87-year-old professor dedicates 50 years to ASU
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 19:02
As much as the main campus of Arkansas State has changed over the last 50 years, one man has maintained a constant presence.
For almost 100 semesters, assistant professor Sammy Gennuso has held court on the third floor of Wilson Hall, teaching generations ASU students, from Gorillas to Red Wolves.
The 87-year-old professor, a son of Italian immigrants and the only sibling of 13 to attend college, first stepped on the Jonesboro campus in the fall of 1963. At the time, according to an October article in the Herald, 3,508 students called Arkansas State College home. A far cry from the more than 14,000 who attend in 2013.
Gennuso came to Jonesboro fresh from teaching journalism at Northwestern University in his home state of Louisiana, where he also earned his masters in English at LSU and worked at a daily newspaper after serving in the Navy during World War II.
Gennuso’ never intended to stay in Jonesboro so long, planning only to teach for two or three years to establish residency in the state before making his way to the master’s program at the University of Arkansas.
“When I came here the first time, there was no (Carl R) Reng Center, that was all field back in there,” Gennuso said while sitting in the office area he’s occupied for 40 years. “Everything was very small; it was much smaller than Northwestern because it had been there longer. It was an older school.”
When university President Carl R. Reng, who held the position from 1951 to 1975, hired Gennuso, the Dean B. Ellis Library and old Reng Student Center were still under construction and set to open within the year. This put many different aspects of campus life into one building: Wilson Hall.
“You walked in and the president's office was on the right, the vice president of academic affairs was on the left and down the hall was the finance office. Over on the basement floor, where (the) history (department is), that was all the library,” Gennuso recalled.
The library occupied the western side of the basement floor, while the eastern half housed the Student Union, which included a cafeteria, the faculty lounge, as well the campus bookstore and post office. All of this was in the same building as the English, history, science and social science departments.
For Gennuso, the feat was “amazing.”
Having taught for 50 years, Gennuso has seen the evolution of both students as they were influenced more and more by advancements in technology for education, but also entertainment.
“(The students) dressed better. You wouldn't see people wearing, I call them ‘thongs,’ sandal type things,” Gennuso said. “I think they were better prepared. You barely had TV; it was coming of its own.”
At a time when everything south of Nettleton Avenue was dirt road and fields, students in 1960s Jonesboro had limited entertainment options to keep them occupied. Gennuso remembers when, rather than the current 12-screen Malco, Jonebsoro had two movie theaters in town, one at the Forum that showed one movie a week and another near where the Brickhouse sits. The latter theater showed B-movies and Gennuso described it as a “rat house,” where moviegoers took their lives in their own hands, “because rats would run through your legs while you’re sitting there.”
As a way of both entertaining students as well as pushing an educational effort forward, Gennuso advised a student literary magazine for 15 years called “The Arrow. The professor funded the magazine by showing movies on a projector and charging students 25 cents to watch.
“You had to manufacture things to do. You were limited. Therefore, people got along better,” Gennuso observed. “Sororities had their things and their formals...and you had your intramurals even then.”