rossiter persuaded him to teach evenings closer to home. Moseley eventually joined the full-time staff in 1962.

“I enjoyed it more teaching in the evening,” he said. “We had GIs who came back, lots of older people who held down jobs. They had more life experience. It was an absolute delight.”

The Evening Division became a prime source of daytime faculty. For example, Marven Nelson rose to become chairman of the psychology department after starting as a night-division instructor. William Hirn was the first full-time psychology teacher hired from the ranks of the Evening Division.129

From the outset, college founders also identified a need to tailor courses, both on and off campus, to niche constituencies. Thus began the highly successful Extension Division. James Naismith, an actor and theatrical director hired in the 1960 spring semester, taught the first extension course, a speech class in the old Orange and Rockland Utilities building in Nyack.

Courses to prepare engineers for the state Professional Engineers exam and graduate-credit courses for teachers sponsored by Columbia University Teachers’ College highlighted early offerings.130 The Extension Division continues to flourish in centers off campus, places of industry, and health care facilities.

One salient legacy from the Evening Division is what became known as the Foundations program. Well before other colleges with a similar open-admissions policy, Rockland immediately recognized the need to offer remedial courses to reinforce English and math skills in students deficient in those fundamental disciplines.

Students were required to pass a six-week noncredit program before they could matriculate.131 A specialist taught reading and study skills to students who warranted it.

“This was something that distinguished us from any other school I knew,” said Belle Zeck. “It was what St. Thomas Aquinas used to write essays about: the divorce of `is’ and `ought.’ We had to accommodate what is and not what ought to be. We were very surprised and delighted when someone who wasn’t college material turned out to be very good academically. The Foundations program was the best thing we ever did.”

Extracurriculars: Sports, Clubs, Dances, and a Barn

Listen closely for the heartbeat of a college. It pulses with a cadence all its own, unique to the organism. Now go deeper, beyond the bones and sinew, into the very soul. There you shall find a place of visceral emotion and spirit. A place where the human drama is played out in all its multihued splendor.

At Rockland Community College, that place was the Barn. If the old Almshouse was the heart of the early campus, the Barn was assuredly its soul. By the time renovations had been completed on the Poor House dairy barn in the spring of 1960 – hay lofts, cow stalls, milk shed and signature barnyard fragrances replaced by tile flooring, wall paneling, better lighting, heat and tiled drop ceiling132 – the Barn had established itself as the axis around which student life revolved.

The drafty old hulk was as versatile as a favorite pair of Levis and as adaptable as a chameleon. All manner of events took place under its sturdy wooden roof: school registration, physical education classes, sports team practices, large classes and final exams, dance classes, student-faculty talent shows, worship services, films, guest lecture series, concert series, even war protest rallies.

But the program most closely identified with the Barn was the College Barn Theater and its Drama Club student performers, the College Barn Players. The impresario of the program, the effervescent James Naismith, heightened the college’s cultural milieu immeasurably.

He brought to the Barn stage the works of such heralded playwrights as Edward Albee and Arthur Kopit.133 He would direct theatrical productions at lunch time, in the summer, on weekends. The college – and the greater Rockland community – treasured it all.

“For me, the center of college life was the College Barn Players,” said Sanford Rubenstein, a 1963 graduate who became a Rockland legislator and an RCC trustee. “Not everyone was involved in the Players, but considering the total number of students, many, many of us were involved.” 134

From an inauspicious beginning – Naismith, eager for a sneak peek, inadvertently mucked through wet floor cement the night before the renovated Barn opened – he reckons he has directed more than 150 plays in the county, most of them in the Barn Theater. (The Barn burned down in January 1979, but the student actors continued to perform, shifting to the Cultural Arts Center, built in 1983.)

“I lived in that theater for many years,” said Naismith, who also taught English and psychology and retired in 1986. “My degree of commitment was . . . well, when we were in production, I’d be here sometimes 15, 16 hours a day, seven days a week.135 I enjoyed my job, my work, so much.”

