Asnuntuck Community College is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The college is planning events, and various ways to remember and recognize the milestone through the 2023 Commencement. Please check back often under events to see what is being planned.
Asnuntuck Community College was established in 1969 by an act of the Connecticut state legislature as the twelfth institution in the Connecticut state community college system. Classes began in 1972 with an initial enrollment of 251. 12 Associate in Science degrees and 20 Associate of Art degrees were awarded to the first graduating class in 1974. The college operated under provisional approval until it was first accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 1977.
Since the first graduation in 1974, more than 7,844 credit graduates and non-credit certificate completers have been awarded 12,816 degrees, certificates and non-credit certificates from Asnuntuck Community College.
Save the Dates:
Dueling Pianos Music and Song for Scholarships – Friday March, 31st, 2023
23rd Annual Foundation Golf Tournament – Wednesday, October 4th, 2023
A Look Back
Asnuntuck was not the name of the college when it opened. Did you know that?
Enfield residents wanted the new college to be named “Greater Enfield CC”, and there was precedent because at the time, Capital was named Greater Hartford However, that name never was going to happen because Senator Charlie Alfano, President Pro Tem of the State Senate, lived in Suffield. He had put together the coalition that got the college funded. No way that he was going to allow that name!
The college opened as North Central CC, which also had precedent at the time as Gateway was called South Central. However, President Dan McLaughlin and many employees as well as some folks in the community did not like that name. No character.
College faculty and staff were doing quite a bit with outdoors activities and Native American heritage. They created a community garden, an organic and natural foods co-op, courses like “Field Trip in Natural Science” and “Chemistry of Foods” – “Wilderness, Nature and the American Mind” and “The American Indian” – way before other colleges were introducing those subjects.
I believe it was the Regional Advisory Committee (it was thought important back then to have community input into local colleges) that worked with college staff on a new name. At the time there was a trend to use indigenous tribe names, such as Tunxis and Mohegan (now Three Rivers) – both established only 2 years prior to Asnuntuck.
With the precedent of naming colleges after indigenous tribes, the first suggestions fit that pattern. The local committee was making a presentation to a Board sub-committee. I had to bring some files to Dr. Charles, head of the system at the time, and heard the first name suggested.
They were discussing the history of the Podunks in this area. No one was saying the obvious, as they were focused entirely on the Native American connection. I finally went over to Dr. Charles and whispered in his ear to stop thinking about that connection, just use the word! He immediately turned to the Board Chair and whispered in his ear. Mr Fagan called for a recess. Whew!
A few minutes later I had to bring something else in to Dr. Charles. They were intently discussing the next name on the list, which had a good connection to the area since there is a state forest in Somers with the name.
I was young and it took me about 2 seconds to shorten the name, which I knew many others would. I again whispered in Dr. Charles’s ear to forget the Native American connection and just say the name fast 5 times. Again, he turned to Mr. Fagan, and again Mr. Fagan called for a recess.
This time Dr. Charles told me to stay in the room.
I didn’t have to whisper again, as the next name was Asnuntuck (means Freshwater), which seemed like a blessing to me as I recall getting stares from the committee bringing the names forward.
I’ve always thought I should have been rewarded by Asnuntuck employees and students so they didn’t have to say they worked at, or had taken courses from, Podunk CC, or Sh**sit CC. Unfortunately, no one ever thought they should fund my vacations.
Dan McLaughlin did thank me a couple of times, however.
Recollections of Bill Searle, September, 2022
Nearly 40 years before the rest of the country figured a way for prison inmates to get grants to go to college, Asnuntuck did it. The college had a large inmate education program, and funding was cut back. Who figured a way for inmates to get federal financial aid? Cal Mears, who ran the program.
He had been hired in 1974 to bring order to the program, get more inmates involved, and get more inmates certificates and degrees.
In two years he did exactly that. Enrollment doubled, retention went sky high, the first two inmates graduated in 1975. Even notoriously jaded Corrections Officers were impressed. When regular Correctional Officers speak highly of someone from the outside, AND inmates also like and respect the person – well, you get the picture.
With inmates he brooked no disrespect, no bad behavior. When Cal told them that they had to come talk to him, they came. Virtually every day he was at the two prisons, talking with inmates, advising, checking up. Also, CO’s quickly learned not to interfere with an inmate’s study time unnecessarily.
Studying? Well, if you got less than a “C” in a course, you were put on “Cal Probation” – not a good place to be. First, next semester you will take the course HE tells you to take. Second, you WILL show up for tutoring.
