Skip to main content

Remembering what was Dowling College in Oakdale.

Image of Dowling College in Oakdale when it was a picture-perfect property

Image of Dowling College in Oakdale when it was a picture-perfect property

The majestic fireplace in the Ballroom

The majestic fireplace in the Ballroom

It's still hard to believe the college I graduated from in the 1980s is no more. I've actually outlived Dowling College in Oakdale which was in existence from 1968-2016. The Idle Hour campus first opened in 1962 and was known then as Adelphi-Suffolk. In 1968, Manhattan real estate investor, philanthropist, and aviator Robert W. Dowling formally endowed the College.

The small, picturesque Idle Hour campus that was located just off the Connetquot River on Long Island closed and went into bankruptcy in 2016.

I will briefly reflect on what I remember. I can still remember like yesterday the well-maintained picture-perfect campus that was situated on 25 acres of waterfront property in which the focal point was the former Summer home of Railroad heir William K. Vanderbilt. The mansion as it was called, in 1978 was renamed Fortunoff Hall in honor of Max and Clara Fortunoff who were major benefactors.

If you factor in the other campus buildings; John Astor Hall, Learning Resouce Center (a.k.a. the Library) the Loft Theatre, the dorms, tennis courts, the Anthony Giordano Art Gallery, and the many private houses they bought to accommodate more than the single 207-student dormitory they had, all equated to well over 50 acres.

I remember early mornings seeing all the geese that had gathered on the front lawn and later walked onto the walkways in front of the library and near the entrance to the college. I was always mesmerized by the beauty of the mansion. It was so historic and majestic to me. And remember having to go to the Lasalle Military Academy to see the Basketball team play since we didn't have a place of our own on campus to play.

Among my favorites was Dr. Thomas Tornquist my Journalism professor, a distinguishing-looking man who wore a bowtie. Then there was Ned Bobkoff who was a long-time professor in the Drama Dept. He was highly dramatic but was a good teacher.

I liked Dr. Victor Meskill who was the college President from 1977-1999. He was always approachable and friendly to me. The Personal College slogan that they used for years was fitting. And the longtime College receptionist, whose name is escaping me, had a charming and inviting voice.

Scroll to Continue

The Lion's Den was the small campus bar and the college paper was called The Lion's Voice which I was a Staff Writer for.

I always envisioned having my wedding reception inside the mansion. How my guests would have marveled at the beauty of the ballroom with its huge French door-like windows that looked onto the lawn and provided a clear view of the Connetquot River. My guess would have mingled with drinks in hand next to that huge fireplace and danced on the oak wood floors.

Then in the mid-1980s, the Palm House of the mansion was renamed Marjorie Fortunoff Conservatory after it was renovated and meticulously restored.

What a shame to think that now the empty campus is being neglected by yet another foreign property owner (China Orient Asset Management Corporation) and has been vandalized many times, it burns me. The first property owner after the bankruptcy sale was Mercury International. They were worse, even more neglectful.

It is time to once again thank some of the good people who have been involved in safeguarding the property that was once the crown jewel of the Idle Hour community. It was a special landmark that was part of the Gold Coast history of Long Island and what was the Idle Hour Campus of Dowling College later renamed Rudolph Campus after benefactor Scott Rudolph, CEO of Nature's Bounty Vitamin Company.

I must thank Maryann Almes President of the Oakdale Historical Society and also Michelle Burke who have done so many good things to preserve and protect what was the Dowling campus. Also to Mike Burke, David Chan, and Tom Alfano for being part of the Neighborhood Watch Group which has done its best and spent a good deal of time and their own money to safeguard the property which has unfortunately been vandalized too many times.

Lastly, Town of Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter who was actively involved in helping Maryann Almes and the Oakdale Historical Society get landmark status in November of 2018 for the Idle Hour mansion, the powerhouse (Loft Theatre), the Well, and the “Love” tree that was part of what made the campus so quaint and peaceful. Also, need to credit Supervisor Carpenter for getting after the two neglectful foreign property owners and for helping devise a plan to help curb the vandalism and break-ins. It was Carpenter who wrote to Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron requesting increased patrols near the site. She suggested that shift changes occur at the property to increase police presence in the area.

It saddens me to think Dowling College is no more. However, I will do my best via this article and will post the many images I have to keep what was Dowling alive for those that attended or graduated from the college. And also for the people who live in the Idle Hour community.


Related Articles