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During the early months of 1955, Dutchess County's civic-minded leaders began in earnest to discuss the possibility of creating a community college in the county. At that time, there were only 40 community colleges in the United States, serving just 325,000 students.
A few years earlier, more than 100,000 World War II veterans had returned to New York state. Then-Governor Thomas E. Dewey established a Temporary Commission on the Need for a State University to help educate and retrain these young men and women. A former regent, Owen D. Young, chaired the commission, which would become known as the Young Commission. In 1948, the Commission made the recommendation for the formation of a state university system in New York. The university would include all the state colleges, two medical centers in Syracuse and Brooklyn, and a system of community colleges. The State University of New York was established July 1, 1948, and in 1950, the first of the state's community colleges opened its doors in Middletown, Orange County, about 40 miles west of Dutchess County.
The findings of the Young Commission, and the subsequent opening of the community college in Middletown, captured the attention of a number of Dutchess County citizens. One particular finding of the Young Commission - that only five percent of high school seniors were going on to college in New York State - impressed Mrs. Martha Riefler Myers, a civic leader and resident of Poughkeepsie. Mrs. Riefler Myers believed that a community had a responsibility to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to be educated to the best of their ability and she worked tirelessly gathering support for the creation of a community college in Dutchess County. She would later tell an interviewer that she was inspired by an article she had read in the New York Herald Tribune in 1950 that outlined the community college philosophy of accessible and affordable education.
With the help of Mrs. Riefler Myers, other like-minded individuals, and much discussion and information gathering, county residents were finally invited to attend a "Community College Kick-Off" at the Central Hudson Auditorium in Poughkeepsie in September, 1955. The meeting was organized by Mrs. Albert Drake, district director of the Taconic District Parents and Teachers Association. The speaker at this event was Dr. Lawrence Jarvie, executive dean of the State University of New York, and it was his charge to provide attendees with the information needed for the establishment of a community college in the Taconic District of the County.
Following this public meeting, a series of presentations were made to various Parent Teacher Associations, businesses, and community organizations throughout the County. The American Association of University Women and the Poughkeepsie League of Women Voters prepared "A Community College Fact Sheet" that was widely used in the presentations and discussions. After the presentations, and, at the suggestion of the Millbrook PTA, a survey was distributed to determine the interest in, and need for, a community college in Dutchess County. Dr. Leslie Koempel, an associate professor of sociology at Vassar College, agreed to conduct The Community College Feasibility Survey.
A total of 2,909 county families with 3,269 children participated in the survey. Results showed that 78 percent of the parents wanted their children to have the advantage of a higher education. However, the majority of the respondents believed they could not afford to send their children to a college away from home. The use of a feasibility survey and the subsequent response of residents very clearly indicated the desire by residents for a community college in the county.
On November 18, 1955, encouraged by the widespread and positive response to the study, the County Board of Supervisors, through its chairman Robert Blinn, appointed 10 residents to serve on a committee to investigate and study the advisability of establishing a community college for Dutchess County.
Moving quickly, the committee held its first meeting in the Supervisors Chambers on December 2, 1955. Supervisor John J. Utter was appointed committee chair and Martha Riefler Myers was appointed secretary. One of the first actions the committee took was a trip to Orange County Community College in Middletown in order to become acquainted with its educational program and financial structure.
In addition, the committee noted that on December 14, 1955, Dr. Philip Martin, president of the recently opened Westchester Community College, would speak about the financial outlook of his college at a meeting to be held at Vassar College, and the recommendation was made that all committee members attend.
In conjunction with the feasibility survey, a number of other surveys had been distributed throughout Dutchess County to various groups and the responses were closely examined by the committee: PTA surveys distributed to parents of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students; a survey to industry and business by the County Chambers of Commerce and the American Association of University Women; and a survey of professional groups by members of the League of Women Voters. Survey results were tabulated by IBM interpreted by the Vassar College Field Office, and completed by April 1, 1956.
As the committee began its task, presentations to organizations continued. Educators from other institutions were also invited to the county to support the establishment of the new community college. The State University of New York and the State Education Department lent their support by sending leading educators to give presentations and share information. Marvin Rapp, associate executive dean of the SUNY system, addressed the Rotary Club of Poughkeepsie for example, calling on club members to embrace the motto of the State Education Department: "Let each person become everything he is capable of becoming."
Articles in the Poughkeepsie New Yorker (the forerunner of the Poughkeepsie Journal) carried letters of support from many influential academics outside of Dutchess County. James Conant, former president of Harvard University, was quoted in the paper on July 3, 1957, indicating that for certain students, the community college would provide better educational opportunities than four-year colleges and universities.
The special committee appointed by the county legislature, in addition to information gathering, was quickly faced with two major problems: securing a location for the College and the formulation of a financial structure that would be acceptable to the Board of Supervisors. A site subcommittee worked diligently to find a suitable location. After examining 28 sites, the committee reported to the Board of Supervisors that Bowne Hospital, an abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium, was the site favored for the proposed college.
While the creation of a community college had the support of the County's political and economic leaders, the cost of starting a county college had to be weighed against other fiscal needs of the county. During this period, the county was being asked to provide $3.5 million for a County office building; $350,000 for an addition to the jail; $350,000 for renovations for the county infirmary; $300,000 for the county health department; $40,000 for the county mental health department; and $50,000 to underwrite the youth court. In addition, Dutchess County was already paying other counties for county students attending their community colleges: $6,887 to Westchester Community College; $300 to Mohawk Valley; and $337 to New York City Community College.
Once Bowne Hospital had been selected as the site for the new community college, hopes were high that the College would open in the fall of 1957. However, problems arose in clearing the property's ownership. In addition, the Board of Supervisors insisted that Bowne Hospital must be obtained without cost to the county. Eventually, the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Trustees of the hospital, and the State reached consensus and the transfer of the property was successfully accomplished. The state accepted the capital budget for renovation of the old building, a cost of $524,125, which had been authorized by the Board of Supervisors. If the cost exceeded that amount, the supervisors would pay the excess. If the cost was lower than that amount, the state would transfer the difference to the College. The actual cost for renovation was $435,761, and the remaining $88,364 was paid to the College.
On July 22, 1957, the governor of New York and the County Board of Supervisors appointed the first nine members to the board of trustees for the College. Charles Woolf was elected chairman, Stephen Bock vice chairman, and Madolin Johnson secretary. Edna Silber replaced Herman Bloom after his death.
The new board of trustees was immediately faced with several challenges, including the formulation of a budget for the first academic year and the hiring of a staff. The College budget for 1958 was set at $43,976 and the first employee, Beatrice Sheffield, was hired on November 17, 1957, as secretary to the president. In December, Dr. James F. Hall from Michigan was hired as the first president of Dutchess Community College.
On a beautiful fall day in September 1958, Dutchess Community College opened its doors to its first incoming class of students. Almost 700 men and women (252 full-time and 412 part-time students) of all ages stepped into the classrooms of Bowne Hall to experience their first taste of a community college education. Less than two years later, on a late spring day in June, the first graduating class of 66 proudly assembled to accept their diplomas in recognition of their hard work and perseverance. The county's dream of a community college had become a reality.
DCC has been fortunate to have stability and creativity in its leadership. Only five people have held the position of president. They are:
Dr. James F. Hall 1957-1972
Dr. John J. Connolly 1972-1982
Dr. Jerry A. Lee 1982-1992
Dr. D. David Conklin 1992-2014
Dr. Pamela R. Edington 2014-2020
Dr. Peter Grant Jordan 2020-present