McCrabb: First Miami Middletown students learned ‘big education piece’


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They grew up together, he and Miami University Middletown.

After graduating from Middletown High School in 1966, Robert “Bob” Cordray II drove across town to MUM and registered for classes, becoming the first student enrolled. The campus officially opened on Sept. 6, 1966, and in the 50 years since, it has witnessed tremendous expansion and student enrollment. There were 1,426 students that first year, and today enrollment has more than doubled.

Cordray, 68, is in town participating in MUM’s 50-year celebration this weekend, his first visit since his mother, Mary Aleen, died in 2005. His father, Robert C. Cordray, former news director at Middletown’s radio station WPFB, died in 2002.

Celebration events at MUM are planned throughout the year. This weekend, students and faculty who were at the Middletown campus when it opened will make the first donations to a time capsule that will be assembled during the year and then sealed until the campus’ centennial in 2066.

In its infancy, Cordray said, there were no books in the Gardner Harvey Library, no artists and lecture series, no fraternities, no Dave Finkelman Auditorium.

“This was something new, something different,” Cordray said.

It was a 141-acre campus seeking an identity, a place looking for leaders.

“The quality of education was great,” said Cordray, who attended MUM for two years, then transferred to Miami’s Oxford campus. “You go to college to better your education, get a better job. But the real learning there in the fall of 1966 was if you wanted it done, you did it yourself. You learned self-reliance and to put your money where your mouth is. That was the big life education piece.”

There also were limited food options for students that first year. If you were hungry, you walked up “Heart Attack Hill” and ate out of a vending machine in the basement of Verity Lodge, he said.

Today, there are numerous food options available, though the hill still takes visitors’ breaths away.

The growth at MUM hasn’t surprised Cordray. The regional campus, the first in Ohio, offers a wide range of academic options, varsity sports and an extensive campus life. This isn’t your grandfather’s college.

“There was nowhere to go but up,” Cordray said of those humble beginnings. “You knew it wasn’t going to fail. You had all the power of Miami behind it. There are only two questions: How big will it get and how soon?”

Cordray graduated from Miami with a bachelor’s degree in personnel and operations management in 1970 and his commencement speaker was Neil Armstrong. Cordray graduated on a Sunday afternoon and the next day reported as a Marine to Parris Island, S.C.

“Culture shock,” is how he described entering the military, hours after receiving his diploma.

He found a job at Armco in Butler County, Pa., and he retired as director of corporate employee benefits. He then opened a consulting firm, before retiring again. He now is president of the volunteer fire district in Butler and is an avid wine maker, winning some world awards.

Not bad for a kid who studied where there were no books.

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