The Red Fox Report travels “Back to the Future” of Marist

Fans of the “Back to the Future” movie referred to this past Tuesday, October 21, as “Back to the Future Day.” This was the exact day, in 2015, that the characters visited from the movie’s present day of 1985. 30 years ago, the film’s creators envisioned a 2015 with hoverboards, flying cars, Pepsi Perfect and the Cubs winning the World Series. Fans now see that certain parts of these predictions are more accurate than others.

To much disappointment, hoverboards are not a 2015 commodity, however some of the technology in the movie, such as tablets, video calls and fingerprint recognition, can be found in modern day. Society has come a long way in 30 years. The real 2015 finds itself somewhere between the fantasies of the science fiction movie, and the simpler times of 1985. To celebrate the collision of present and future, Pepsi released a limited edition line of Pepsi Perfect collectible bottles, fans dressed up like Marty McFly and the Red Fox Report took a look at how far Marist has come since 1985.

A mockup of Donnelly Hall renovations from 1990, which accurately portrays what the building has become.

A 1990 mockup of Donnelly Hall renovations, which accurately portrays what the building has become.

Marist campus has developed significantly in the past 30 years. “It wasn’t as big of a campus,” said Professor John Doherty, who was a part time MPA student from 1980 to 1989. “It was pretty much all centralized,” he explains, “I’d say Donnelly was the midpoint, McCann was the southern point and Lowell Thomas was the northern point.” Donnelly originally housed classrooms, business offices, eateries and dorms, while Lowell Thomas was the only building on that side of River Road.

The design for the main entrance of Lowell Thomas, featured in the 1983 booklet.

The design for the main entrance of Lowell Thomas, featured in the 1983 booklet.

A 1983 early design booklet for Lowell Thomas had big plans for the Communication Arts Center. It describes a “dignified meditative environment,” and a long list of amenities. Some can be found in the building today, such as a small theater, broadcast studio, film making studio and office space.

According to the design, “this gallery will be open to the public and will make the Lowell Thomas Communication Arts Center the third major site of historic interest in the Mid-Hudson Valley.” Unfortunately, 30 years later, Lowell Thomas does not have these galleries or such historic value.

Even so, alumni agree that Marist has come farther than they ever could have predicted. “I never would have guessed it would be as good as it is today,” says Doherty, “that it would have the prestige and academe of Marist College.”

Gerry McNulty, class of 1979, explained that back then, the student body was more focused on Marist’s survival than on expansion and fancy renovations. “We were concerned with the school surviving and being stable at that time,” he says, “it was a very small college, competing for students every year.” The student body has since grown to five times its size in 1985, and the now 210 acre campus has expanded across Route 9. “It’s an expansive, highly competitive school now,” says McNulty, “it was not then.”

According to John Doherty, “ninety percent of that is thanks to the vision of Dennis Murray, who unfortunately is retiring this year.” All of these changes really started up once Murray took on the presidency in 1979.

“I think President Murray realized that Marist is in a certain market with certain kinds of schools that are liberal arts-oriented and roughly the same size,” agrees Jim Steinmeyer, a 1971 alumni who came back to teach in 1990, adding, “in order to compete in that market, the physical plan had to be upgraded.” To initiate this upgrade, the president began building renovations that would visually improve Marist, and appeal to prospective students.

Before renovations, “the handful of buildings at that time were built in what I would describe as a contemporary or modernistic style,” McNulty describes, “this meant lots of straight lines and glass walls so not a lot of architectural detail.” In more recent years, Marist’s architecture and style has significantly shifted to a more Gothic style.

Steinmeyer remembers this shift on campus, “when the library was built the whole architectural sense changed,” he reflects, “that’s when it started to go to the large stone, which is like greystone.”

A Marist computer lab from the 1980's.

A Marist computer lab from the 1980’s.

President Murray also made great strides for technology at Marist. He immediately entered the partnership with IBM, in which Marist received five dollars worth of technology for every one dollar donated by an IBM employee or alumni. Through a joint partnership, IBM has provided Marist with a lot of its really big computers, pretty much for free.

Before these advancements, Steinmeyer says, “I still submitted grades on a written sheet.” He describes a campus with slow, clunky computer labs, but no wifi, because it did not exist at the time. “The campus just wasn’t totally wired,” he explains.

As far as hoverboards go, they have yet to hit the Marist campus, but skateboards have been popular for the past 30 years. In 1989, the year Back to the Future II was released, the Marist Circle

A photo of a skateboarder taken by Nathan Robinson and published in a 1989 edition of the Circle.

A photo of a skateboarder taken by Nathan Robinson and published in a 1989 edition of the Circle.

published an article entitled, Thrashers: Skateboarding hits Marist. The author, Christine Marotta discussed the rising trend in skateboarding at Marist, saying, “skateboarding has resurfaced on the East Coast and students at Marist are following the trend.”

Rob Gage, then a sophomore, explained that skateboards are convenient to take on buses, leave in the cafeteria and twice as fast as walking. 30 years later, students still ride skateboards and longboards to class, rather than hoverboards. “I take my longboard everywhere,” says Colby Gray, one of the many students that cruise the Marist campus in 2015, “it’s the easiest way to get across campus.” Some things remain timeless.

The editor’s note at the end of the 1985 yearbook sums up the experience of attending a constantly evolving school like Marist. It reads, “A growth process has taken place over the past four years, and we have felt the growing pains as individuals, as a class and as an institution. We can be confident that the promise of growth still remains.”

As he discusses this growth, Doherty looks fondly out the window at Marist’s current campus and says with a smile, “we’ve come a long way baby.”

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