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Greater Hartford Campus celebrates 50th anniversary in April (Released: 3/25/97)

by Sherry Fisher, Office of University Communications.

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Fifty years ago, when Sylvia Lazar saw her quarters at UConn's new Hartford branch, she was somewhat dismayed.

"There was no shelving in the room," says Lazar, the branch's first librarian. So she sent two students to the grocery store to pick up orange crates. The students, twin brothers, also were good carpenters: "They built shelving for me out of the crates."

At that time, classes were held on the third floor of a grammar school, the Barnard School on North Main Street in Hartford. The branch was opened after World War II to help alleviate overcrowding on the Storrs campus. Veterans on the GI Bill were flocking to campuses across the nation, and UConn needed more space to accommodate growing numbers of students.

What's today known as the Greater Hartford campus in West Hartford turns 50 years old in April. The month-long celebration includes an alumni reception, concerts, exhibits, seminars and an open house.

"We are hoping to increase the visibility and promote the image of the campus in the minds of the local community and the state at large," says Arnold Orza, interim director of the campus. "We want to promote the importance and the work of the undergraduate program here."

The campus, on Lawler Road in West Hartford, has an enrollment of about 1,000 undergraduates. It houses an MBA program, the International Public Service Institute, the Cooperative Extension System and a Bachelor of General Studies program. The School of Social Work also is located there.

In 1951, the campus made its second move, this time to larger quarters at Hartford Public High School.

Freeman Meyer, fresh out of graduate school at Cornell, was hired to teach history that fall. He found the accommodations a bit disappointing, especially after his years at Cornell.

"I will only be here for a year," Meyer told the director. "I couldn't imagine staying any longer," he says. As it turned out, he stayed 45 years.

"There were many advantages teaching at the branch," says Meyer, who specialized in American history but taught other courses. "I was the only history teacher for almost 20 years. There was nobody looking over my shoulder. I was running my own shop."

Meyer remembers the campus's next move, in 1954, to the Goodwin Estate on Asylum Avenue, which earlier this year was severely damaged in a fire. "It was a grand old building," he says. "We had our own faculty offices for the first time."

The mansion, originally built as a girls school, had a wing with about a dozen bedrooms. These became the faculty offices. The Goodwin family lived in the mansion for more than 50 years. It included a brick ice house, a stable and a garage -- perfect for a growing campus.

Meyer loved teaching in the ballroom, as it was called. It was beautiful, he says, "with French doors and paneling."

Lazar wasn't as happy -- at least not at first -- with the library's new quarters, a former stable.

"You could still smell the manure," she says. But after fumigation and renovation, it became a pleasant place to work. "They gave me a well-lit, well-equipped library."

In 1970, the undergraduate building for the new Greater Hartford Campus was built in West Hartford.

"The 50th anniversary celebration is particularly appropriate because the regional campus is truly at a crossroad," Orza says.

A UConn task force on regional campuses has charged administrators to rethink and reconfigure their missions to give new emphasis on selected four-year programs, Orza says. The Greater Hartford campus offers a four-year program in urban studies and a four-year bachelor of general studies degree.

Plans to move the campus to downtown Hartford have been nixed, so the campus is looking forward to serving scholars for years to come.

(Archive photos available by calling Sherry Fisher at (860) 486-3530.)