Marvels will receive the Willis Fassett, Jr. Award on November 6


john and fran marvel

Dr. John and Mrs. Frances Marvel's warmth, charm, and generous hospitality make them one of Adams State College's most celebrated and loved couples. They are well-deserving of the multitude of honors placed upon them over the years.

Their latest, the 2009 Willis Fassett, Jr., Award, was virtually predestined, given the intertwining history of the Adams State College Foundation and the Marvels. The award will be presented during the Adams State Donor and Student Recognition Banquet on Friday, November 6.

Jenny Cooper, chair of the Foundation Board, said the names John and Fran Marvel speak for themselves. "Awarding John and Fran the Willis Fassett, Jr., Award just underscores more than half a century of devotion to education. We were so fortunate to have had John's leadership and Fran's hospitality during the inaugural years of the Foundation. Their contributions strengthened ties between the organization and the larger community and helped ensure the future success of the Foundation."

Willis Fassett, Jr., was one of the original Foundation Board members. "My mother and father would be thrilled to death to know John and Fran are receiving the award named in my father's honor," William Fassett said. "My father held John in high regard both professionally and personally."

Establishing a solid foundation

Together John and the early Foundation board members were committed to the success of the Foundation's future and were willing to dedicate resources and ability to that end.

"During our first campaign we met our goal of $600 thousand. That was a lot of money in those days," John said. He had in hand a manila folder labeled "Foundation" and shared neatly typed pages of past Foundation officers, institutional data on Adams State, organizational charts, and other pertinent information. John scarcely needs the folder to remember those days back in 1966, when he became Adams State's fourth president. Making himself comfortable on an antique couch, he rested his left leg on a well-polished coffee table scattered with magazines and books. His leg has caused him discomfort after a recent walk all the way down to the bottom of Carlsbad Caverns, a descent taking over three hours.

"I didn't see any reason to take the elevator," he said, belying his age. Fassett remembers running in a 10K with John and his son, Kim. "It was the coolest thing, John was probably in his 70s and he ran with his son to the finish." Fassett said. A photo, taken by Fran, of him, John and Kim at the finish line, hung on his parent's refrigerator for years.

Recalling professional and personal relationships, John wove interesting facts with humorous stories of some of the early Foundation leaders, including Fassett, Gordon Rowe, and George Woodard. Fran would occasionally pass through the room, offering a tray to make note taking more comfortable, or passing along additional information.

John guided the newly established Foundation to increase its visibility by adding consulting board members and honorary members from throughout Colorado and the southwest region. His vision for Adams State and the Foundation included building a solid footing for future progress. He contacted business owners, bank presidents, and high profile community members to serve as consulting board members. This outreach not only built relationships that supported fundraising, it generated requests for services from Adams State. A Denver bank president who was impressed with the personalized education his son was experiencing at Adams State soon became a valuable member of the Foundation's consulting board.

Dr. John McDaniel, emeritus professor of history and current Foundation Board member, said the Marvels are "richly deserving" of the Willis Fassett, Jr., Award. "John and Fran Marvel are a team whose many contributions to Adams State continue even to the present."

Realizing the potential

Even as the newly appointed president, working with a still-young Foundation, John held a mature vision of the future for both the organization and the college. He asked faculty to offer their expertise through consulting or presentations for communities throughout Colorado and Northern New Mexico. "We had an overwhelming number of requests," John said, "and we did our best to meet as many needs as possible." Requests included speaking engagements, providing professional programs to maintain certification, and consultations on any number of projects. Once a year, John would invite representatives of the Foundation in the outlying regions onto the campus for a retreat to reconnect with goals and objectives.

"We sought input from all areas and levels across the campus and out into the community as well as from our international students." A quick glance at one of John's documents confirmed this statement. Three full pages listed Foundation officers, consulting board members, and year(s) of service, and honorary members, including such well-known names as Cloyde Snook, emeritus professor of art; Dr. Kay Watkins, emeritus professor of chemistry; Robert Foote, former bank president; Alton Cole, former Creede business owner; Charles Mondragon, former San Luis business owner; George Woodard, former attorney; Dr. Donald Eden, emeritus professor of teacher education; and Melvin Coleman, Sr., former Saguache rancher.

