From left, Dick Ulmer, '49, Dr. Louis Piccirili '51 and Bill Davies '51, all from Endwell, were among the alumni who celebrated the 60th anniversary of Harpur College at Colonial Hall in Endicott on Oct. 6.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Harpur celebrates 60th anniversary ‘where it all started’
October 12, 2010Tweet
With copies of old yearbooks – The Colonist – circulating around the room, about 60 people gathered Oct. 6 for an old-fashioned tea at Colonial Hall, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences.
Mike Sulich ’54 had one of those yearbooks from his senior year – with the receipt for a whopping $1 for its purchase. Even though his name is spelled wrong under his senior picture, the IBM retiree had fond memories of the “barracks” where he used to attend class. Sulich, who received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, returned to Binghamton a decade later, earning his master’s degree in the same field in 1967.
The tea brought back memories for Gene Flood ’57, who attended the original teas held for students by then-University President Glenn Bartle’s wife, Wanda, at the Bartle farm in the Town of Maine. “We would have tea and cookies and mill around talking,” said Flood. “I remember the first-ever tea I attended as a freshman, holding my tea in one hand and a cookie in the other and wondering ‘what do I do here?’”
Harpur College officially joined the State University of New York system on Oct. 6, 1950, Dean Donald Nieman told those present. “It’s appropriate that we are here, where it all started, at a tea reminiscent of the ones Wanda Bartle provided for students back in the day.”
Interim President C. Peter Magrath, who knew Glenn and Wanda Bartle, remembered the University’s first president as “a personality and tenacious. He was a builder.” Though he was drinking coffee instead of tea, Magrath thanked everyone for the roles they had played in the making of Harpur College. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being part of Harpur College with its incredible heritage in American higher education,” he said. “It’s still a baby, and when I was a boy president, it was a very, very good place. Now, it’s an even stronger place. Harpur College has grown into a real force in American higher education.”
When Magrath mentioned that the alumni in the room would likely still be accepted into the very selective Binghamton University if they applied today, Ralph Spinelli ’60, commented that getting in isn’t the hard part, “the hard part is getting out!” Spinelli, who retired 15 years ago from The Bay Ridge Group and is now of counsel for the firm, recalled smoking cigars in class to keep warm. An economics major, he attended Harpur College on the G.I. Bill.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Music Harry Lincoln painted a picture of what life was like when Colonial Hall was the centerpiece of Harpur College. “There was a rigorousness and excitement of ancient times,” he said, recounting stories of being able to touch everything in his office simply by swiveling in his chair, cutting a hole in the plywood floor of a Quonset hut to pour in concrete to provide a less-spongy surface to support physics laboratory equipment and living in one of the homes purchased to serve as student housing, known as the Lincoln House. “I was the youngest ever with a building named after me without dying,” he said.
Carl Ernstrom ’61 transferred to Binghamton from Clarkson University and thrived at a place full of “newness and the opportunity to create,” he said. “Tuition was $400 and I had a Regents scholarship for $250.”
Ernstrom did carry chairs from one classroom to another – a “somewhat different experience than at Clarkson” – attending classes in Quonset huts with walls so thin that “if you didn’t like the class you were in” you could always hear what was going on in the next classroom. Ernstrom described one rugged, bearded, tweed-wearing philosophy professor he had making a point in class one day and then casually leaning on the wall to wait for student response. “He leaned on the wall and landed right on another professor” teaching in the adjoining room.
“The transition from then to now has been amazing,” Ernstrom said. “I really appreciate how much fun it has been. It’s been an incredible trip.”