A maturing campus keeps eye on its past

Legacy: A professor races to preserve Howard Community College's history as the school marks 30 years of rapid progress.

April 23, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | By Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Thirty years ago, workers raced to finish Howard Community College's first building - a spare concrete structure that stood on a nearly bare expanse of land south of Little Patuxent Parkway.

They didn't make it. Classes started two weeks late for the 850 students.

Now, with 24 times as many students taking courses in 10 busy Columbia buildings, another race is on: a fight to preserve the college's past before all traces of it disappear.

It's largely a one-man effort.

"I was concerned that the college is losing its historical legacy," said Larry Madaras, a history professor who joined the community college staff in 1970 from Coppin State College and wants to document the sweeping changes he has seen.

"It's good for people to think collectively about who they are and where they're going and where people have been before them," Madaras said.

He's scraping together old documents, statistics, photographs and recollections, building a mountain of paperwork in the basement of his Wilde Lake home.

By the end of the school year, he hopes to complete a pictorial history of his longtime employer. By the time he retires - whenever that might be - he wants the college to have its own archives.

Madaras' venture is coming none too soon, onlookers say.

"We're just old enough that people are starting to leave," said Ron Roberson, vice president of academic affairs. "If we don't capture the information they know about the college, that information will be lost forever."

For the moment, though, Madaras has a strong base from which to draw. Ten people joined the faculty full-time in 1970; half are still teaching at the school.

They remember the campus' birth vividly.

"Before the college had its first day of classes, we were here - including the dean and the president - and we were sweeping the floors and cleaning the windows," said Vladimir "Vlad" Marinich, a history professor. "I think we only had a couple of hundred students. The curriculum had to be established; we were basically creating the courses we taught. It was glorious."

Creating something out of nothing also appealed to Dan Friedman, chairman of the science and technology division. He was teaching chemistry at Baltimore's community college when a friend told him about the campus planned for the new town.

Friedman still recalls what the man said: "This is an opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime."

The opportunity was life-changing for speech professor Donna Kirkley. She met her husband at the college - they were married in 1985 beside the campus lake - and her two boys and one of her stepsons are graduates.

"It really was a place to stay," she said.

What amazes Kirkley is how different the campus is now. She runs an annual speech contest for high-schoolers and remembers when empty classrooms for the event were easy to come by.

"Now I have to scrounge closets," she said.

Nowadays, the college has computer laboratories, child care and three theaters. But it opened with few amenities: no gymnasium, no cafeteria and only 10 majors. Many of today's students study nursing, a program that didn't exist in 1970.

Madaras is trying to find anything that documents how the college metamorphosed, growing into an employer of 1,600 and an educator of 20,700 annually. It's slow going because few thought to save paperwork or photographs.

He wishes someone had thought to take pictures of the people gathered for Friday night films in the nursing building, for instance - a ritual in the days before Columbia had public movie theaters.

"I'm getting incomplete bits here, there and everywhere," he said. "We don't even have a complete run of school newspapers."

It's time-consuming, but he's not frustrated. He realizes that the gaps might be a side effect of the community college's story of life.

Fast, fast growth.

"The one constant thing at Howard," Madaras said. "You're always in motion."

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