After 50 years, NCCC retains personal touch

NCCC students relax outside in 1974.

Things were different 50 years ago when North Country Community College started in Saranac Lake. Its focus was to offer diverse academic programs and to make it accessible and affordable to students from around the region and even afar.

The college campus in the beginning was spread all over town. Most of the students didn’t have cars, so they would walk or hitchhike. Hodson Hall was formerly the Saranac Lake General Hospital. It mainly housed the administration offices, from Mr. Maloney in the financial aid office on the upper level down to Mr. Tom Kenedy in the basement, frantically registering students lined down the stairs to the Dutch door of his office.

Classes from modern dance to wilderness recreation and other sports were held at the former armory on Lake Flower, where the Winter Carnival Palace is built each year. Bob Hudak taught many of the classes and is still teaches at NCCC approximately 45 years later. Students jumped to take the mountain climbing and canoeing classes he taught.

Then there were classes in the River Street Hall, the big brick building that still stands on Brandy Brook Avenue across from NBT Bank. It was also a student union where the students would watch movies or have parties organized and chaperoned by Bob Brown.

The art building was where instructors Ken Wiley and Matt Schrader taught, an old white house that was later torn down to build the library and Connector buildings. The Drama Club used the sloping hill next to the art building and behind Hodson Hall to put on plays, where the gazebo sits now.

It wasn’t a glitzy campus by any means — it still isn’t — but NCCC has what many colleges don’t: one-on-one attention from very dedicated instructors, and accessibility to those near or far.

Bill Borzilleri was one who was responsible for increasing enrollment by recruiting many of the students from Long Island. This woke up the somewhat sleepy village of Saranac Lake with what some said were “riffraff.” After all, these kids were away from home for the first time, the drinking age was 18, and it was the early ’70s. There was quadruple the number of bars as now, and they were packed every night of the week. There were also many dogs owned by the students wandering around.

As crazy as the college scene was here, many left it with great memories, little or no debt, and an education that led many to go on and become respectable citizens and successful adults. Many out-of-area graduates saw opportunity here with inexpensive real estate, a safe community and a great lifestyle, and they decided to settle here — including the publisher of this newspaper.

Now the college’s students are more subdued, since many live here and want to contribute to the community they live in and are proud of. Many non-local students live in dorms, built in the late 1990s, and don’t have to mingle so much with other village residents.

NCCC has also grown up just as the students have. It has succeeded in its philosophy and purpose of 50 years ago, a direction set by its first president George Hodson, of offering students accessibility, affordability and diversity of academic programs.

Congratulations North Country Community College for 50 years of great success of educating and inspiring so many students who have gone on to be socially responsible in making the world a better place.