What James Naismith was to theater, Edwin Greene was to athletics and physical education. Greene had been a highly successful coach and athletic director at Suffern High School when he was hired part-time the first semester to coach the fledgling basketball team. He recruited with the peremptory approach of the World War II veteran he was.

“Coach Greene had recognized my name from when I played basketball at Spring Valley High School,” said David Sauberman. “He said, `If you want to make it through this school, you better play for this team.’ So I did.”

Greene became the full-time athletic director, physical education department chairman and bookstore manager in the second semester. He was joined by Joseph Famellette, fresh out of Springfield College, who was hired part-time in the fall to coach the first soccer team and, like Greene, became full-time in the spring.

Greene and Famellette had to be magicians to keep their programs afloat with limited facilities. Greene coached basketball, baseball, tennis and golf, while Famellette coached soccer and wrestling. For basketball, Greene wangled court time in gymnasiums at Suffern, Haverstraw and Spring Valley high schools and a few junior highs.

Baseball practice was held on a rough-hewn diamond carved out of acreage in the southwest quadrant of campus, while games were played at the Village of Suffern ballfield.136 The team also competed against several junior colleges in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia during annual spring breaks.

The physical education office shifted early on from the north wing of the old Almshouse to the former Ramapo police station. Activities like calisthenics, jogging, archery, soccer and golf were held in the fields surrounding the small, peaked-roof building.

The Barn proved suitable for gymnastics, fencing and varsity wrestling practice. For other physical activities, Greene and Famellette became nomads. Swimming and lifesaving were taught at the Bader’s Hotel outdoor pool in Spring Valley. Bowling was at the Hub alleys in Monsey. Deer Kill Day Camp in Suffern was rented to teach lifetime skill sports like tennis, handball and one-wall paddleball as well as softball and basketball. All phys ed activities were coeducational from the outset.

“You had to be innovative,” said Greene, who is 87 and lives in Panama City Beach, Fla. “I found that when you were lacking in facilities, you had to make do with what you could.”

Famellette – the longest-serving current faculty member – added, “We had a well-defined physical education department that was probably way ahead of its time in lifetime and coed sports.”

While physical and theatrical expression were given free rein, so too were other student activities that are hallmarks of a college environment. Thus arose clubs catering to student interests: business, drama, choral singing, public service, Spanish, French, ski, gun, varsity athletics, and the Newman Club, for fostering understanding of the Catholic faith. The student scribes’ creative impulse manifested itself in the student newspaper, The Record; the yearbook, Vanguard; and the literary magazine, De La Plume.

The most popular dance was the holiday Snow Ball in December, held at Letchworth Village’s cavernous Kirkbride Hall. “We felt like the Christians in the bottom of the Colosseum in Rome,” recalled Ray Rossiter, “about 100 of us huddled in one corner of a place that would hold 1,000 people.” 137

For the first seven years, Rossiter also served as faculty adviser to the student government. In the first Student Senate, Rhoda Benjamin and Paul Serra were president and vice president, respectively. Coincidentally, they also were chosen Queen and King of the inaugural Snow Ball, and later were married.

A prominent arm of student governance was the Student Court, composed of five judges and a prosecutor who heard cases and determined penalties for violations of college and senate rules.138 Sanford Rubenstein was the court’s first “chief justice.”

“It was all very exciting,” Rubenstein said, “because we had a sense that we were really shaping student government. And we had fun, too.”139

The First Graduation and Beyond

On June 11, 1961, the college’s first commencement exercises honored 39 graduates – 22 men, 17 women – who had finished the journey begun by 139 full-time students two years before.140 They sat outdoors on that warm Sunday afternoon and listened as keynote speaker Dr. Lawrence Jarvie of SUNY cautioned them to retain their individuality “in a world of shrinking space, mechanization, brainwashing, rapid communication . . .” 141

As David Sauberman sat among his fellow graduates, his mind unspooled back to the untold hours of honest toil that earned him a role in this milestone occasion.

“There was a pioneering spirit in my mind, that I was a charter member of this school,” he said. “I worked my butt off to be in the first graduating class. As time went on, I became more and more proud of the institution, what it stood for and what it was going to be.”

