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College Honors Bill and Helen Richards with Theatre Renaming

On the night it celebrated the life and legacy of the late Dr. William Richards, who served as the College’s seventh president from 2003-2015, SUNY Orange announced another lasting tribute to the former president and his wife by renaming the Orange Hall Theatre as the “William and Helen Richards Theatre at Orange Hall.”

The SUNY Orange Board of Trustees unanimously approved the name change at its meeting Wednesday night (April 19). On Thursday, more than 200 people filled the theatre for a Celebration of Life event in memory of Bill Richards who passed away this past October at his retirement home in Aurora, Colo. Richards’ wife Helen and daughter Jennifer were in attendance as an array of speakers recalled Richards’ remarkable impact upon the College and the community over his 12-year tenure.

Joan Wolfe, a SUNY Orange trustee who served as chair of the Board for seven of Richards’ 12 years at the College, announced the theatre renaming during Thursday’s event.

“Bill and Helen possessed a love of literature, an appreciation of the arts, and a commitment to supporting a wide range of cultural activities in the area. Bill often spoke of his vision of a first-class Center for the Fine and Performing Arts at the Middletown campus,” Wolfe said when announcing the Board decision. “Perhaps more than most, Bill and Helen understood that providing musical, artistic, cultural and theatrical experiences for Orange County Community College students enhanced the students’ academic experience. They also believed improved access to the arts would enrich the greater Middletown and Newburgh communities.”

The theatre is a hub of cultural and artistic activity on the Middletown campus, featuring plays by the SUNY Orange Apprentice Players each semester, along with hosting theatrical ensembles from throughout the Northeast, youth acting camps, musical performances of all genres, master classes, lectures, academic courses and more.

The theatre renaming is among several tributes to Richards that the Board has approved since just prior to his retirement in June 2015. He was granted “President Emeritus” status by Board at its June 2015 meeting. In May 2015 the Trustees passed a resolution renaming the Emeriti Room in Morrison Hall as the “Dr. William Richards Round Room.” The Emeriti Room, with its circular walls and unique architectural features, is located within the President’s suite in Morrison Hall and was a heavily used meeting space during Richards’ tenure.

When he retired from SUNY Orange, Richards had completed the second-longest presidential tenure in the College’s 65-year history, trailing only the 17-year stint of Dr. Robert Novak (1965-82).

In total, Richards’ 36-year academic career featured 18 years in executive leadership roles on college campuses, including three years as chief executive officer of the Westminster campus of Front Range Community College in Denver, Colo. (2000-2003), and three years as president of Otero Junior College in La Junta Colo. (1996-99). He was also president of the Higher Education and Advanced Technologies (HEAT) Center, a long-range strategic planning group headquartered in Denver, during the 1999-2000 academic year.

Significant highlights from Richards’ SUNY Orange presidency include: completion of the Defining Moments capital campaign that generated $25.1 million in private gifts to the College; approval, development and expansion of the Newburgh campus, which had previously been an extension center; and construction and expansion of facilities on the Middletown campus, including the campus’ crown jewel, the Rowley Center.

Mike Albright