Two professors who established pivotal programs at Marist almost 50 years ago now are giving back to Marist in another way.
Drs. Eugene and Eileen Best laid the foundations for key initiatives that impact Marist students today. A scholarship they recently established at Marist offered the opportunity to reflect on what they accomplished at the College.
Eugene Best and Eileen Lambden, both Ohio natives, met in high school and married in 1971. That year brought another milestone. At a conference in Ohio the previous year, Gene had met Sr. Florence Michels, who chaired the Religious Studies Department at Marist. When Sr. Florence learned of Gene’s master’s in anthropology and doctorate in sacred theology, she invited him to join the College’s Religious Studies program, an interdisciplinary program.
The couple’s first impression of Marist was not exactly positive. “The day Gene went to interview at Marist was in February,” Eileen remembered, “and it was one of the coldest days on record. The winds came in off that Hudson River and shivers went right through my bones. I said to myself, what are we getting ourselves into? It turned out that New York was warmer than Ohio.”
Gene accepted the job offer, and he and Eileen moved to Poughkeepsie in 1971. At Marist, he wore two hats: associate professor and affirmative action officer. In the latter role, one of the things he is most proud of, he said, was adding more women to the faculty.
He is also proud of the interdisciplinary courses he introduced. As associate professor and chairman of Religious Studies, Gene taught 30 different courses over his 20 years on the faculty.
“The most important course and most frequent I taught was World Views and Values,” he says. “It was for me the most exciting course because it required students to challenge their own perceptions.” The course is still taught at Marist today.
Eileen accepted a position at Marist teaching English. She had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Notre Dame and, following post-graduate work at Case Western Reserve and Stanford, earned a PhD in English at the University of Colorado.
In addition to teaching English, she supervised student teachers and established what is today the Office of Accommodations and Accessibility. Looking back, she says she was very impressed with the freedom the Marist administration gave her to make facilities more accessible to students with disabilities.
“Adjustments had to be made to the physical plant,” she said. “Bathrooms had to be rearranged. They were not big enough for people to get into with wheelchairs. There was all sorts of restructuring that had to go on.” She added that the College was very happy to do it.
After two years of juggling part-time positions, Eileen left Marist to join the administration at Dutchess Community College (DCC). There she established a program to assist students who had disabilities and developed credit-free courses and continuing-education programs.
While engaged in their academic endeavors, the couple also served the community beyond Marist. Both Eileen and Gene were active in the Dutchess County Democratic party. Gene also served as board member and president of the Dutchess County Interfaith Council and produced a weekly radio program for the Council for 30 years.
Eileen served on the board of directors of both the Dutchess County Mental Health Association and Family Services of Dutchess County.
Gene and Eileen were always searching for ways to broaden horizons for their students. When Gene went to Asia on sabbatical for six months in 1988, Eileen accompanied him. They visited the Philippines, Thailand, India, Nepal, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
While abroad, they saw poverty and suffering firsthand, said Gene. “I was able to bring insight from those experiences back into the courses that I taught at Marist.”
After 13 years at DCC, Eileen retired from higher education. She went on to become director of the Dutchess County Office of the Aging, where she administered programs and supervised 65 employees. Both Gene and Eileen retired in 1992.
They spent the next 25 years seeing the world. “We traveled and we traveled and we traveled,” said Eileen. Destinations included Alaska, Nova Scotia, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and the Caribbean.
“We had wonderful, wonderful learning experiences,” she recalled. “Our America is only a small part of our interdependent global world.”
In 2008, they moved back to Ohio to be near family. Their home in Hudson, OH, is filled with art and artifacts from their travels. But they’re not ones to sit still. They continue to teach and volunteer, and both enjoy gardening.
They established the Dr. Eugene C. Best and Dr. Eileen Lambden Best Scholarship to assist full-time, first-year students who have demonstrated financial need. Their scholarship reflects their interests from their Marist days: preference is given to students majoring in a program offered through the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies or another discipline within the liberal arts. Preference may also be given to students participating in programs offered by the Office of Accommodations and Accessibility.
Prior to establishing their scholarship, Gene and Eileen joined the Marist Legacy Society as founding members in appreciation for the invaluable role the College played in their professional and personal lives.