NEW YORK – Some 215 people came out Thursday night to pay tribute to Adrian G. Marcuse, an engineer-turned-educator who transformed LIM College over a 40-year tenure. Marcuse died June 29 at the age of 95 of natural causes.
Michael Gould, Denise Seegal, Sherry Cassin, Macy’s Shawn Outler, Louise Evins and LIM College alums John Varvatos Enterprises’ Luisa Herrera-Garcia, Gail Rothwell, former chief executive officer of Nine West Footwear, and FitFlop’s Douglas Jakubowski were among those who attended the memorial service at the Metropolitan Club here.
Known as a gentleman and a pioneer in education, Marcuse treated everyone at the college as extended family. He was known as a great leader, proud father, visionary and overall “good man.” Marcuse essentially transformed the school into a true college and had the vision to take LIM from a one-year, all-girls certificate program to a coed associate degree granting institution, and finally to a coed Middle states-accredited college offering four-year bachelor’s degrees. Today, the college offers master’s degrees, as well.
During his tenure, LIM, which was founded on the premise of experiential education, had great success in placing more than 90 percent of the graduating class into jobs each year. Today, the college has a 91.6 percent post-graduation employment rate.
Marcuse passed the torch to his daughter, Elizabeth Marcuse in 2002, who serves as president today.
Adrian Marcuse was born in Jamaica, Queens, and attended the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He served three years in the South Pacific as a lieutenant in the Air Force. During his service, he earned an Asiatic-Pacific Theater ribbon with Five Battle Stars. He returned to MIT to get his master’s degree in aerothermodynamics, followed by a 16-year career in engineering, primarily at Westinghouse. In 1962, he joined LIM, then known as the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, to assist his father, Maxwell Marcuse, who founded the school in 1939 to train young women in the retail and fashion industry.
Ron Marshall, Marcuse’s son-in-law, explained that Adrian Marcuse led an ordinary life “which thinly masked extraordinary achievement.” He spoke about his attending MIT at 16 and going to war at age 19, serving as a fighter pilot. “Adrian seldom spoke of the war, but when he did he recalled not destruction but humor and camaraderie revealing the twentysomething young man he was at the time,” he said. He said that after the war, Marcuse returned to MIT where he acquired a Master’s degree and a wife. He eventually had three daughters.
Marshall called Marcuse “the consummate engineer,” where he helped pioneer supersonic flight. He temporarily stepped into LIM to help his father and it became his life’s permanent work. “If not for his sacrifice, grit and determination, LIM would not be here today,” said Marshall.
William J. Borner, chairman, LIM College board, said Marcuse was a friend and mentor, whom he knew for more than 50 years. He said even though he’s been told “you can’t take it with you,” he doesn’t believe that to be the case. “I know that when I heard the news on June 29 I knew that something big had been taken from me,” said Borner. “He took a huge heart with which he loved his family and the college, he took a love of teaching and education, he took a sharp mind with a clear vision and he took his quiet dignity,” said Borner.
He noted that each of Marcuse’s two marriages (his first wife Janet died) endured for more than 30 years. And that doesn’t happen “without knowing a little something about relationships, love and respect,” said Borner.
As Borner observed about Marcuse from being on the college’s board, “Of all of his skills, perhaps most striking to me was his uncanny ability to exhibit kindness and firmness at the same time,” he said.
He said Marcus understood the importance of experiential education. He realized that “theory was not worth much, if not applied.” He set up a lofty goal for the college to make sure more than 90 percent of the students were employed when they graduated.
Borner said the clearest sign of Marcuse’s leadership was the way he transferred leadership of the college to the next generation and to Elizabeth Marcuse. “Adrian put the interests of the college above his own and flawlessly orchestrated the succession,” said Borner.
Elizabeth Marcuse said, “For all his talents and abilities, my father was a humble man.” She said she had the unique opportunity to have Adrian not only as her father, “but also as a boss and a professional mentor.” She said she came to LIM after a successful 16-year career in the fashion industry and it hadn’t been in her plans to join the college. She recalled a discussion in 1997 at her sister’s house in New Jersey. “My father sat me down for a talk about my future. The rest, they say, is history,” she said.
“Immediately, after my father and I agreed that I would start working at the college as a vice president and chief operating officer, he informed me I would be doing so at half my previous salary. Talk about a labor of love,” she said. He also had a plan for the two of them to work in the same office, but that didn’t happen immediately. She also had to get used to calling him Adrian. “I knew when he called me Elizabeth…I was in trouble,” she said. He advised her to get out and interact with the students. “He always put our students first and knew there was no substitute for making a personal connection,” she said.
“As I worked with him I learned more about higher ed than I ever imagined I could.…He also taught me about standards. The standards I needed to hold myself to, and the standards I needed to hold the college to,” she said.
She recalled that in the Seventies, along with a small group of presidents of other family-owned New York State schools, “Adrian worked to get the Board of Regents to give degree making powers to a limited number of institutions. This made New York the first state in the country to do so,” she said. They could only grant associate degrees and were not allowed to use the word college in their names unless they got regional accreditation. “He led the charge for LIM to become the first proprietary institution to ever gain Middle States accreditation.” He then led the charge for LIM to grant bachelor’s degrees.
“Adrian’s efforts made a huge impact on the lives of a whole additional universe of students beyond LIM’s walls,” she said. “Adrian understood that elevating an institution’s status was critical to improving students’ graduate career prospects and helping them build successful lives,” she said.
Marcuse said that after her father retired to Florida, he would fly up regularly for board meetings and would park himself in her office “just as he originally planned.”
“We offered him offices all over campus, and that’s where he wanted to be…we’d work literally side by side,” she said. “Today I’d do anything to have one more of those days with him,” she said.
Gail E. Rothwell, LIM College Class of 1971 who serves on the board of directors, said, “Adrian created a firm foundation that made the college strong. The dean, staff and professors cared about its students and interacted with us,” she said.
“The college impacted my life. I am an example of Adrian’s work at the college. He was an integral part of launching my career, always reaching out and engaging,” added Rothwell, who joined the A&S training program and went on to become president of Nine West Wholesale.
Finally, W. Michael Shaffer, former chairman of LIM College board, described lunch for Adrian as an apple or a cup of soup and a 30-block walk around Manhattan. He recalled Marcuse calling him once to meet for lunch “and I was not looking forward to an apple.” Marcuse offered him the opportunity to become one of three outside members of the board of trustees.
“He [Adrian] was determined to make LIM the best institution possible, and to provide students with the quality of education he deserved,” he said. The first and most important of Marcuse’s many forward moves was the acquisition of the building on East 53rd Street. “Without that move, LIM would not be what it is today,” said Shaffer. Other moves were Middle States accreditation, becoming a four-year institution, new programs and degrees, adding faculty and classrooms, and a master’s degree program. “When we presented the idea to the board, some thought he was nuts,” he said. “Now a master’s degree programs are a successful addition to the lions’ offerings.”
Shaffer said the second best thing Adrian ever did for the college was enticing Elizabeth Marcus to join the college. “Adrian built the bones and Elizabeth has added flesh to those bones.”