Brian McDowell took the podium at his final year-end Journalism Convocation at the State University of New York at Morrisville last week.
The professor looked somewhat happy to be able to pack away his books and belongings and go back home to spend more time with his wife.
And he looked somewhat sad in the realization that come next August, it will be the other profs handing out awards and huzzahs to the students in pretty old Madison Hall coming back to the little campus in the hills of upstate New York’s Cherry Valley to welcome a new batch of journalism kids.
It was a special gathering to wish Brian off to those deserved restive pursuits, plenty of people attending alongside the current crop of learners and teachers.
Professor emeritus Neal Bandlow, retired since 1999, was spreading his individual brand of smart and humorous, driving over the 15 or so miles to be there with his wife Carol and the former students they were putting up overnight in their home in Oneida, including Mike Sorenson, class of ’74, the guest speaker for the afternoon.
Former students from every decade there’s been a journalism program at this small state school have come back to wish McDowell well. We all know this not only because of the mingling that went on prior to the start of the 3 p.m. program, but because a voice roll call was demanded afterward. I got to proudly call out 1977 along with Nancy Cardillo, my friend sitting next to me. She stopped at the Little Bitty in the Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood to pick me up along her way from Buffalo. We stopped at the Bandlows for lunch and so she could drop off her overnight bag. Later, my dear wife Karen would join us all for post-convocation party and dinner across Route 20 at the Fort.
In the car, Nance and talked about the two years we learned so much from Bandlow and his cohorts, program director Jerry Leone, and Dan Reeder, and Charlie Hammond, and Joe Quinn, and our second “senior” year before getting our associate’s degree, Lisa Boulanger. Some days, those. She dated my roommate, the nice Natural Resources and Conservation major Dave Hardy. We got a good chuckle out of remembering how he left me a note saying “left you a sub in the fridge” and how I’d discovered when I opened that mini dorm rental box that my snack was resting right next to the roadkill my roomie had scooped up for his class taxidermy project.
Nance and I have remained friends, way after the days I transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park and she to Utica College to get our bachelor’s, and through the days we’ve worked for newspapers and in public relations and freelance writing.
We listened as Sorenson described what it was like back then to these students of 2015. Big difference. Now they are so immersed in technology compared to our archaic typewriter days. And they now have a four-year program in Internet Journalism in addition to the associate degree. Brian McDowell saw the real world changing and pushed SUNY officials to add the bachelor’s in the new ways. After that, Morrisville also hired Syracuse Area Music Awards hall of famer and former urban radio station owner and market pioneer Butch Charles to lead another charge in video and sound production skills.
Mike Gormley, class of ’81, talked about how he and his Morrisville Chimes newspaper colleagues worked their butts off to cover the Route 20 the fire destruction of Sauter’s Diner into the weekly campus paper the next day, and also into the Syracuse and Oneida papers because they were the only reporters and photographers on the scene. He related how another teacher, the late John O’Connor, addressed the weary students the next morning with these instructive words, ones Gormley has never forgotten as he’s worked his way with only his associate’s degree from SUNY Morrisville through the ranks of The Associated Press to cover important stories around the world, and now works for Newsday in New York City. “That’s what you do,” O’Connor told his students that morning after.
His point: O’Connor, always a hard-ass, never showed that he was pleased with any of their stories. Nance and I whispered how Dan Reeder was much the same way. And how we needed that reconstructive surgery on our writing and thinking.
Yes. And so more speakers, present teachers and students, talked of how Brian McDowell spread his wisdom about always seeking and spreading the truth, with passion and honesty.
Year-end awards were handed out, proud students posing with proud teachers.
These came with the reality check of the Doug L. Youngs and Marcel Joseph Maurice Awards, named for two journalism students, bright lights who were killed in car accidents. Classmates of theirs, a decade apart, hung their heads in sorrow as words were shared about what the world misses because their loss.
Of course, if anything, college is a mirror of life’s ups and downs. This reminded Nance and I to walk outside the Student Activities Building to pay respects at the recently planted Regina Reynolds memorial tree, with an inscribed stone at its foot. Reynolds was a student in our time, known to Nance, whose disappearance from campus caused a major stir. The unspeakable discover of her body and the facts that came afterward of her hitchhiking along nearby Route 20 only to be murdered horrified all. Nance related how she almost packed her bags and went home.
But back in Madison Hall, current graduates were told, several times, that they were now part of a new family that would always lend support in hard times and good times, part of this group that had returned to listen to Bandlow and Sorenson and Gormley. Part of us.
Those who will remain assured the alumni that the home fires will remain burning for future gatherings such as this. Charles got up there and said because his program is so new, he was only ready to honor one student in each area, and arched his eyebrows to tell the remaining group that only hard work awaits.
The final tribute to Brian McDowell remained. Carol Bandlow told of car trips to their home state of Michigan, and how the man who started teaching with her husband a decade before he retired became part of that family, too. More gifts were given and accepted. Neal gave Brian four cases of beer, four different brands. Brian grabbed a cold bottle of Yuengling, breathed a big sigh, and said that would last him a whole year.
And then we started another trek for the next part of the tradition. Across the street to The Fort the alumni walked. We shared stories, a lot of them. “Big Jer,” the guy who started the program, called on the portable phone behind the bar, and we passed it from ear to ear and talked to the man in North Carolina who so wished he could have made the trip to be there with all of his former students and friends. But Jerry, retired for two decades, has been ill. Many of these same people and plenty more will be taking a trip to his hometown in July for a tribute dinner the college has planned in his honor. In my minute with that phone, I told Jerry how great it was to have seen his family newsletter at Neal and Carol’s house earlier that afternoon, to see his smiling face with his kids and grandkids and those who love him so. He loves me and all of us, he said, for the nth time in 10 minutes, meaning it. Soon the bartender came back for her phone, sheepishly informing us that they couldn’t run credit cards while we talked on it.
