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September 12, 2017 - 5:49pm

GCC's 'culture of success' celebrated in 50th anniversary convocation

posted by Howard B. Owens in GCC, batavia, news, notify.

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Genesee Community College holds a special place in the heart of Charles Zambito, the Genesee County Court judge said today during the 50th-anniversary convocation in the Stuart Steiner Theatre.

It's not that Zambito, who also served on the county legislature and as county attorney, graduated from the two-year college. He didn't even attend a class there. It was the role his father, Anthony Zambito, played in the development and success of the campus that makes the place special to him.

Anthony Zambito, a scientist who worked on the Manhatten Project, a farmer, and a community leader, served on the Board of Trustees for nearly 40 years, one of the longest such tenures in the nation. The college's gym is named after him.

"He believed deeply in the value of education and service to others," Charles Zambito said.

Charles Zambito, who was a teenager when his father became involved with the community college effort, witnessed firsthand the college's growth, and said during his keynote address today that the examples set by those early leaders offer lessons to new generations of leaders, which they can learn from, and they demonstrate values which are still deeply embedded in the spirit of GCC.

"Another factor that contributed to the early success of the college was the strong dedicated leadership beginning with the first board of trustees," Zambito said. "They deserve much credit for not only getting the college started on its early and rapid growth, but more importantly, helping instill a philosophy and culture of success and excellence as well as a special sense of loyalty and belonging. It was present on the very first day of classes and has remained a constant part of the college since."

The college almost didn't get off the ground, Zambito recalled. When Mike Ryan and the Batavia Area Jaycees first brought forth the idea of starting a community college in Batavia, the Board of Supervisors (the county's governing body then) rejected the idea. They weren't even willing to support a study of the proposal. Ryan and the other Jaycees had to convince the board that the study would cost them nothing and not commit them to supporting it once the study was completed.

Eventually, Ryan and his team produced a 75-page study recommending the creation of a community college.

By state law, all the board had to do was pass a resolution to create a community college, but a motion to take that step failed on a 9-10 vote. One of the opponents of the college idea then proposed a public referendum on the collage idea. That motion passed 14-6, with all of the opponents of the college voting yes and the six no votes coming from supporters of the college.

"It was everyone's belief that the chances of passage of this referendum were slim," Zambito said. "Defeat at the polls would effectively close the matter for the foreseeable future."

Opponents said there weren't more than 50 people in the whole county who would want to attend college and the county would be better off creating a vocational school, which would help put people to work and keep them off public assistance.

The referendum was scheduled for November 1965 and for more than a year prior to the vote, the college issue became the most widely debated and discussed issue in the history of the county, Zambito said. He said you couldn't walk down the street without somebody stopping you and asking you what you thought of the college proposal.

When the vote came, the referendum passed 7,730 to 6,670.

Two supervisors, the board president, and its treasurer, who opposed the college prior to the vote, made a crucial decision in the fate of the college at that point.

"They publicly announced that if the county was going to sponsor a community college, they wanted it to be the best in the state," Zambito said.

Among the values and principles embodied in GCC that were important to his father, Zambito said, were that the school be a place where concern for the welfare of students goes beyond what happens in the classroom. That tradition continues, he said.

"Going forward, I think if my father were here, he would be comforted by the fact that the GCC Board of Trustees and this administration and faculty and staff continues to be guided by the same principles and ideals to move forward, reaching new heights," Zambito said.

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