Other events would serve as benchmarks defining the college’s progress in subsequent seasons. The year 1962 brought the departure of Frank Manley, an icon in the college’s founding.142 Manley accepted a job as president of Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Co. in his native Massachusetts. An emergency loan fund for needy RCC students was established in his name. Manley was replaced as chairman of the Board of Trustees by Dan Brucker, who served in that capacity for 22 years.

By 1962 the college was beginning to outgrow the Almshouse and its makeshift classrooms. The first phase in the trustees’ master plan called for an academic building and a gymnasium. The athletic facility was not completed until 1972, during the second construction phase. But the new classroom building was the highest priority, and its groundbreaking ceremony was held that year.

“It seemed to symbolize the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one,” said Anthony Palladino, a 1963 graduate. “The pioneers who had struggled with the early problems, who had lived and learned in the old Almshouse, were about to give way to a new breed of students who would bring new problems and challenges to the modern building.” 143

As college enrollment grew, so too did its graduate base. From 39 in 1961, the number rose to 60 in 1962 and 115 in 1963, including the first 24 from the school’s nurse education program.144

The transition of which Palladino spoke gained its denouement with the retirement of Frank Mosher in 1963. At age 55, after 32 years as an administrator, Mosher was eligible for retirement in New York public education. He then moved back to Utica, N.Y., where he introduced a teacher preparation program at Utica College of Syracuse University, and remained there nine years before retiring for good.

“I had no intention of leaving so soon,” Mosher said. “I had turned down Utica after two years at RCC but the next year they came to me again, and again the challenge was there. During my three years at RCC I could see growth and felt the self-confidence and pride of everyone involved. We were beginning to be recognized as a strong influence in the community.”

While Mosher returned to Utica from Rockland, his successor at RCC, Seymour Eskow, made the reverse trip. The symbolism is apt, because Eskow – in his 20-year stewardship – proved to be the antithesis of Mosher as an administrator.

Eskow, a New York City native, worked his way up to president during his 17 years at Utica-based Mohawk Valley Community College, one of the first post-war two-year colleges in the state. At the insistence of Henry Larom, whom he had met at academic conferences, Eskow applied for the RCC job – he was the first applicant – and was chosen after an extensive search by the trustees.

Where Mosher was a paragon of stability, Eskow was the avatar of change. Where Mosher advocated evolutionary growth, Eskow sought revolutionary expansion – or so it seemed to many of his colleagues.

Eskow believed that a college is encumbered by the very infrastructure that undergirds it – state and local regulations, committees, various constituencies. The challenge of leadership, as he saw it, was to recognize all of those disparate components yet still push the whole juggernaut forward.

How did he accomplish that? “In my time that meant kicking dust in the face of the Legislature, telling them to back off,” said Eskow, who is 75 and lives in Goleta, Calif., near Santa Barbara. It meant “challenging the Board of Trustees on occasion, offending the faculty, and in general being the kind of buccaneering leader that is harder to get away with these days.”

One of Eskow’s first acts as president was to reclassify faculty ranks, based on his conclusion that the instructors were “overranked and underpaid.” A bitter fight ensued in which some faculty members resigned. Eventually a compromise solution was forged consisting of a two-tiered ranking system with accompanying pay scales. Within a few years this hybrid plan was discontinued, but the enmity it engendered lasted much longer.

Eskow acknowledge that he had little interest in the daily grind of managing a college, the quotidian business at which Frank Mosher excelled. Eskow’s bailiwick was taking risks, launching initiatives – and the sooner the better. “I confess to putting in too little time on remembering the rules, and less on obeying them,” he said.

Nothing better illustrates Eskow’s attitude toward bureaucratic imperatives than his response to Dr. Ernest Boyer, a SUNY chancellor, when asked about the progress of his state-mandated five-year plan for the college: “I’m up to next Thursday.”

Although his style proved abrasive to some, Eskow never deviated from the egalitarian mission of a community college. “He really brought the word `community’ into the title of the school,” said Belle Zeck. “I remember once saying that the trouble with us is we were trying to be all things to all people. And he said that’s exactly what we should be trying to do. That is how a community college is different from a traditional college.”