We shared drinks, a few of them, poured from shared pitchers bought with fifty bucks sent to Neal for that purpose by an alumnus who couldn’t make it.
We shared dinner, a Friday night Fish Fry set out for the community for some, complete with salad bar, taking up two tables we’d pushed together, a third set off to the side, and with others eating up at the bar.
We watched from close and afar as the students who actually had Brian McDowell the 20 years he taught journalism gathered around him to bestow more gifts. Perhaps some there knew him from the 10 years he worked in the College Relations office at Morrisville before he secured that professorship he wore so well. I know I was the only one in the joint who worked with him at The Post-Standard before that. Yeah, Brian McDowell preached what he practiced.
That’s the way it works at the little journalism college program that can.
If you’d like to read my Mark It Up community blog column about college graduations, click the link below.
Here’s the link to my 2014 waer.org story about Neal Bandlow at the SUNY Morrisville journalism program.
Do you ever go back to visit an old school and teachers, and if so, why? What’s your favorite former school memory, and why? If you could pass on one tip to today’s graduate, what would it be?
27 thoughts on “The end of an era for the little program that could”
Wow. I pretty much hated the whole school experience. (The social aspect was horrible, which I know now was due to my autism.) My advice to today’s graduate would be to PLAN AHEAD. Every decision you make WILL affect the rest of your life, so plan wisely. Get the best education you can; don’t get pregnant until you can afford a child; don’t get married to anyone who treats their parents worse than they treat you… because one day they won’t respect you either; work hard now so you can play hard later; and right now, decide where you want to be in five, ten and twenty years, then make it happen. 🙂
Well-fought-for wisdom, my dear friend. Thank you for sharing.
wow, what a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man, teacher, and program. how lucky for you to be a part of it. i’d tell students. ‘stay curious, learn something every day, be kind. you will be wonderful and fine.’
I am glad you have the opportunity to tell students this every day, Beth. 🙂
I adore the dedication you have towards staying present in your past. Once you meet someone they are part of your extended family and I think that is amazing. You’d have made a great teacher and coach, Chum. ♡
Thank you for that observation about me, Red. I will think about that today. Happy Mother’s Day, Aud. Enjoy it with your boys.
Thank you, my friend.
I’ve never gone back MBM. But I can see why you do. And you are so connected to every place you go, I admire that.
Connections in many places, yes, MBC. I can’t help myself. I wonder if you’d find interesting things and people if you did go back.
Maybe….I suspect I would. But I have a difficult time, believe it or not, finding my words, in large gatherings. 🙂 I do much better in writing. Or EXTREMELY small gatherings. Like one on one. 🙂
These large gatherings have a way of breaking down into a bunch of small gatherings. Take it from me. 🙂
Sigh….I know…..but so MANY people MBM. I’m quite the introvert. 🙂
Sorry I missed this. I have some stories of my own about you and your past that merit sharing!
Oh well, on a serious note, congratulations!
Thanks for stopping by here to comment, Mark.
Great tribute here! Our farewells and reunions have always been so understated with just a “so long, folks”. Or the reverse where it is too formal and we are struggling to stay awake.
This was perfect with intimate moments and memories to take forward.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Prajaka. I hope you find a get-together with exactly the right atmosphere for you before too long, my friend. Not too formal and not too lackluster. ❤
Hey Mark, wonderful reunion for you. I chose the anonymity of a large campus, but some of this is what I’ve missed. Sweet.
I do have a bit of a connection to your part of the world. We lived in Lockport for 2 years; husband’s company was working on a power plant for NYSEG up on the Lake. My son was born there. I also have a cousin who teaches at SUNY Brockport. ☺ World gets smaller. Van
World does get smaller, Van. You were an Upstater. That is very cool news to me. We can relate on that level, too. 🙂
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Very cool Mark that you could get to see and celebrate with so many of your contemporaries. I too like that last pic. The others are well done – expected of an article on a reunion of sorts – and yet the last captures a very personal moment in an every day scene.
I haven’t actually gone to any reunions, per se. I’m not big on reunions. Although I did go to a few business presentations- organized by the alumni- that had the majority of my Queen’s classmates present.
You are a singular man, Paul. I get that. Thanks for getting the uniqueness of that last photo, too. 🙂
Lovely tribute, Mark. I haven’t returned, yet, due to being far away from my schools. Tip for graduates: be a lifelong learner, work hard, love your people with all your heart.
Your final photo is a gem.
Great tip for graduates, Angie McFly,
I hope you get to go back to your old school someday soon, and with a group of beloved formers.
And, finally, thank you. 🙂 ❤
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I would love to get back to Bloomsburg U. for a reunion. Those were the fun days 😀
My husband, Steven, went to Potsdam College when Brian McDowall was there. Brian worked on The Racquette newspaper for which Steven wrote movie reviews for a short time. What a lovely article. You are blessed to have such good memories and friends from college.
It is indeed a small world, Cynthia. I hope Steven sends a message to Brian via Facebook or WordPress. Yes, Brian has a WordPress blog that he’s told me he plans to crank up a bit. https://bmcdowell0.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/its-all-good/?fb_action_ids=10206487743063455&fb_action_types=news.publishes&fb_ref=pub-standard
You are correct. I am blessed to cherish my days and friends so much, still.
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I shared your post on Facebook, highlighting any of my friends that knew Brian. Steven and others commented with their congratulations, which Brian appreciated. I shall check out his blog.
Thanks for the share, Cynthia. I appreciate your friendship here.
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