"Private funds are needed to enrich the academic areas of the college not supported by state or federal funds," John said. "I believed the more we were able to connect successful business owners and community leaders with the college, the higher level of commitment they would show when we approached them for financial assistance." His idea was borne out, by as such cases as the sizable bequest left by Alton Cole and his wife. He was president when Beryl and Charles Woodard donated $1.5 million to the college; these funds continue to provide for one of the college's most prestigious and generous scholarships. The growing list of donors continues to help Adams State maintain an outstanding higher education experience for its students and constituents.

John obtained a grant from the Kellogg Foundation to increase the college's Hispanic student population. "It was important that Adams State was seen as more than just a small rural college in southern Colorado."

Champions of humanity

As afternoon progressed, with southern light filtering through a wall of French doors, the conversation switched to a more personal level. The Marvels have traveled the world, always in service of higher education, and enjoyed adding to their collection of music instruments from the countries they visited. On a wall, surrounding an organ, hang string and wind instruments. John picks up a didgeridoo, and Fran, clap sticks, they play briefly. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves line a nook of their living room, with the bottom shelf devoted to scrapbooks, including a large collection from the Marvel's years at Adams State. John points out a small black-and-white framed photo, almost hidden by books, of President Lyndon Johnson shaking John's hand, as a member of the advisory board to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Bronzes and paintings by William Moyer '39, Paul Williams, emeritus professor of art, and other artwork are placed thoughtfully throughout the house. Fran brings out some of her cemetery rubbings taken from gravestones around the world. John was charged with holding the paper in place as she took the rubbings, "in spite of sprinklers and mosquitoes." On the east side of the living room is a German tracker-action organ. Across the room is a baby grand piano. "Fran still practices nearly every day," John said. "I play for Sunday School and special occasions," Fran added.

The positive connection between the Marvels and Adams State extends beyond the Foundation and has been honored in a variety of ways. The college's president's residence was renamed the Marvel House over a year ago, and aptly so. When they first arrived on campus, the Marvels lived in Pettey's Hall, a campus dormitory. The president's residence was tentatively scheduled for demolition, but Fran recognized the building's historical importance and helped raise funds to renovate the Spanish-style home.

The two share a very comfortable and amiable relationship; their remarks to one another are gentle and respectfully made. "Fran has been a great life partner," John said. "We are still best friends," Fran added. They have three children John (Betti) Marvel, Kim (Connie) Marvel, and Merrill (Jay) Martin, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A lifetime of achievement

The couple received honorary doctorate degrees at Adams State's 1982 Spring Commencement, and John gave the commencement address during the 2007 Spring Commencement.

John served as president of the State College and University Consortium in Colorado after retiring from Adams State. In 1977, he was installed as president of the American Association of State College and Universities. He concurrently served as secretary and board member of the American Council on Education, as secretary of the National Commission on Accreditation, as well as board member for the Institute of International Education, Gallaudet University, College of Santa Fe, and the Iliff School of Theology. John served as a Kellogg Distinguished Fellow in Higher Education in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia and later served as provost and president at Hawaii Loa College in Hawaii.

He and Fran are still concerned with the state of education, from the local level to the federal. They said they understand the competition for nonprofits asking for donations and the continued cuts in state and federal budgets to higher education. "Education is the building block in people's lives. Those asking for contributions in other nonprofit organizations most likely have a degree, or two, from a college or university. Because of today's economy many people are returning to college to acquire a new skill or advance their professional goals. Non-restrictive gifts are more important than ever as the budget cuts at the state and federal level affect a college's ability to deliver quality education on campus, and services beyond the classroom," John said.

By Linda Relyea