Mary McVean and Family

Mary McVean and Family

Jim McVean came to Northern New York and built a community college from the ground up. It is the foundation, the roots, the seeds that shape so significantly all that follows. What a legacy he left us! He built Jefferson Community College, he led it successfully through its formative years and, subsequently, never failed to give it his wholehearted support.

—John W. Deans, JCC’s Third President, McVean Memorial Tribute, Sept. 24, 1998

James E. McVean served as Jefferson Community College’s first president, from 1962 through 1977. His vision, leadership and wisdom forever shaped the grounding principles and educational philosophy that guides those who teach and learn in its classrooms. Beyond his retirement, he remained keenly interested both in the College, the community, and its people. He served many organizations, and Jefferson County is a much better place for the life he lived among us.

James E. McVean was born August 26, 1921, in St. Louis, Mo., a son of James Dalton and Theresa Flanders Marvin. Following his father’s death, he took his stepfather’s last name.

Dr. McVean spent most of his school years in Northern New York. He graduated in 1938 from Saranac Lake High School, where he was active in football, track and other extracurricular activities. He received a two-year degree from Canton Agricultural and Technical College in 1941. He was valedictorian of the electrical technology department and a member of the school’s boxing and baseball teams.

Dr. McVean served from 1942 to 1945 in the Marine Corps, taking part in campaigns in the Pacific theater of World War II. He achieved the rank of master technical sergeant.

While serving in the Marines, he married Mary Elizabeth Brown of Malone. Their wedding on March 26, 1943, was in St. Joseph’s Church rectory in Scotia. Mrs. McVean, a 1939 graduate of Franklin’s Malone Academy and a 1941 Canton ATI graduate, worked at the General Electric Company in Schenectady at the time of their marriage.

Following his release from the Marine Corps, Dr. McVean entered Clarkson College, Potsdam, graduating summa cum laude in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He went on to earn a master of science degree in 1953 from Cornell University’s school of industrial and labor relations in Ithaca while serving on the faculty of what became Broome Community College.

Dr. McVean worked at Broome from 1948 until 1961. He served Broome first as a teacher, then went on to fill the roles of admissions director and evening division administrator until becoming dean of faculty, a position he held five and one-half years. He left Broome in February 1961 to head a new two-year branch of Virginia Polytechnic Institute at Roanoke. He was named first president of the new Jefferson Community College in September 1962, and inaugurated on November 3, 1963.

During his tenure as Jefferson’s leader, Dr. McVean was very involved in the creation of a permanent site for the college, construction of its buildings, selection of the faculty, development of curricula and extra-curricular programs, and serving as public relations ambassador for the fledgling school. He touted the value of two-year education and promoted Jefferson to communities throughout Northern New York and beyond.

Dr. McVean was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from St. Lawrence University in 1968. That same year, he was one of five graduates of Clarkson College of Technology to receive the Golden Knight award, the top honor that the institution conferred on distinguished alumni.

Following his 1977 retirement from Jefferson, Dr. McVean was named executive secretary of the Watertown Foundation, later known as the Northern New York Community Foundation. He held that post until 1986, overseeing the growth of the Foundation, which then specialized in funds to aid needy and qualified students. During his tenure the amount of money available for scholarships grew from $50,000 to $200,000 annually.

In March 1990, the JCC College Center was renamed the James E. McVean Student Center. Dr. McVean continued to assist Jefferson in his retirement years, serving in a leadership role as part of the JCC Foundation’s first-ever capital campaign in the mid-1990s.

In addition to his work for the College and the Watertown Foundation, Dr. McVean was active on a multitude of boards and community organizations. He was an elder of the First Presbyterian Church; past president of the Watertown Rotary Club and United Fund of Jefferson County; a past trustee of Watertown Savings Bank and the House of the Good Samaritan Hospital; a past director of the local Heart Association Chapter and the Jefferson County Historical Society, and a past member of the Mercy Hospital Mental Health Advisory Committee.

He served two years as president of the Association of Public Community Colleges of New York State, a member of the Council of Presidents of the State University of New York, served on the Commissioner of Education’s Advisory Council on Higher Education, a consultant to the Regents External Degree program and to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

Dr. and Mrs. McVean raised a family of four children: a son, James, and three daughters, Katherine, Nancy and Mary. At the time of his death on July 8, 1998, his family had grown to include several grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

He was a man ahead of his time. He expected women to have equal consideration in education long before the women’s movement. He applauded and encouraged minorities to pursue an education. He demanded 100% effort from those around him.


Following Dr. McVean’s death in 1998, his family created a fund to provide, in his memory, scholarships to Jefferson Community College students. Watertown Savings Bank, which Dr. McVean had served as a trustee, subsequently challenged the JCC Foundation to endow the James E. McVean Memorial Scholarship, promising that for each dollar raised, the bank would match the amount, dollar for dollar, up to $50,000. Family and friends responded generously, and in December 2000, the endowment surpassed the $100,000 mark, creating at that time the largest single scholarship endowment administered by the JCC Foundation.

The purpose of the James E. McVean Memorial Scholarship is to assist academically talented students who have financial need. As his family put it, the scholarship’s purpose is to help students who “have got the brains, but haven’t got the bucks.”

The James E. McVean Memorial Scholarship was created to honor the spirit and principles by which Jim McVean lived: to serve and to help others. The awards, in his memory, helps those students who receive it gain an education which will enable them to change and grow and better their lives and, in so doing, make this a better world.

The Jefferson Community College Foundation is grateful to Mary McVean and the entire McVean family, as well as to the many friends and organizations who gave so generously, for establishing the James E. McVean Memorial Scholarship.