Man synonymous with university hall was educator, mentor

A Fredonia Institution

A plaque that is present on the building at the State University of New York.

What makes a person most appreciated and honored? It’s not wealth or status. It’s caring about the welfare of our neighbors, acquaintances and friends and doing something about it. The village of Fredonia and college had such a person. His name was George G. McEwen and known by all in his time as Professor McEwen.

Professor McEwen was born in 1873 in a small village in the Province of Ontario, Canada. He was a resident of Fredonia from 1906 until his death in 1967. He lived on Maple Avenue.

McEwen Hall on the Fredonia campus is named in honor of George G. McEwen. His name is inscribed on the top of the building housing the college’s Department of Communications and campus radio station. However, most people today probably never heard of him and only know that a building on the college campus was named after him. But it’s much, much more than that. Unfortunately, I’m afraid his wonderful history is being lost in antiquity.

I would like to take a few moments to restore the history of Professor McEwen. It’s worth the time to reflect on how much good one person can do during his or her lifetime by simply being kind and caring to others.

Professor McEwen was most noted for taking a special interest in the welfare and future of his young students at the former Fredonia Normal School (now the State College) where he taught and was principal as well as Professor of Pedagogy and Director of Teachers Training. He was well known as a confidant, good friend and mentor to many. He encouraged his students to be good citizens and advised his students on how to improve their lives and to value learning. He took a personal interest in the well-being of his students. The OBSERVER obituary described his illustrious and honorable history. Excerpts from the 1967 obituary follow:

George G. McEwen

“It was as a mathematics teacher that Professor McEwen came to the Fredonia Normal School in 1906. During a long and fruitful career at Fredonia, he taught a variety of subjects and held many positions including principal of the high school, director of student teaching training and principal at the Normal School. He contributed greatly to the growth and development of the college. He is fondly remembered as a confidant, counselor, adviser, mentor, friend to generations of students. His faith in the college never wavered during his 31 years of active service or even after he retired from professional life. His respect for education and his interest in mental exercise remained steadfast throughout his life.

“Active in the community, Professor McEwen was a familiar sight as he walked around town to attend to his various interests. He was a charter member of the Fredonia Rotary Club and the Dunkirk Torch Club. He served as chairman of the Fredonia Red Cross for twenty years and as a board member of the Darwin R. Barker Library for a similar length of time. At the time he served on the Library Board, it was called “The Board of Lady Managers.” He was highly amused at being the only male member of the “Lady Managers” group.

He was elected to serve a term as a village trustee. He held responsible positions in local financial circles. He believed in younger generations assuming responsible positions within the area. Therefore, Mr. McEwen offered financial guidance and advice to many young people.

“George Grattan McEwen was a highly respected member of the college and community. He instilled a love of learning and pride in the teaching profession to several generations of students. As one alumnus expressed the feeling of many, “We wish he could know his years of tireless work in the High School and Normal School and his interest in every student have been appreciated.”

Fredonia college yearbooks were dedicated by Fredonia students to Professor McEwen.

McEwen Hall on the campus of Fredonia.

The 1925 College yearbook “The Fredonian” was dedicated to Professor McEwen. It stated “To George McEwen, our acting principal whose long record of service in Fredonia Normal has placed him in a preeminent position in the hearts of the students and faculty.”

The 1928 yearbook “The Fredonian” was also dedicated to Professor McEwen. It stated the following: “To George G. McEwen, Director of Training in the Fredonia State Normal School, ever an unfailing help in those who need it, an inspiration and a guiding light to the countless students who have passed through this institution, this book is dedicated, in the hope that it may in some slight manner express the earnest and sincere appreciation of the Senior Class.”

I personally became aware of Professor McEwen’s mentoring and want to share the following with you as an example of what mentoring can do. My father, Sam Drayo, Sr., was a student of Professor McEwen at the Fredonia Normal School where he graduated from high School in 1917.

I had the good fortune to personally meet Professor McEwen during Christmas of 1966. I was home on leave from the Army. I was single and 26 years old. During leave, I spent most of my time with my parents and brother. One evening after dinner at about 6p.m. in mid-December of 1966, my dad got up from his chair and announced in a firm, but gentle voice, “Sam we are going to Brooks Hospital, my Professor from the old Normal School, Professor McEwen, is not very well and I want to pay him a visit.”

I remember this occasion like it was yesterday. I drove Dad to Brooks Hospital. During the drive he explained to me his relationship to Professor McEwen and how Professor McEwen guided him and was his mentor. We went to the second floor of Brooks Hospital and into Professor McEwen’s room. There was Professor McEwen in his bed with a book on his chest. He was bright and alert. He had a gentle way about him and a kind smile. Professor McEwen was a widower since 1937 and his children lived out of town. He was by himself. Dad chatted with Professor McEwen for a while and then left the room to go to the nurse’s station to inquire about Professor McEwen’s condition.

While Dad was at the nurse’s station, Professor McEwen motioned with his finger for me to come close to him as he wanted to say something to me. What this gentle person said to me I will always remember. He said, “Son, I want you to remember where your father started in life and how far he has come.” Professor McEwen died six months later at age 93.

What Professor McEwen said was true. My father, as a young man, needed a mentor. He came to this county in 1898 from Italy at 8 months old. He never knew his father as his father died when he was five years old. His mother was a widow the rest of her life. She had very few resources and spoke little English, mostly Italian. Her strength to survive came through family, prayer and St. Anthony’s Church.

It was good fortune that Professor McEwen was my father’s professor and mentor. Professor McEwen was aware of my father’s economic and family situation. He was also aware that Dad was a bright student who was eager to learn, but had no one to guide him. He encouraged my father to take the Regent’s exam to see if he could obtain a scholarship for college.

With Professor McEwen’s encouragement and guidance, my father took the Regents exam and received a scholarship to Syracuse University. He later went on to earn a law degree. This would never have been possible without the mentoring of Professor McEwen. Professor McEwen was a mentor and guiding light for my father, as he was for many other students, many I’m sure from the Fredonia area.

So, if you hear the name of McEwen Hall or hear the name George McEwen you will know why this building was dedicated in his honor and how he took a personal interest in his students and encouraged many students in furthering their careers and generally helping them by giving advice and guidance.

Fredonia College and the Fredonia community were very fortunate to have Professor George G. McEwen. Let’s continue to remember him and pass on his legacy by mentoring those we know may be in need of help.

Thank you Professor McEwen.

Sam Drayo Jr. is a Fredonia resident.

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