Eskow stressed that theme from the beginning. His second month on the job he conceived Inauguration Week, a series of events, panels and workshops form which evolved the college’s plan to serve as a community resource through the use of facilities such as the cultural arts center, field house and modern library.

The opening of the Academic I building in the fall of 1964 sealed one chapter of Rockland Community College and ushered in another. Classes shifted to the new boxlike structure, which accented functionality over aesthetic charm.

The classy old Almshouse, meanwhile, became the administration building. It remains so today, an enduring legacy to the founders’ vision.

  • Beisel, David R. Living History and Higher Education: An Oral History of Rockland Community College, 1959-1981, with an Inquiry into College Survival in the Eighties. RCC Press, 1981.
  • Burghardt, Robert. A History of the Early Days of Rockland Community College. Suffern, N.Y., 1979.
  • Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee. Viola, N.Y. 1959.
  • Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61. RCC Press, 1960.
  • Rockland Community College, Self-Study Report. RCC Press, 1967.
  • Rockland Community College, Supporting Data. RCC Press, 1967.
  • Rounds, Lester E., A Plan for Meeting the Post-High School Educational Needs of Older Youth in Rockland County. Columbia University, 1954.

1 Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee, p. 13
2 Ibid., p. 24
3 Ibid., p. 6
4 Rockland County Board of Supervisors meeting, minutes, April 28, 1959.
5 David R. Beisel, Living History and Higher Education, An Oral History of Rockland Community College, 1959-1981, with an Inquiry into College Survival in the Eighties, Chapter Three, p. 23
6 Rockland County Board of Supervisors meeting, minutes, April 28, 1959.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 11
10 Rockland County Board of Supervisors meeting, minutes, April 28, 1959.
11 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 23
12 State University of New York, adoption of resolution by Board of Trustees, May 14, 1959.
13 Wilfred B. Talman, How Things Began…in Rockland County and Places Nearby, p. 180.
14 Ibid., p. 187
15 Lester E. Rounds, A Plan for Meeting the Post-High School Educational Needs of Older Youth in Rockland County, p. 7.
16 Ibid., p. 8
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid., pp. 8-9
22 Ibid., p. 9
23 Rounds, pp. 38-39
24 Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee, p. 13
25 Rockland County Planning Board, “Rockland County Population, A Report on Population Growth Based on the 1960 Census,” p. 19
26 Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee, p. 5
27 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 2
28 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61, p. 42
29 Ibid., p. 42
30 Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee, p. 2
31 Ibid.
32 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61, p. 42
33 Ibid.
34 Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee, pp. 11-12
35 Ibid., p. 20
36 Ibid., p. 16
37 Ibid., pp. 13-14
38 Ibid., pp. 14-15
39 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 5
40 Robert Burghardt, A History of the Early Days of Rockland Community College, pp. 3-4
41 David Cole, History of Rockland County, New York, p. 282
42 Burghardt, p. 15
43 Ibid.
44 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 11
45 Rockland County Board of Supervisors meeting, minutes, Feb. 17, 1959
46 “Start of Community College is Held Possible This September,” The Journal-News, March 17, 1959
47 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 23
48 Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee, pp. 8-9
49 Ibid., pp. 7-9
50 Letter from the Office of the Executive Dean for Institutes and Community Colleges, State University of New York, to Rockland County Board of Supervisors, Feb. 20, 1959
51 Ibid.
52 Ibid.
53 New York State Education Law Relating to the State University of New York, Article 126, Section 6305
54 Letter from the Office of the Executive Dean for Institutes and Community Colleges, State University of New York, to Rockland County Board of Supervisors, Feb. 20, 1959
55 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61, p. 43
56 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 13
57 Burghardt, p. 2
58 “Rockland College to Open Sept. 28,” The New York Times, Sept. 1, 1959
