Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Community honors life of former PSUC president Burke

On Heart’s Delight Farm at the William H. Miner Institute, the life of Dr. Joseph C. Burke will be celebrated and remembered tomorrow afternoon from 1 to 3 p.m.

While Burke wore many hats throughout his lifetime, he most notably served as Plattsburgh State’s seventh president.

Burke held many faculty and administrative positions for universities such as Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and Concordia University in Montreal.

He and his family moved to Plattsburgh in 1973 where he became academic vice president and was appointed president the following year, replacing then-President Dr. George Angell.

The campus community news story on PSUC’s official website said that during his 12 year term, Burke stabilized the college’s budget, increased enrollment and created what he called “centers of excellence” in the Center for Art, Music and Theater, the Center for Earth and Environmental Science, the Center for Teacher Education and the School of Business and Economics, among others.

Dr. Richard Robbins, chair of PSUC’s anthropology department, said Burke was very open, welcoming conversation and union between faculty and administration.

Through his entire tenure, Robbins said Burke was probably the most effective president the college ever had.

“It was [during] Joe Burke’s term that the cutbacks in SUNY started to come and hadn’t stopped since,” Robbins said, stating how New York State funding for SUNY expenses had decreased significantly.

Despite this, Robbins said Burke’s management of those cutbacks without destroying faculty morale was one of the most memorable things he did for PSUC.

His favorite memory of Burke was how he explained and encouraged Robbins to go into administration.

“He was a great guy and a good friend,” Robbins said. “He took criticism wonderfully. You could talk directly to Joe Burke and not worry about what you said. There was always a deep respect for Joe among faculty.”

Robbins said he will try to attend the Celebration of Life tomorrow to pay his respects for his old friend.

After leaving PSUC, Burke moved to Albany and became SUNY’s provost but kept a close connection to the North Country and especially Miner.

Joining the Miner’s board in 1975, he soon began researching and writing a biography of William H. Miner titled “William H. Miner: The Man and the Myth,” which was published in 2010.

It remains the only biography written about the North Country historical figure.

In an obituary from The Press Republican, Burke became a trustee of the William H. Miner Foundation in 1987 and was appointed chair of the Board of Trustees for Miner in 1988 until his death.

Miner Institute’s Board of Trustees Secretary Rachel Dutil said the Celebration of Life will feature a light ceremony and reception with three speakers: former PSUC administrator Dr. Tom Moran, President of Miner Dr. Richard Grant and Burke’s younger brother Bill Burke. The family will play a short video to serve as a eulogy.

“Colleagues and friends, and certainly all of us here from Miner, will be there, but [the event] is also open to the public, so anyone who knew him or wants to pay their respects is welcome to attend,” Dutil said.

In terms of his work at Miner, Dutil described Burke as generous, engaged and passionate about education for not only Miner but PSUC and the North Country.

“He loved to get to know people, whether they were staff or students here at Miner or whether they were visitors,” Dutil said. “We have countless images of him just standing around talking to people outside our museum. He had so much energy and passion for preserving the legacy of William and Alice Miner, and he certainly did that very well.”

The former PSUC president passed away at his home in Albany on Aug. 3, the same day current President John Ettling announced his retirement at the end of this academic year. The Office of the President issued a statement immediately following his death.

“One can point to several good and enduring things that Joe accomplished during his presidency,” Ettling said in a press release regarding PSUC’s Museum Without Walls. “My favorite was his success in coaxing the Brohels — Ed and Bette — away from the art scene in New York and giving Ed carte blanche to build the Plattsburgh State Art Museum. This astonishing collection has grown over the years to more than 10,000 works of art and artifacts displayed both indoors and out in galleries, hallways, offices and lawns.”

Burke Gallery was dedicated to the former president in 1995 and still holds many original pieces of artwork to this day.

In 2015, Burke and his wife Joan came back to campus for a ceremony where they were honored with the Distinguished Service Award.

“Budget cuts came with me,” Burke said at the time. “We had a new faculty senate, a new faculty union and then, of course, George Angell was a tough act to follow. I had to adopt a ‘do more with less’ mantra, and we did.”


Email Emma Vallelunga at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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