RENSSELAER — Do you fight for what you want, or is it easier to just throw up your arms and walk away?
This will be the last time I write about the unexpected and equally suspicious closing of St. Joseph's College — located on 180 acres in a growing Rensselaer and founded in 1889 — unless it re-opens again in the future, which I seriously doubt.
We interviewed local athletes who were heartbroken after President Robert Pastoor announced Feb. 3 the school needed $100 million to continue operating, including $20 million by June 1.
Blame mismanagement for the closing.
"These people don't have a plan. They did a lot of stupid things, board-wise, and just kept spending money," said Rensselaer Mayor Stephen A. Wood, who has dealt with the school for years and saw this coming.
The campus is boarded up now, its roads blocked by concrete dividers while a liquidation sale in the sprawling SJC fieldhouse draws crowds each day.
I compared it to vultures picking at a carcass.
The fight to save SJC ended quickly as alumni threw in the towel. And unless you worked there or had a student there, I don't think many people on the outside really cared.
None of that matters now.
On Friday, the fieldhouse was again stuffed with merchandise from around campus, much of it slashed in price. Included were many sports items — baseball bats, softballs, batting helmets, chest protectors, football shoulder pads, sports medicine kits, hockey sticks, masks, soccer balls, catcher's equipment, volleyball nets, team benches, snow skis and golf clubs.
One of the salesmen said his company expects every item on campus to go by the end of the 12-week liquidation because prices will be so low.
A Region athletic director recently drove a U-Haul down to SJC and purchased dozens of hurdles, at a big savings, for the girls track team.
"Economic-wise, you're starting to see the effect now because the kids are back in school," said Wood, who estimates the college had between 900 and 1,000 students.
"You'd have a thousand students who would come into our city and they spent money on gas, food, pizza. We got six pizza joints. So, yes, we're going to realize some impact you probably won't see from businesses until December.
"They spend a lot of money on campus, too, with all the sports."
Each had a large fan following.
"Football had big tailgate parties out there. They bought their liquor and beer from the local liquor store and some of the taverns are probably hurting because that's where a lot of (fans) would go to drink," said Wood, a 1963 Rensselaer grad now in his third full term as mayor.
Across College Blvd. is Walmart, Strack & Van Til, McDonald's and Burger King — all popular haunts of SJC students, staff and visiting teams.
On a sad note, the bowling alley next to campus had been there for years and recently closed.
Wood said 165 St. Joe employees were from Jasper County, and a sprinkling from Lake County, as well.
He added alumni raised a little more than $2 million to save their school — "a drop in the bucket for what it owed" — and had to pay that back.
He said a "friend" of the administration was hired as chief fundraiser and paid a ridiculous $185,000, more than twice what the previous person made.
"I'm heartbroken over the college closing," said Wood, who believes for SJC to open again, it would have to pay off much of the $27 million it borrowed from Farm Credit Mid-America in 2013.
"There's a lot of angry people in Rensselaer. A lot of them went to school there," he said.
For any college to drop one of its athletic programs is not uncommon today.
But for a D-II school to close its doors is sickening.