Watching from his office, Vladimir Marinich would see everything from deer to cows wander onto the campus of Howard Community College. It was 1970, and the new college had about 560 students and one building nestled between a farm and some woods.
Now, 42 1/2 years later, Marinich's office on the Columbia campus is surrounded by buildings and more than 14,500 students roam the campus.
"I had always wanted to teach in a college," said Marinich. "I don't think I meant to stay (this long), but the idea of being a part of a college that was just starting out — I could really be a part of this thing. And I stayed more than 42 years."
The last original faculty member at HCC, Marinich, 76, is retiring this month.
Marinich, who taught in the college's social sciences department, led classes of students in anthropology, world history, the art and culture of ancient Egypt, Russian history and numerous others.
After about 10 years of working with computers, Marinich, who had taught part-time at American University, George Washington University and University of Maryland, College Park, had his interest piqued by the new town in Howard County and the promise of a community college. He and the rest of the small staff threw themselves into HCC's opening.
"We were in the building Sunday, mopping the floors, making sure the blackboards weren't dusty even though they had never been used, Windex-ing the windows, getting the place ready for the students on Monday," he said.
Now, more than four decades later, Marinich reflected on what his time at HCC has meant, and the growth of the college. With the rising population of Columbia and the county at large, numbers at HCC swelled as well, Marinich said, and in the hands of "incredibly capable faculty, the reputation of the college began to grow."
About 100 of Marinich's friends and colleagues gathered on campus Dec. 13, for a surprise farewell party. There, faculty members reflected on what Marinich has meant to them as a co-worker and friend. Laura Cripps, an assistant professor of anthropology and geography, said Marinich had taken the time to get to know her and her teaching style.
"He's a support beyond anything you could hope for," she said. "And the students, the minute one asks the other, 'Have you taken history yet?' they always say they've heard about (Marinich) and good things about his class."
Upon Marinich's entrance to the party, guests serenaded him with "Colonel Bogey March," from "Bridge on the River Kwai" — played on kazoos.
Marinich is the conductor of the Social Sciences Symphony Orchestra — a misleading, cultured name for a group that plays kazoos. At the surprise party, personalized kazoos were given as favors, emblazoned with the phrase "the end of an era."
"There's nothing graceful about that instrument," said Marinich, who lives in Ellicott City with his wife, Barbara Livieratos, an administrator at HCC. "There are no buttons to push, and you don't really learn it."
The kazoo orchestra was the brainchild of Marinich and Jerrold Casway, chair of the social sciences division. In a video put together commemorating Marinich's tenure, Casway described Marinich in three words: "Russian. Borscht. Mummies."
"When you think about it, we spend more time with each other than we do with our families," Casway said more seriously, reflecting on his and Marinich's close and friendly working relationship. "We're losing a friend ... someone who is dedicated and who enjoys the work we do here."
The work done in the social sciences department, and at HCC as a whole, Marinich said, is to prepare students who think comprehensively about their world.
"If you're a part of the liberal arts, you're studying things that liberate your mind," he said. "There are things you should know, like the progression of history, let's say. So, something happens in the past — where did it happen? How did it happen? Who was responsible for it? What were the consequences, and is there any result that affects us still today?"
History, Marinich said, is the foundation for what we know now. Besides, he said, "it's just plain damned interesting."
That interest has led Marinich to write five volumes chronicling the history of HCC, published yearly since June 2008.
"Being a historian is like being a peeping Tom — you're looking at what happened and you're looking at people," he said. "I loved working at HCC, and from the early days it was just because I was here. I was involved in some way, helping to build. As things got established, I was loving what I was doing. When I got a chance to research the history, seeing how the birth of the college occurred ... I got to relive all that. When I got to review all that I have lived through — it doesn't get any better than that."
Marinich's life at HCC has been a life of doing exactly what he always wanted.
"I teach what I love," he said. "When you come right down to it, what's the difference between what I do at home to enjoy and fulfill myself — reading history — versus what I do here? If I look at it writ large, work is drudgery. Digging a ditch is work, but what I do — I enjoy it."