Remembering a True York College Friend
In his book, Town and Gown: The Fight for Urban Rebirth and Higher Education, York History professor, Dr. Robert Parmet, provides the definitive history of the founding and fight for survival of York College. In the 2007 book, Dr. Parmet, a founding professor of York, details the support provided by the Queens community and especially those in elected office. Sadly, one of the last surviving members of that group, recently died.
During the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, York, then still a fledgling institution, was perpetually on the chopping block. The external community joined forces with the college community, then led by President Milton G. Bassin, to advocate for York’s survival and funding to build its campus.
The then-governor, Hugh Carey was not inclined to provide the more than $100 million to build the campus. That is, until Councilman Archie Spigner invited him for a tour of the area, including the proposed campus site. According to Parmet, the governor came, he saw, he heard, he flew back to Albany and signed off on the large capital project for York.
Such was the influence of Archie Spigner and the love that thrived in his heart for York College and his community. Sadly, Spigner died on October 29 (2020) at the age of 92. But his legacy lives on in the lives he touched and his public service and activism.
Affectionately dubbed, “The Dean of Southeast Queens Politics,” Spigner mentored hundreds of young people through his offices and the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club, where he held sway as a district leader. His endorsement was sought by those seeking office from city council to president.
When former Congressman Charles “Chuck” Schumer decided to challenge US Senator Alfonse D’Amato for the US Senate seat he held, Archie Spigner was one of the first people he called to discuss the decision. “The Dean” invited Schumer to his Democratic club to make his case to its membership.
The large space on Linden Boulevard in St. Albans was packed. Schumer made his pitch and wooed the crowd. He went on to win the election and has served as one of New York’s two senators for the last 20-plus years. Spigner was a wise man. It was a wisdom born of hard knocks and even harder work starting as a shoe-shining teenager moving on to factory worker, and a bus driver, all while attending evening classes to earn his college degree and raising a family.
Complimented once that he had pulled himself up by the bootstrap, the retired councilman remarked, “Baby, I didn’t even have boots!”
Born in South Carolina, Mr. Spigner moved north with his family as a child. In the New York City Council for 27 years (1974-2001) his accomplishments were legendary. In addition to being an effective legislator, he was securing funding to keep the local parks updated, schools funded, non-profits supported, Queens Library system in top shape, helping ensure York’s survival and fighting to bring the Parsons/Archer Subway and E Train adjacent to the York campus.
“Councilman Archie Spigner was a true friend of York College,” said Dr. Parmet. “It was gratifying to see him at numerous college events, and he did arrange Governor Carey's visit to South Jamaica on August 21, 1978.”
Dr. Berenecea Johnson Eanes, York’s current president, met Mr. Spigner a few months prior to the COVID-related shut of the state and college, expressed sadness at the news.
“On behalf of York College, I extend sympathy to the Spigner family and to the many friends and associates of Councilman Spigner,” said Dr. Eanes, who also made an announcement to the college community and held a moment of silence at recent virtual Executive Leadership Breakfast. The keynote speaker for that event was alumnus Hank Sheinkopf, also a friend of Spigner’s.