President Emeritus John Neumaier Memorial Program – Saturday, November 5 at 2:00 p.m. – College Terrace
Good afternoon and thank you for joining us for today’s memorial and remembrance for President Emeritus John J. Neumaier, who served as SUNY New Paltz’s 3rd president from 1968-1972. We lost John in June at age 94. My name is Don Christian, and as the 8th president of the College it is my pleasure to welcome President Neumaier’s family; current and retired faculty and staff; and other special guests. I want to recognize and thank Dr. Neumaier’s daughter, Diane, and his extended family; Anne, Charles, and Laurence Liebling, for being here.
Thank you as well to Emerita Professor Carole Cowan and Lecturer Susan Seligman of our Music Department for their musical contributions today. Carole knew President Neumaier and his wife, Sally, from their love of music and attendance at concerts on campus and through the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. We appreciate everyone gathering to remember him and his leadership and contributions to SUNY New Paltz and to the Hudson Valley region. Some of you come from nearby, while others, like 1973 alumnus and Indiana resident Terry Amsler, traveled far to be here. Your collective presence is a testimonial to how former students recognized President Neumaier as their advocate.
Allow me to share a few brief stories about Dr. Neumaier, both as then-president and in his later years. We have a few additional speakers today who will share their thoughts and I will introduce them shortly. President Emeritus Neumaier led the College at a time of great social, political, and cultural upheaval. He navigated this period and interactions with students as they responded to the many national and international events that had a profound impact on the college generation of that time.
Just last week, I attended a conference where Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR, spoke of her own college experience during that era at a sister institution, SUNY Buffalo. She described the feeling in the air and I thought immediately of John Neumaier when I heard her say these words: “It was 1968 to 1972. It was the time. All hell broke loose,” (end quote). Those words put in perspective the enormity of the challenges faced by President Neumaier and other college and university presidents across the country at that time.
Early in my presidency, he and I co-hosted an alumni event in Florida. He surprised me by speaking to the group about his empathy and support for me to be leading as president in such challenging times for public higher education.
Of course, I am fully aware that President Neumaier led New Paltz with grace during the Vietnam War protests, the rapid and dramatic social change of “the ‘60’s,” the quickly shifting sands of higher education at that time, and the challenges of simply keeping a college operational. That he offered such comments about leading a college in the 21st century was a mark of his remarkable generosity of spirit, which I subsequently came to learn was so characteristic of John Neumaier.
Last spring, I wrote to President Emeritus Neumaier shortly before he passed to share that we had recently re-dedicated the “Cliffside” sculpture on the Humanities Building, installed in 1970 during his presidency. Many of you in the room were there. At that event, Professor Emeritus and sculptor Manuel Bromberg spoke with deep respect and admiration for President Neumaier and his quick, full support for dedicating this installation to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his life and work.
Acts such as this reflected Dr. Neumaier’s lifelong commitment to social justice, equality, and inclusion. We heard at last year’s First World Reunion ceremony about his influence and support for efforts like “Project A” during the late 1960s to recruit more students of color to SUNY New Paltz and to support their success; Project A is regarded by many as one of the forerunners of the Educational Opportunity Program that is such a proud and important part of our community.
Dr. Neumaier considered the creation of the Black Studies Department to be a highlight of his administration’s achievements. He took great pride in the program, one of the first such departments in the country.
We remain grateful for his leadership and many contributions as president many decades ago and his ever-present support for SUNY New Paltz and our mission through the remainder of his life.
He and his late wife, Sally, were faithful attendees at Commencement ceremonies, the retired faculty luncheon, and other campus events, and they generously established a scholarship in memory of John’s mother, Lenore Schwartz Neumaier. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Neumaier children – Roger, Diane and John – for their recent contribution in honor of their late father to that scholarship fund. Your generosity is greatly appreciated and will continue President Neumaier’s legacy of commitment and service to students.
During Steve Poskanzer’s presidency, a retrospective on the life and career of President Neumaier’s mother as a prominent opera singer was exhibited in the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, which showcased the talents of Dr. Neumaier’s daughter, Diane, as a photographer.
We’re very pleased that Diane is here to represent the Neumaier children. She will now offer a few words. Diane…
Thank you, Diane. Our next speaker had a long and rich 34-year career at the College as executive assistant to the president. Gail Gallerie was hired by John Neumaier in 1969 and remained close with John and Sally for many decades until their deaths and continues to be in close contact with their children. She has graciously offered to read remarks from her former colleague, William Sample, who also worked in the Neumaier administration. Bill was unable to be here today, but wanted to share his memories of John and his presidency. Gail…
Our next speaker is my Chief of Staff and Vice President for Communication Shelly Wright, who will share remarks by former SUNY New Paltz President Steve Poskanzer. Steve delivered these remarks at Dr. Neumaier’s graveside service in Minnesota this past summer. We realize some of you have heard these remarks, but we thought it would be nice for today’s audience to hear Steve’s poignant tribute to John as well. Shelly…
Our next speaker, Emeritus Professor Gerald Sorin, is a highly regarded history professor who has dedicated more than 50 years of service to SUNY New Paltz. He has inspired thousands of students to become passionate about American and Jewish history and is a fine model for faculty colleagues throughout the College. Jerry was a junior faculty member when President Neumaier arrived to campus and experienced first-hand John’s leadership. Jerry…
Our final speaker this afternoon is Ira Fusfeld, publisher emeritus of the Daily Freeman of Kingston, NY. Ira is also a proud 1970 SUNY New Paltz graduate, so was a student here during part of Dr. Neumaier’s presidency. President Neumaier maintained a home in the Hudson Valley long after leaving New Paltz and for many years wrote a monthly column on politics and philosophy for the Freeman. He and Ira maintained a long and rewarding relationship. Ira…
Thank you again for coming and for helping us to honor President Emeritus Neumaier and memorialize his accomplishments and contributions on behalf of this college. In four short, tumultuous years, he captained this ship in a stormy sea of political and social unrest, with an overarching principle at the heart of his decisions and actions: what is best for students. It is a moral compass that has served me well during my own presidency. I count myself as very fortunate to have known John and to have been able to share ideas with this brilliant man.
I hope you will all stay around to visit and share your own personal memories of John with each other. You may also want to check out some of the visuals and writings that we’ve shared here today, including posters, Dr. Neumaier’s full biography and a personal reflection of his time as president.
Enjoy the remainder of your afternoon on campus.