Highs and lows of Lanford era

Editor’s note: This is a series of columns by John Malcolm on his “50 years at Fredonia.” Retired, he is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State.

I once wrote an article in defense of Republicans pointing out that most of the physical growth of this campus came under Republican governors. In particular Reuben Fenton, Theodore Roosevelt (rebuilding Old Main), Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, and George Pataki.

But to give Dr. Oscar Lanford his due he did the job and even in retirement he was quite a financial supporter of the college. I remember my first contact with Dr. Lanford. I was sitting on the edge of an open manhole splicing cable that carried the WCVF signal. Dr. Lanford, accompanied by his wife, Virginia, and their two children, who followed single file, was quite interested in the process. I think he was surprised when I showed up at the new faculty reception not covered in mud. (Of course a later president’s wife, Betty Jo McPhee, thought I was a janitor since I was covered in stage paint.)

Dr. Lanford was very direct. He generally made his own phone calls and when you got one you weren’t given much time to answer. “In three sentences what is the Empire State FM School of the Air” he asked. “It’s a collection of high-powered radio stations that carry instructional radio programs for an hour each schoolday morning and afternoon.” “That’s only one – very good.”


Charley Blohm, our chief engineer often did work for Dr. Lanford on his boat and he reported that he was a different man in that setting.

One incident I witnessed was Bill Saulsberry, our ’60s AV man from Olive Hill, Ky., getting too much to drink and telling Dr. Lanford “he was a stuffed shirt.”

Dr. Lanford said “Bill, you don’t mean that.”

“Yes I do. I recognize administrative posture when I see it.”

Dr. Lanford fired me and to be fair I deserved it based on his insistence that as many faculty as possible have an earned doctorate. I was sent a short form letter and I was hurt by its sparseness.

I wrote back that, “I thought seven years of service deserved more than a form letter.”

To his credit he brought me in for a face-to-face meeting but he didn’t bend. I left and years later when I was the Mace Bearer at commencement, an honor given to the senior faculty member, I wondered if he remembered me. I never had a direct conversation with him.

Virginia Lanford was a Clapp Baby Food heiress and had her own doctorate. I didn’t have much contact with her, but she seemed pleasant. I also heard that she did tax returns in the President’s house for H&R Block.

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident. Send comments to