President Stephen C. Ainlay recalled the day a couple of years ago when Carl George, professor emeritus of biology, stopped by his office and asked him to take a ride.
The two got in George's car and drove a short distance from campus – 3.4 miles according to George's tripometer - and ended up on St. David's Lane in Niskayuna.
There, George showed Ainlay a sprawling property that included a historic 2,400 square-foot Dutch replica home built by noted Adirondack conservationist Paul Schaefer in 1934 that was used for offices and meetings. A 3,900 square-foot addition contained additional offices, conference rooms and the Adirondack Research Library, which boasts the largest collection of material outside of the Adirondack Park, including rare books, maps, photographs, documents and the personal papers of some of the region's foremost conservationists.
"We can own this," said George, who has lectured extensively on the Adirondacks.
That quick trip culminated Saturday in the formal dedication of the Kelly Adirondack Center, launching a new chapter in the College's rich and deep history with the Adirondacks.
It was that history that Ainlay wanted to build upon as part of his major initiative of capitalizing on Union's location. But simply having a vision isn't enough, Ainlay told several dozen guests who crowded into the Center for the ceremony, including faculty, staff, trustees and Evelyn Greene, Schaefer's daughter.
In stepped longtime Union benefactor John E. Kelly III '76 and his wife, Helen-Jo. Their generosity allowed the College to purchase the building complex in 2011 from a private conservation group.
Kelly, senior vice president and director of research at IBM, saw a chance for the College to seize on Ainlay's core vision to take advantage of Union's geographic location.
Noting the College's proximity to the six-million acre Adirondack Park, the state Capitol and Tech Valley, "this is the perfect opportunity for Union to play a role in helping to preserve this park, while driving the economy of the region," said Kelly, a member of the College's Board of Trustees.
In recent months, the Center has hosted a series of public lectures and musical events, including conservationist and author Bill Weber, Adirondack singer and storyteller Dan Berggren and a photo exhibit by Matt Milless, director of Student Activities.
Union is indebted to the Kellys for their support of the Center, Ainlay said. But he reminded the audience that they too, will have a role in its mission.
"You are all partners in this enterprise," Ainlay said. "No matter how deep and rich our history is, we are at the beginning of a wonderful story."
Others who spoke at the dedication included Mark Walsh ’76, chairman of the Board of Trustees; Steve Dare, vice president for College Relations; and Edward Summers, the president's chief of staff and director of the Adirondack Initiative.
To learn more about the Kelly Adirondack Center, click here.