A New Geneva

by Chris Lavin ’81, Executive Director of the Geneva Community Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva

Returning to Geneva after 35 years, it became immediately clear that this was neither the same small city nor the same college I had left so long ago. And within just a few weeks of reacquainting myself with old friends and colleagues, it became apparent that virtually all significant change that I saw could be traced to two things: Mark and Mary Gearan. The burgeoning wine industry had clearly brought a young, entrepreneurial class to town, but, more significantly, so much of the stultifying divides that had been part of my hometown had softened or disappeared. This is where I found the fingerprints of Mark and Mary Gearan everywhere.

When I entered Hobart as a freshman in 1977, it truly was like entering a foreign land, though my childhood home was virtually visible from my Hale Hall dorm room. Flash forward to 2015 and I returned to a town where the President’s House at HWS had become the community’s celebration space – dinners, speakers, important meetings with a mix of community leaders, students, and faculty together with such frequency everyone seemed at home. Throw in the occasional piano, singing and poetry and I truly felt I had come home to a different city. These gatherings even traversed the divides of religion, ethnicity and race that had been such a clear part of the Geneva of my youth.

As months passed, I found Mary Gearan leading high school students in public service, dropping off books for my young readers, helping me bridge my 35-year absence by making sure I knew the new folkways of a town that had truly become a college town. Mark Gearan’s administrative skills and his influence and the esteem with which he was held across the city instantly helped me gather the support needed to bolster a struggling youth organization I had decided to lead.

Soon I had faculty members joining my board, students researching our challenges and an HWS tutor corps forming that would surpass anything I could have expected to develop on my own.

Mark Gearan, I came to realize, understood that the future success of Hobart and William Smith Colleges was inextricably linked to the success of the city the Colleges called home. As he worked to guide HWS through the turbulent waters of difficult decades of higher education, he also had taken on the effort to help Geneva rise with its Colleges. As someone who grew up in Geneva, who witnessed the resentments and tensions that rose from economic divides, I was struck by the persistence and humility that Mark and Mary brought to their efforts to help Geneva improve. Geneva 2020 was an institutional way to express what Mark and Mary have been pursuing for almost two decades and I hope it can carry on their spirit in their absence.

What I do know is that we have more than 75 great college kids sitting side-by-side more than 150 times a week with some of Geneva’s most challenged kids. Nothing like this was happening in 1977 and it is just one example of the impact Mark and Mary have had on my hometown.

In the view of this Geneva kid, Mark and Mary Gearan’s greatest gift may be this new paradigm, a gathering of students learning by doing and giving – our own local Peace Corps, an innovative approach to education in changing times.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.