Monday, December 7, 2009

Understanding Your Roots

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a unique opportunity to ride with my parents to Kingston, NY to visit a distant relative – my father’s seventh cousin, seven times removed. He has done amazing research on his family genealogy that connects with a full history of my family that dates back to 1650 in the areas around Kingston and Bloomington, New York. Over lunch in downtown Kingston, I learned more about how The Van Wagenen family came to America from Holland. Not being of any noble birth, my Netherlands ancestors didn’t even have a last name. It was not until after they arrived in America that they adopted the name of "Wageningen" after the town in Holland from which they had migrated, and only later added the "Van" which in old-Dutch meant "of" or "from.” However, a fourth generation descendant of the original VanWagenens changed his last name to VanWagoner, moved to Saratoga County, served in the revolutionary war, and settled land in Michigan that he received for his military service – that was my fifth great grandfather. So yes, I’m a native New Yorker…with an eight generation gap. I feel extremely fortunate to have this knowledge as it seems the more I learn about my own history, the more centered I feel in my own life and how I fit in my personal family narrative.

Walking the grounds of an original VanWagenen homestead that was built in 1669 - a beautiful home to this day - was an amazing experience that gave me a feeling of intensely connecting with the past and understanding my roots. It reminded me of the connection with MVCC’s past that I’ve had the good fortune to experience through alumni reunions, our first emeritus breakfast, and listening to stories from faculty, staff and alumni. I even came across an interview with Bruce McLean, a College Trustee Emeritus, who was on the Board when MVCC created the current Utica Campus. During the interview for the 60th anniversary of SUNY, he recalled that Frank Lloyd Wright was invited by a personal friend from the County to walk the vacant plot of land that had been secured for the new campus in Utica. The famous architect asked to be left alone over three days while he walked the new vacant campus grounds. His final recommendation spoke of a vision for academic buildings surrounding a beautiful quadrangle connected to a sweeping mall that would lead to a gymnasium and athletic fields.

Through my blog, I’ve also been in contact with MVCC’s first faculty member, Steve Eskow, who was hired in 1946 and produced more than 90 radio programs called “Utica goes Collegiate” with Richard Clark, father of Dick Clark (yes, the Dick Clark). Steve was also the first instructional dean at the College and helped to pave the way for MVCC to be the first community college in the state to have residence halls back in the early 1960s. Understanding the past allows us to respect and honor it as we consider where we are in the present and the manner in which we go about creating the future. As we update the College’s Master Plan, we have much to build upon and much to think about as the complexity of needs increases in our community along with the many challenges the next decade or more will hold. If you have any thoughts about this post – genealogy or the College’s past, present or future, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.