Remembering Dr. Robert S. Marshall, third president of Daemen College
Dr. Marshall, the third president of Daemen, who served from 1974 to 1996, passed away after a long illness last September in Pittsford, N.Y. He was 79-years-old. As the college remembers Dr. Marshall in this issue of Daemen Today, it also recognizes the former president’s achievements.
Robert C. Beiswanger Jr., vice president of business affairs and treasurer at Daemen, started as a controller at the college in 1983 and worked closely with Dr. Marshall. He notes that Dr. Marshall took over during a very tenuous period in the college’s history and was instrumental in saving the institution when it was facing significant financial issues in the late 1970s.
“I think Dr. Marshall was the right president at the right time for Daemen College,” Beiswanger explains. “Over the years, I have grown to appreciate Dr. Marshall’s devotion and commitment to this institution. He set the foundation on which we have been able to grow under the college presidents who have succeeded him.”
The Road to Daemen
Born Sebastian Maraschiello in Buffalo, N.Y., Dr. Marshall served in a photo intelligence unit with the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s. He attended Hope College in Michigan and Michigan State University, and often told stories about his undergraduate days as a stand-up comic and honky-tonk piano player.
Dr. Marshall went on to earn a doctorate from Cornell University in 1971. He was associate director for academic affairs in the Cornell University Division of Biological Sciences before being named president of Daemen, taking office in July 1974. He was the first lay president of the college and would become the longest-serving president in the school’s history.
When the 40-year-old scholar arrived at Daemen, then known as Rosary Hill College, he came at a time when the college was at a crossroads with an uncertain future. Enrollment had fallen and the college was operating at a deficit. Dr. Marshall quickly recognized the gravity of Daemen’s financial situation and immediately proved that he was not afraid of the hard work ahead of him.
Given the tasks that he faced, Dr. Marshall was decisive on the changes he knew had to be made in order to restore the college to fiscal health. During his first year, he ordered administrative changes, froze budgets and pared down other costs.
One of the most dramatic changes under his leadership was the name change from Rosary Hill to Daemen, a necessary modification as the college took a new direction. In 1971, the college had become co-ed and opened its doors to enrolling men. Dr. Marshall and the trustees realized that the name Rosary Hill could prove a drawback in marketing the college to men. After thoughtful consideration, Dr. Marshall and his administration selected Daemen, named for Mother Magdalene Damen, who started the Order of the Sisters of Saint Francis to which the college founders had belonged.
Through sound management practices, effective cost-containment and aggressive development efforts under Dr. Marshall, the college began to turn the corner. With the college on more sound financial footing, he next took steps to ensure the continued success of Daemen College in the future.
Making His Mark
Dr. Marshall had the vision and foresight to introduce new academic programs, develop faculty and make changes on campus that define Daemen to this day. He established the college’s physical therapy major in 1975 that today is one of the largest and most respected programs of its kind in the nation.
He also secured a $2.2 million Title III grant from the United States Department of Education that provided funding to improve and strengthen the academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability of the institution. During this time, enrollment steadily increased at the college while enrollment at other colleges and universities nationwide was falling.
In 1983, ground was broken for the Daemen Athletic Complex, as Dr. Marshall recognized the importance of sports to a thriving college campus. “It was only through Dr. Marshall’s efforts that construction of the athletic building took place,” recalls Beiswanger. “This was a time when strict lending practices by the banks precluded the college from securing a building loan. It was through his persistence that Daemen was able to work with labor unions and other organizations to borrow funds needed for the building.”
Dr. Marshall also led the way for the building of Schenck Hall in 1990, a state-of-the-art science building housing classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, and lecture halls. Schenck Hall allowed the college to grow its physical therapy program and develop the physician assistant program.
Dr. Marshall’s final major building project started in 1992. He was instrumental in raising funds and securing municipal approval for construction of the Business Building.
While it may seem as though Dr. Marshall was all business, many who knew him recall his quick wit and sincere interest in the students, staff and faculty at the college.
Barbara Lion began working as secretary for the Daemen Board of Trustees in 1982 and reported directly to Dr. Marshall. She and the president worked closely on a variety of functions, including events planning and commencement ceremonies. She recalls Dr. Marshall as someone for whom she had great respect.
“He had a wonderful sense of humor that not many people got to see, and we got along very well,” Lion remembers. “Brilliant and well-spoken, he could be tough, but he always had very good intentions and everything he did was for the betterment of the school.”
Kimberly Cicero Austen ‘79 wrote to the Marshall family upon the former president’s passing to share her memories. “I was a student at Daemen in the late 1970s and I remember Dr. Marshall greeting students and being genuinely interested in the casual conversations he had with them,” Austen recalled. “I remember with fondness how Dr. Marshall helped serve breakfast to resident students during the famous Blizzard of ‘77 when staff members could not make it to work due to emergency conditions. He was a wonderful man.”
Also, Dr. George Seifert, associate professor of sociology and chairperson of the Daemen Social Work Department, wrote, “I have President Marshall to thank for my 34-year career as a member of the Daemen College faculty. I was hired and tenured during his presidency and have enjoyed a wonderful career, in part, because of him.
Evidence of Dr. Marshall’s leadership at Daemen can be seen not only in buildings and facilities on campus, but also in academic programs and the culture that exists today because he set a strong foundation. Beiswanger recalls how Dr. Marshall always stressed the importance of a liberal arts education along with professional studies. “Dr. Marshall’s ideas for balancing liberal arts studies with a specific major still resonate at Daemen as evidenced by the recent launch of the +Plus Up initiative,” he notes.
+Plus Up is a new academic initiative introduced under the direction of current Daemen president, Dr. Gary A. Olson, and Dr. Michael Brogan, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college. +Plus Up is designed to connect undergraduate majors in the liberal arts to practical career and emerging job opportunities, similar to the philosophy Dr. Marshall championed during his tenure.
When Dr. Marshall announced his retirement in 1995, enrollment in Daemen undergraduate and graduate programs had grown to more than 2,000 students, up from about 1,100 when he started. At the time, Dr. Marshall said, “I feel that I have done everything for the school that I can do. The college is doing so beautifully it is time to let new leadership take over.”
In retirement, Dr. Marshall enjoyed time with his family, as well as golf, music, sailing and the culinary arts. He was also a pilot and owner of five vintage aircraft, and participated in numerous air shows with the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, N.Y.
Dr. Marshall is survived by his wife, daughter, son, three stepdaughters, five grandchildren, and six step-grandchildren.