By Keith Gushard
CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS —
CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — Applause thundered, smiles broadened, pride swelled and cameras clicked away within the crowd of more than 200 as the cover was removed from the new historical marker in Cambridge Springs.
The new marker at Marcy Park in the center of the borough commemorates the 100th anniversary of the former Alliance College of Cambridge Springs. The marker is cast in red with white lettering — symbolic of the former school’s colors.
“The school’s no longer here, but it was a big part of our lives. It was a big part of Cambridge Springs,” said Jinny Borek, a member of the class of 1967. “It’s worth remembering.”
“Until the last one of us is no longer left, Alliance College isn’t gone,” said Alexandra Everist, author of “Sto Lat! 100 Years of Alliance College” and a member of the class of 1972. “The stories we have (written down), the historical marker — these are things that hold the memories.”
Alliance College closed in 1988 and its property and buildings sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The former college now is the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs, one of Pennsylvania’s two prisons that houses women inmates.
Borek and Everist were among the more than 280 alumni and guests who gathered in the borough over the weekend for the annual Alliance College alumni weekend.
A small institution of higher learning with more than 5,000 graduates throughout its history, it has more than 3,800 known alumni.
It was open in Cambridge Springs from 1912 through 1987, first as an academy, then a technical institute and later a liberal arts college. It was opened in September 1912 by the Polish National Alliance, the largest Polish-American fraternal insurance organization, as a school for higher education for Polish immigrants and their children.
It was founded to allow Polish-Americans an opportunity to receive technical and liberal arts education they were denied elsewhere due to discrimination. The college also encouraged the study of Polish language and Polish and Slavic culture.
Alliance’s small size is what help make it unique, according to former students.
“We only had about 300 students on campus in the 1960s,” said Mickie Mickiewicz, current president of the alumni association and also a member of the class of 1967. “We had common bonds. We were predominately Catholic, predominately of Polish descent and we were a small school so everybody knew everyone.”
That even extended to the faculty, said Walter Kaminski, a member of the class of 1965.
“If you weren’t serious about your education, the professors would pick up on that,” said Kaminski. “They’d check on you. I had professors knock on my door a couple of times.”
Bernie Land, a member of the class of 1964, said he had a lot fond memories of going to college at Alliance.
“I wasn’t a great students, but I had a wonderful social life,” he said with a chuckle.
“We really were one big family,” said Dave Matejczyk, a graduate of the class of 1980. He served as public relations director for the college for several years in the 1980s following graduation. Matejczyk’s father, Blair, also was a physics and mathematics professor at Alliance for 47 years.
It’s the sense of the “Alliance family” that will live on, according to its graduates.
“Because of the closeness of students, becoming friends with professors — it allowed all of us to develop as adults,” said Mickiewicz.
Everist agrees and notes long-term memories of what was Alliance need to be kept alive for future generations.
“Too much of America these days is just studying recent history,” she said. “To educate you have to look at the long-term and learn from the whole picture.”
Did you know?
Alliance College opened in September 1912 in Cambridge Springs with a total of 375 students.
The formal dedication of Alliance College took place on Oct. 26, 1912 with the then-President of the United States, William H. Taft, speaking at the ceremony.