The Alumni House

A Home Away From Home

By Carol Olechowski

In a wooded setting on the western edge of UAlbany’s uptown campus stands a lasting tribute to alumni. It isn’t a plaque or a monument, but a place where they gather to enjoy fellowship,
reminisce about their student days and plan for the University’s future.

It’s the Alumni House, a home away from home for graduates of the former New York State College for Teachers (NYSCT) and its successor institutions, including the University at Albany. Forty years ago, planning for the Alumni House Conference Center gave rise to the Annual Fund, which brought alumni together to raise the $175,000 necessary to construct and furnish the 6,300-square-foot building. The yearly tradition of supporting a specific University project or need continues today through the UAlbany Fund.

William Floyd, B.A.’54, M.A.’55, and Henry M. Madej, B.A.’67, M.P.A.’68, were successive chairs of the Alumni House Conference Center Committee from 1972 to 1976. The project had
“two purposes,” Madej recalled: “to provide a home on the uptown campus for alumni and to help the University begin to raise money for itself. There was a need to have something that would be a draw and ease people into the concept of giving to the University.

The Carillon, Alumni House fundraising souvenir mug Model of the Alumni House Conference Center
A souvenir mug, left, and an Alumni House Conference Center model, above, recall the fundraising and design processes that brought the center to fruition.


“One of the problems we had was that most of the alumni, especially those who had attended the University more than a few years before, didn’t particularly associate with the new campus. My class, even, and we went through ‘the great transition’: We were the first to have classes consistently on the new campus and the second to graduate from there. We wanted a place where all alumni could come and feel at home.”

May 1974 groundbreaking

The May 1974 groundbreaking of the Alumni House.

At the time, “the Alumni Association had a small two-room suite on the first floor of the Administration building on the uptown campus,” remembered Floyd, a former educator and administrator now retired from the New York State School Boards Association. As demand for space grew on campus, it became apparent that the association needed a permanent home. Floyd and University administrator Clifton C. Thorne ’40 debated various options, eventually agreeing that “the only viable alternative was to raise money and build quarters for the association.”

Madej credited his predecessor for doing “a yeoman’s job. Once Bill finished the hard work, like choosing an architect, I followed up.” In addition to raising funds, committee members “handled various communications to the Alumni Association board and details concerning design, the groundbreaking and the opening.” Madej smiled as he remembered, “I was responsible for the purple and gold chairs.”

The completed building

The Alumni House

One design component unusual for the time – solar panels – “got us a little fame for our scientific prowess before the University became known for nanotechnology,” joked Madej. According to the January 1976 Carillon, University at Albany Archivist Geoff Williams said, two 4,000-gallon water tanks and one mile of copper tubing went into the assembly of the solar
array. Grants from Niagara-Mohawk, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the University’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC)
supported its construction. The location of the Alumni House, Floyd noted, “was changed from a knoll on the eastern side of the campus to its present site to accommodate the solar collectors.”

Carl Walters

Town of Guilderland Supervisor Carl Walters

Ribbon cutting at the Math 1976 grand opening

The May 1976 granding opening with Joy Longo '54, University President Emmett Fields, and Eunice Baird Whittlesey '44.

Floyd and Madej were on hand May 18, 1974, for the groundbreaking and in May 1976, when University President Emmett Fields and Eunice Baird Whittlesey ’44 cut the ribbon for the Alumni House grand opening. In addition to providing quarters for the Alumni Association, the building, according to Williams, included a first-floor Rathskeller named with a $10,000 donation from the Potter Club. The Phi Delta and Kappa Delta sororities each raised $10,000 to name rooms on the second floor, and “a number of classes also gave gifts. Professor Emeritus Arvid Burke ’28, ’30, made a special pledge to establish the Arvid Burke Library on the first floor. The large reception room upstairs was named for Bertha Brimmer, longtime Alumni Association secretary.”

Floyd, who still regards the downtown campus as “my school,” doesn’t visit the Alumni House very often but has “always felt welcome” there. “The staff has always been helpful, courteous and friendly whenever I have dropped by or called,” he said.

Although Madej doesn’t get to the Alumni House “as much as I used to,” he likes the building. “The style is contemporary; it’s consistent with the rest of the campus, but it’s not more
white concrete. It’s part of the unbroken thread of the campus, and it works for each of its intended purposes.”

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