The name behind the building

Many students roam the Marist campus going from class to class without thinking to him or her self, “who the heck is Donnelly, Fontaine, or Hancock.” This article is in dedication to those great philanthropists and leaders whose names are on the buildings of our beautiful home at Marist College.

To learn about the process of naming a building, I spoke with Chris DelGiorno, Vice President of College Advancement. DelGiorno explained that in order to have a building in your name, you either have to be a really important person to the college or a philanthropist who makes a substantial gift to the college. Buildings like Dyson, Hancock and Lowell Thomas were in honor of generous donors. Fontaine, Donnelly and the Murray Student Center were named after important people in Marist history. The college promotes substantial donations for this though conversations with the board of trustees.

Here is a list of 6 well known buildings on campus with recognition of the people they are in honor of:

1) Donnelly Hall

Donnelly Hall was named after Marist Brother Nilus Vincent Donnelly. Brother Nilus was not only a brother, but also a teacher who oversaw the construction of 12 original Marist buildings on campus such as the chapel, monastery (now the library), a dormitory (now the faculty building), a student lounge (now Adrian Building) and of course Donnelly Hall. Brother Nilus personally supervised the construction of Donnelly. He also personally operated the bulldozer, crane, and other construction equipment. Paul Ambrose, founding president at Marist College called him “the backbone of the college.” Dr. Dennis J. Murray, recent Marist College president, said “ Brother Nilus was literally and figuratively one of the key builders of Marist College.”


Plaque in Donnelly Hall


2) Fontaine Hall

Fontaine Hall was named in honor of Marist Brother Paul Ambrose Fontaine, the founding president of Marist College. According to a New York Times article, Brother Paul spent over 75 years of his life as a Marist Brother. He served as an assistant general of the Marist order in Rome and a personal envoy for Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. He even helped establish Marist Brother schools in Africa and Asia. Unfortunately in 1989, Brother Paul contracted malaria in Liberia. He was invited by Dennis Murray, former Marist President, to return to Marist College to retire but he kindly declined the offer. Brother Paul said in an interview with The Poughkeepsie Journal in 1991: “My philosophy is, you rest, you rust. Look at a plow. If it’s being used every day, it’s nice and shiny. If it sits idle for any length of time, it gathers rust. People are the same way.”

3) Hancock Center

The Hancock building, home to the College’s School of Computer Science and Mathematics, is one of the newer buildings to the Marist campus, which opened in 2010. The building was named in honor of Ellen Hancock, lead donor and vice chair of the Marist Board of Trustees, along with Jason, her husband. “Marist understands that technology needs to be incorporated into every academic discipline because technology pervades every profession students enter, said Hancock in an interview with Marist College. Hancock’s wise words and success in our technological world makes her name a perfect fit for the building. Hancock worked at IBM as Senior Vice President in charge of network hardware and software for 29 years. At IBM she also served as a member of the IBM
Corporate Executive Committee and the IBM Worldwide Management Council. She also worked alongside Steve Jobs at Apple with the CEO position of Chief Technology Officer. IBM and Apple were not the only successful companies she worked for with a high title. She also worked for Exodus Communications with a CEO position and National Semiconductor as Executive Vice President and Chief operating officer, just to name a few.

4) Lowes Thomas

Lowes Thomas, whom the communications building is named after, was a very successful journalist, author, broadcaster, producer, war correspondent and world traveler during the twentieth century. He is best known for Lawrence of Arabia, a series of romantic and adventurous tales inspired by the life of T.E. Lawrence, an Irish-English officer who wore Arab robes and led an Arab revolt against Britain’s enemies in the Middle East. The screen show of Lawrence of Arabia attracted large audiences in New York and then London followed by Australia, New Zealand, South-East Asia, India and China. Thomas’ life was filled with adventure from his traveling to his numerous films and radio broadcasts. He was also the first person to film the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Marist College had a relationship with Thomas and his family, which goes back many years. In 1981, Thomas delivered the commencement address to Marist and was awarded an honorary degree. “The world is still full of excitement and exciting things to do, its up to you to go do them,” Thomas told the new graduates.


Lowell Thomas building

5) Dyson

Robert Dyson has been on the board of trustees at Marist for about 16 years. He made a generous gift when the college was ready to construct the management building. He named it in honor of his parents, Charles and Margaret Dyson. Charles Dyson was a businessman and philanthropist. He also, as World War II came along, served as a Special Consultant to the Secretary of War and worked alongside the Army and Navy to help design the Lend Lease Act. Charles Dyson later worked for the Department of Treasury where he helped to organize the International Monetary Fund. He was also a colonel in the Air Force where he was decorated with a Distinguished Service Medal and was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his service in the war. After the war Charles Dyson worked for several companies before investing in his own using $10,000 of his own money and $5 million borrowed from the bank. The Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation’s manufacturing (which Robert is Chairman and Executive Chief Officer of) and the industrial business’ generated sales around $600 million around the time of his death in 1997. He supported voluntary organizations and served as a trustee for numerous sites, some including, Westchester Medical Center, New York Law School and the Metropolitan Opera Association. Furthermore, he and his wife Margaret founded The Dyson Foundation in 1957 (which Robert is the director of).


Plaque outside Dyson Center

6) Dennis J. Murray Student Center

Dennis Murray served as President of Marist College from 1979 to 2016, making him one of the longest serving college presidents in the United States. Throughout his term as college president, he made many accomplishments leading to his success at Marist. He constructed new and renovated old buildings on campus, quadrupled enrollments with highly selective admissions, established programs like the Lorenzo de’ Medici branch in Florence, Italy and became a face of Marist. Outside of Marist, he also achieved many accomplishments. He was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as Co-Chair of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council and as a member of the statewide Chairman’s Council. With his contribution to education and community service he received the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, past recipients include Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, and Robert Kennedy Jr. When he stepped down from his position as the President of Marist College, the school wanted to pay tribute for all the success he brought to the campus in his 37 years. So, they named the student center in his honor. “He (Dennis) and Marilyn were always very student centered and cared so much about the students and their experiences, inside the classroom, outside the classroom… seemed like such an appropriate fit for them,” said DelGiorno.

murry copy.jpg

Plaque inside the Student Center

Out of all the named buildings on campus, many are still looking for naming opportunities. “I would love to see the names of alumni on our buildings, that would be really exciting,” said DelGiorno. The campus is filled with wonderful history of philanthropy with non-alums who developed a relationship with the college but none of the buildings are currently named after any Marist alumni. DelGiorno explained, “we have a lot of alumni who are really hitting their professional strides and reaching levels of professional success that enables them to make more significant gifts to support the college…. for the first time alums are ready, in a position to demonstrate that level of philanthropy for major capital projects.”

2 thoughts on “The name behind the building

  1. Pingback: Stories – Erica Lynn Official

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