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October 25, 2013

Author recounts history of SUNY Delhi, life experience

BY Cheryl Petersen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The audience generated a feeling of spirited reunion last night, while retired professor, Bob Russell Ph.D., gave a fascinating lecture at the Delhi Cannon Library, where he expounded on his journey of recording history related to the State University College of Technology at Delhi’s 100 year history. 

“I began the research years ago,” said Russell. “I was motivated to publish my book, ‘The New School Has Opened; It Promises Good Things,’ during SUNY’s centennial anniversary year, and it happened, just in time.”

Explaining his journey, which included hours, days, and years spent in the college archive room, Russell said, “I also spent many afternoons right here at the Delhi Library, looking at microfilm copies of the Delaware Republican newspaper. It would take one afternoon to cover 6 months, but it was time well spent because I wanted to tap into the cultural environment of more than 100 years.”

Russell’s book, focusing on the centennial history of Delhi College, is more than a list of historical facts. The prose includes an exploratory view of culture and community with an added dash of humor. 

“The reader gets a taste of college changes and rural life in America,” said Russell.

Russell’s own personal history extends beyond the Delhi area, where he also lives. He taught Behavioral Science and its many branches in sociology and psychology at SUNY Delhi from the fall of 1967 until his retirement in 2002. 

“I also taught night classes at SUCO Oneonta,” said Russell, who drove to Oneonta one night per week to teach a 3 credit class. “I taught Sociology and social problems and family sociology, throughout the year.”

The first few pages of the 87 page book looks at “history before history.” 

Russell surprises the reader with snippets from the past. Who would have guessed that the Delhi College would be built in a community that in year 1885 the Village trustees “fulminated an ordinance against bicycles, tricycles, velocipedes, and other infernal machines, prohibiting them the use of the pavements”?

Almost three dozen illustrations and notices, spanning more than 100 years, fill the glossy covered book. Pictures of faculty, students in classes, sports teams, buildings, and directors are spaced throughout the book.

Over a hundred years ago, the idea of establishing a school (presented by Elizabeth MacDonald) and promoted by her sister, Miss Amelia MacDonald, at first faced resistance. Eventually, the news came that, “The State School of Agriculture and Domestic Science at Delhi was established by an act of the New York State Legislature on May 24, 1913,” wrote Russell.

Setting the scene of a fledgling school, with dirt roads and more farm animals than students, Russell writes, “By 1916 the college began its second year of operation with an enrollment of more than 40 students and a new major: domestic science. This became the basis of modern home economics.”

However, in his research, Russell discovered confusion over attendance records in the school’s earlier days. The academic year was influenced by farm work and a flux of students would arrive after the rush of farm work ended.

Russell’s book is easy to read, with sections covering a decade at a time. Readers learn when departments were added and when expansions occurred in the Agriculture and Life Science, Business Management, Engineering Technologies, Liberal Arts, Alternative and Vocational Studies programs. In 1987, the college name changed to State University College of Technology at Delhi.

“When I began teaching at the college in 1967, I witnessed an incredible transition,” said Russell. 

“There was a great upheaval of protests,” said Russell. “The protests against war morphed into protests against everything and especially against anyone in authority.”

Russell writes: “On the Delhi campus, wooden structures were threatened, some actually burned with homemade devices. Faculty stood six and twelve hour watches at strategic locations around campus in attempt to prevent fire and mayhem.”

“I remember driving home one night after teaching in Oneonta and seeing the sky blazing with fire,” said Russell. “The students had built a bonfire on the Delhi campus that was truly frightening.”

“The students and I still got along in class,” said Russell. “If they protested it was by being absent in class.” 

But year 1972 the campus was in such turmoil and madness that teachers were told to give the students a grade and let them go home two weeks early with no graduation.

“Once the war in Vietnam ended, the campus was calm,” said Russell, who then went on to witness another cultural change. 

“Society had the ‘back to work’ attitude and with the advent of computers, everyone was found quietly sitting behind computer monitors.”

“The ‘80s and ‘90s typified a media obsession and materialism,” said Russell. “In 1990, a record enrollment of 2,100 students was welcomed at Delhi. By the turn of the new century, the college was making a name for itself especially in the Culinary Arts and Veterinary programs.”

Today, there stands a campus of multimillion dollar modern buildings with parking lots full of vehicles. No dairy. No pastures.

 “The changes have been phenomenal,” said Russell. “It truly was a joy to write and publish a centennial account of SUNY Delhi.”

 A copy of The New School Has Opened, is available at Cannon Library in Delhi.