59 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61,
60 “Rockland College to Open Sept. 28,” The New York Times, Sept. 1, 1959.
61 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 8
62 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
63 Frank B. Green, The History of Rockland County, p. 404
64 Burghardt, p. 12
65 Ibid., p. 11
66 Ibid., p. 13
67 Ibid., p. 14
68 Ibid., p. 15
69 Ibid.
70 Ibid., p. 11
71 Ibid., pp. 10, 39
72 Ibid., p. 12
73 Ibid., p. 11
74 Ibid., p. 10
75 Ibid., pp. 8-9
76 Ibid.
77 Ibid., p. 25
78 Final Report of the Rockland County Community College Committee, p. 10
79 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 8
80 Burghardt, p. 15
81 Ibid., p. 16
82 Ibid.
84 Beisel, Chapter Four, p. 2
85 Ibid.
86 Rockland Community College, Supporting Data, Presented for consideration by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, November 1967, p. 68.
87 Ibid.
88 Burghardt, pp. 17-18
89 Ibid., p. 21
90 Ibid., p 19
91 Ibid., p. 20
92 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
93 Rockland Community College, Supporting Data, for accreditation by Middle States Association, November 1967, p. 61
94 Burghardt, p. 33
95 Rockland Community College, Supporting Data, for accreditation by Middle States Association, November 1967, p. 26
96 Burghardt, Part Two, RCC From Spring 1960 Onwards, p. 8
97 Beisel, Chapter Three, p. 25
98 Ibid.
99 New York State Education Law Relating to the State University of New York, Article 126, Section 6302
100 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61, p. 10
101 Ibid.
102 Ibid.
103 Ibid.
104 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
105 Rockland Community College, Supporting Data, for accreditation by Middle States Association, November 1967, p. 65
106 Ibid.
107 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
108 “County College is Started With 150 on Opening Day,” The Journal-News, Sept. 30, 1959
109 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
110 “County College is Started With 150 on Opening Day,” The Journal-News, Sept. 30, 1959
111 Burghardt, p. 25
112 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
113 Beisel, Chapter Four, p. 18
114 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
115 “County’s College Dedicated,” The Journal-News, Nov. 2, 1959
116 Ibid.
117 Burghardt, p. 43
118 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61, p. 44
119 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
120 Ibid.
121 Burghardt, Part Two, RCC From Spring 1960 Onwards, p. 1
122 Ibid.
123 Ibid.
124 Burghardt, Part One, p. 37
125 Rockland Community College, Supporting Data, for accreditation by Middle States Association, November 1967, p. 61
126 Ibid.
127 Ibid.
128 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
129 Ibid.
130 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1960-61, p. 17
131 Rockland Community College, Self-Study Report, Presented for consideration by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, November 1967, p. 5
132 Burghardt, Part One, p. 45
133 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
134 Beisel, Chapter Four, p. 13
135 Ibid., p. 12
136 Burghardt, p. 42
137 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
138 Rockland Community College Catalogue, 1962-64, p. 26
139 Beisel, Chapter Four, pp. 13-14
140 Rockland Community College, Supporting Data, November 1967, p. 26
141 “College Graduates 38 in ’61 Class,” The Journal-News, June 12, 1961
142 Burghardt, Part Two, p. 19
143 Beisel, Chapter Four, p. 26
144 Rockland Community College, Supporting Data, November 1967, p. 26
145 Beisel, Chapter Five, pp. 3-4
146 Ibid., p. 9
147 Symposium, Early Faculty Members, Rockland Community College, Oct. 19, 1999
148 Burghardt, Part Two, p. 22
149 Beisel, Chapter Five, p. 10


Thanks to the following current or former representatives of the College:

Zipora Reitman, Robert Burghardt, David Beisel, Midge Galentine-Steis, Belle Zeck, Jane Freeman, Collette Fournier, Paul Shiffman. Thanks also to the Rockland County Office of Records Management and Archives, and the Historical Society of Rockland County.

Author’s biography

Jamie Kempton is a free-lance journalist who spent 11 years as a writer and reporter for The Journal-News of Rockland County, N.Y. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The (New York) Daily News, and Runner’s World and Running Times magazines, among other publications. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.