You see, Clarence Mears, Jr was well aware of what happened to all-too-many poor people once they got involved with the criminal justice system. Even worse if you were black. He knew that empathy, understanding, and toughness were the ingredients necessary to helping men change their lives.
Cal ran “voluntary” tutoring time regularly at both prisons. You were there to do homework, work COOPERATIVELY with another inmate or two, get some help. Emphasis on the word “work”. Oh, and that “voluntary” word – yeh, it was “voluntary” in the sense that if you didn’t come and work, then no more courses.
Cal’s interviews of prospective teachers became almost legendary. “Give Respect” – “Require Respect”. He rejected many applicants. Then he prepped the instructors! Make the course even a little harder – these guys have to be better than a regular student because they already have two+ strikes against them. Don’t break the rules. Be engaging. No pretend toughness, no pretend empathy.
Cal’s program also got the only American Bicentennial Award given to a program in Connecticut, and we were told the only one given to any community college. National Award. 1976. Two years after he got to Asnuntuck.
By the late 70’s it was clear that the program was working as the recidivism rate for people who completed at least a number of courses was far below the average.
Back to the federal financial aid. Recall how the CO’s respected Cal. The deal was when an inmate got a letter from the federal government with a check in it, the letter was given to Cal. He met with the inmate and the inmate made the check over to the college to pay for courses. It worked for several years until the feds decided it was not appropriate to give aid to inmates. For nearly 40 years.
Cal had a side job also. He was deputized by the staff to tell the young dean who thought he knew so much when he had done something unbrilliant. Cal would stand in the office door and speak … “Oh Sun God Most High, He Who Knows All, Solves All, Most Brilliant One.’’
“Here it comes. I’ve really screwed up when Cal uses all those words.” The dean* would steel himself. Cal knew the dean before Asnuntuck, was articulate, highly respected by the dean, and as a smart, tall, black man if he also bowed while saying “Sun God …”– well, it was really bad news because Cal did not bow to anyone. They’d both laugh, but Cal made sure the dean got the point!
Clarence Mears Jr helped a great many men change their lives, and as Deb Matusko, who worked with him for years, put it “…he was a really good guy, a good teacher himself, funny and understanding, very respected by faculty and staff, someone you could always count on.”
Cal Mears: An Asnuntuck Original.
Bill Searle, Fall 2022
*Truth be told, that young Dean “so sure of himself” was the author!
”Sonny Terry – THE SONNY TERRY and THE RICHIE HAVENS both played at Asnuntuck? You are kidding me!”
“Nope. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Richie Havens, and many more played at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut!”
Who got them? Paul Duval, a college counselor. “Paul wanted to build community at our new college, and get Asnuntuck known. What better way than to bring in bands and invite everyone! It was a great time,” said Bob Bergquist, Professor of Mass Communications (ret.).
“Yes,” agreed Elaine Folkers, Professor of Computer Science (ret.), “Paul had contacts in Northampton and convinced people to stop in Enfield on Thursday nights on their way north, or on Monday or Tuesday night on their way south. He did a lot to build community at ACC! Plus, we had students learning the equipment, and seeing new career opportunities.”
But, where? In ’74 the college moved to the Phoenix Avenue warehouse building. Lack of money to build rooms and a feeling among some that “open classrooms” might work in college led to a large open space in the building where 4 ‘class non-rooms’ were located. Making space to stand and dance was relatively easy. Everyone simply moved student desks and half-dividers to the outside walls.
Did it work? Hundreds of people came; students brought their friends. Not only was it an effective way of bringing students and staff together, the concerts put Asnuntuck on the radar, bringing in new students and leading many creative young people to see ACC as ‘the place to be’. Unfortunately, the Elm Street building had no such large space so the concerts ended when we moved.
Paul did other things to build community. Back then, counselors taught Soc 190, where he had students learn about various community service programs throughout the region, and become ambassadors of the college during their required community service hours. He also developed a course in The Holocaust, to expand students’ horizons. A significant benefit of teaching both courses was that Paul knew the challenges that faculty experienced teaching in the ‘open classroom’ area – which of course made faculty treat him as an equal. Another way to build community, both with students and with faculty.
Bands that appeared At Asnuntuck ca 1974-82
Roomful of Blues
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee with Leroy Little
Albert Collins with A.C. Reed
Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang featuring Hubert Summerlin
Johnny Copeland (Shamika’s dad)
J B Hutto
Johnson Mountain Boys
Arwen Mountain String Band
Ko Ko Taylor
Local acts that also appeared
Fat Clean Living Firewater
And, Some of my best friends
*The open classroom experiment did not work at the college level!
Bill Searle Fall 2022