Former SUNY Potsdam President William C. Merwin Dies at 71

05.10.11

It is with great sadness that SUNY Potsdam received word of the passing of former College President William C. Merwin. President Merwin left a strong and enduring legacy following his tenure at SUNY Potsdam from 1989 to 1996.

“Merwin was a true asset to SUNY Potsdam in his leadership and dedication to collaborating with the community and strengthening the economic development of the region. We are grateful for President Merwin’s strong stewardship of the College during the early nineties,” said SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller.

Under President Merwin’s leadership, SUNY Potsdam successfully completed the first capital campaign by a four-year college in the State University of New York. The campaign, with a goal of $3 million, closed with nearly $4 million in contributions. Also during his tenure, the College’s endowment more than doubled, growing by 140 percent, from $2.5 million to $7 million. The College also instituted several new curricular programs during his presidency, including bachelor’s degrees in communications and business, and a master’s degree in special education. Merwin is also recognized for his leadership and commitment to diversity at SUNY Potsdam, which continues today.

In 1989, Dr. Merwin established the Rural Services Institute (RSI) at SUNY Potsdam, part of a statewide network created to develop mutually beneficial relationships between rural campuses and their communities. Among the ongoing programs initiated by the RSI are the annual Local Government Conference, hosted for the past 20 years by SUNY Potsdam and attended by more than 350 participants annually, and the T. Urling and Mabel Walker Research Fellowship Program. Named for the program’s lead donors and administered by SUNY Potsdam, the Walker Fellowship Program awards research grants each year to faculty from across the North Country. The program promotes innovative research and provides for the sharing of intellectual resources within the Northern New York community. 

Also during his presidency at SUNY Potsdam, Dr. Merwin established the North Country Merwin Scholarship, which he later endowed to provide financial assistance each year to SUNY Potsdam students from the North Country who exhibit leadership potential and are significantly involved in student activities.

William C. Merwin, 71, died on May 6 in Jacksonville, Fla., after a lengthy illness. He was born on June 25, 1939 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Along with his service at SUNY Potsdam, Merwin served as president at three other institutions of higher education: Montana State University from 1985 to 1989, Salisbury State University from 1997 to 1999, and Florida Gulf Coast University from 1999 to 2007.

Merwin earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, which in 2000 awarded him its highest honor as recipient of the Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumnus Award. Following a Fulbright Scholarship in Japan in 1966, he earned a doctorate from the University of Georgia in 1971. Merwin was a member of the faculty in the early years of University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and later advanced there to provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Merwin is survived by his three sons and their wives, as well as seven grandchildren, one great-grandchild, a sister, a brother and several nieces and nephews.

Services were held on May 9 at Hardage-Giddens Funeral Home, located in Jacksonville. Anyone wishing to make a gift in President Merwin’s memory may donate to Community Hospice Foundation, 4266 Sunbeam Road, Jacksonville, FL 32257. Condolences may be sent to the family in care of Mr. and Mrs. William Merwin Jr., 1422 Mallard Landing Blvd., St. Johns, FL 32259.

Founded in 1816, and located on the outskirts of the beautiful Adirondack Park, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges. SUNY Potsdam currently enrolls approximately 4,350 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its handcrafted education, challenging liberal arts and sciences core, excellence in teacher training and leadership in the performing and visual arts.