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Standing before a 1931 map of Nichols projected on the screen behind him, and addressing more than 200 guests in a packed Daniels Auditorium on December 16th, History Professor Emeritus James Lawson Conrad, Jr. formally introduced a history of Nichols College five years in the making and a product of his 45 years at the school as a teacher and administrator.
The book, Nichols: A College for the Hill, 1931-1996, covers Nichols’ beginnings as a two-year junior college, its evolution into a four-year institution in 1958, its transition to a coed student body in 1971, and its emergence as a leading business school.
“Nichols was the first junior college exclusively in the East to focus on men, and the first to focus as a business college,” Conrad emphasized. “In 1931, colleges like this one didn’t exist. It was really ahead of its time.”
Conrad described his research for the volume as a combination of personal recollections, experience in educational administration, and training as a historian. Besides his almost 45-year teaching career on campus, he has served as Nichols director of admissions, dean of faculty, vice president for external academic affairs, and a member of the Board of Trustees. He received an honorary doctor of humanities from Nichols in 2000.
His father, James L. Conrad Sr., or better known to many as Colonel Conrad, founded the school as a two-year college in 1931, with just 11 students at first, and served as its president until 1966. Throughout his presentation, Conrad frequently used a laser pointer to highlight photographs on the large screen, starting with Nichols’ earliest buildings. Singling out a picture of Hezekiah Conant Courtyard in the 1880’s, he told the audience, “This is where you are now.”
Conrad also recalled a significant moment in Nichols sports history, when the hockey team played Notre Dame University. “It was quite surprising,” he said of the match-up between a small college and a much larger one renowned for sports prowess. “Nichols won 9-0. It was the first and last time that Notre Dame played us.”
When asked by an audience member whether Nichols’ transition to co-education in the 1970’s met resistance, Conrad replied, “The first nine women simply arrived. And they went into business afterwards.” He added that all the women in that first cohort were transfer students who commuted daily to the school.
The new 290-page history follows Conrad’s book chronicling Nichols between the years 1815 and 1931. It was published in 2008.
“These works represent a significant contribution to the history of secondary and collegiate education, especially here in New England. These volumes will stand the test of time,” noted Edward Warren, the program chair of the Nichols history department. “He’s found ways to link his life at Nichols with his work as a historian.”
Warren underscored the latter vocation, pointing to Conrad’s training in a highly-regarded doctoral program at the University of Connecticut.
“Only he could tell a story like this one,” Nichols President Susan West Engelkemeyer added about Conrad in her remarks to the audience. “He is a treasure to Nichols.”
Besides thanking Engelkemeyer and previous Nichols Presidents Gerald Fels and Debra Townsley, Conrad acknowledged his Nichols colleagues and 1969 Nichols graduate and longtime Nichols trustee and benefactor, Robert B. Kuppenheimer, who funded the history project over the past 10 years.
Kuppenheimer expressed his own appreciation to Conrad. “The College is indebted to you,” he said. “This is an exciting day for me. I’ve dreamt about it for a long time.”
As to whether a third volume covering Nichols history to the present is on the horizon, especially with the College’s bicentennial looming in 2015, Conrad responded. “Ten years can be a very long time, especially when you’re working on a couple of books.” He added to laughter from the audience, “I make no comment about any future books.”
After his presentation, Conrad took up a position at the rear of the auditorium, where he signed his new history for an ever-lengthening line of colleagues, trustees, and guests. They received the book for free, although contributions to the College’s Bicentennial History Fund were welcomed.