SUNY Canton has planted a tree in remembrance of an area worker who lost his life during the construction of the new hill campus more than 50 years ago.
“During the course of our research into our history corresponding with our milestone ‘50 Years on the Hill’ anniversary, we learned that Merlin L. Rafter was involved in a tragic accident,” said Vice President for Advancement Anne M. Sibley. “We are remembering this historically significant event to recognize the devoted worker who spent his final days building SUNY Canton.”
On Oct. 10, 1966, Rafter was killed while the campus was beginning to take shape, according to John A. Goetze, who served as both a faculty member and the facilities project coordinator at the college. Rafter and two other workmen descended into a trench to help lay a section of pipe. Without warning, the trench suddenly collapsed on them. Two other workers involved with the accident escaped injury, according to the Oct. 11, 1966 edition of the St. Lawrence Plaindealer. Rafter was a resident of Norwood and hailed from Madrid.
SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran encouraged the college to plant an Ivory Lilac (syringa reticula) tree overlooking the campus to celebrate Rafter and his family.
“Planting a tree lets us reflect on the longtime friends of the college,” said Szafran. “As it blooms each spring, we’ll be reminded that Merlin gave everything as part of the effort to help us build this great college. Students, faculty and staff will all enjoy this beautiful addition to the campus for many years to come.”
Rafter’s family attended the tree planting ceremony held during the college’s alumni weekend celebration (Saturday, June 2). The tree and a memorial plaque were purchased by the Canton College Foundation and Szafran.
“It’s impossible to know what Merlin was thinking about on that day he came to work in 1966,” Szafran said. “Perhaps he was thinking about his upcoming plans to hunt or fish here in St. Lawrence County. He may have been thinking about his family, including his wife, Geraldine, and their sons and daughters. We’d like to speculate he was thinking about all of those things in addition to feeling the pride and accomplishment in creating a place where future generations would come to learn and better their lives.”