It All Started Here … Dennis Fabella
Dennis Fabella joined Cecil College in 1969 for the college’s second year of operation.
While Assistant Professor Dennis Fabella did not teach history, he is able to provide insight about the institution as Cecil College celebrates 50 years of influencing and inspiring the next generation and those to come. Fabella and his wife Sandy were hired to teach English and mathematics, respectively, in 1969 for the college’s second year of operation.
“At the time, my wife and I were interested in teaching at a two-year college. Most colleges weren’t hiring husband and wife combinations, but we saw the ad for a place called Cecil Community College in Maryland. We came up for the interview and were hired on the spot. They needed us, and we needed them. That’s how we got started,” said Fabella, who remained at Cecil College to become the longest-serving faculty member.
During the early years of the college, classes were taught at Elkton High School and then at the newly built North East High School. “There were challenges with us being there. At Elkton High School, the administrative offices were in the same room with each desk sectioned off by a partition. Faculty shared what was probably a broom closet with two desks for office space,” said Fabella.
Due to the dedication and perseverance of the administration and the faculty, the college was moved to its permanent home in 1972 with the construction of the Arts and Science Building. Supplementing the need for additional classroom space, there were small trailers and semi-permanent buildings. But there were still stereotypes to dispel.
“Our facilities, in the beginning, helped to foster the idea that this was just high school all over again. But if anything enhanced our reputation, it was that we were providing a good product. It took a while for that to happen, but once our students went on to be successful, people viewed us differently,” added Fabella.
Fabella went on to teach 40 years at Cecil College, retiring in May 2009 and being only the eighth person honored as Professor Emeritus at the College. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree from the University of Florida in 1969. Fabella and his colleagues played critical roles in the development of policies and procedures at Cecil College, but he credits the work of Dr. Robert L. Nash and Dr. Robert L. Gell for the leadership that got the college through hard times.
“Dr. Nash was exactly what he needed to be given the situation. He was starting a community college from scratch without a great deal of support from within the county. He had to get this place up and running on a shoestring budget, and he was able to do that. … Dr. Gell’s strongest quality was to see the importance, and make use of, contact between a college president and the community. He did a very good job of getting out and talking to the business community and service organizations. The college foundation was one of the more remarkable accomplishments of the college,” said Fabella, with a reflection in his eye. Today, the Cecil College Foundation provides financial support for the institution’s students by raising money in support and the creation of more than 300 scholarships.
Cecil Community College, as it was known, faced some tough times during the initial dozen years with limited facilities, struggling budgets, the staff and faculty wearing many hats, and trouble with the organization of the institution’s Middle States Accreditation. At times, it was touch and go from semester to semester as to whether the college was going to keep the doors open. “I think this was an example of too few people trying to do too many things. There were times when I wondered if this college could stay afloat,” said Fabella.
As time has proven, Ceil College’s administration, faculty, and staff unified during these tough times in order to keep the focus on what mattered most, the students. Instructors like Fabella and Bill Short volunteered for work on committees and compiled reports for the Middle States accreditation, the nursing accrediting commission report, and many other committees and organizations that strengthened the institution.
“Of all the people I’ve worked with at Cecil, Bill Short, better than anyone, represented my concept of professionalism and doing the job right. He was someone who definitely took the job seriously. Everything about the way he taught, the way he prepared for classes and the way he dealt with students was very, very impressive. I also worked on some of the same committees with him. I always thought he was the epitome of what a good faculty member should be,” said Fabella.
Fabella was thunderstruck shortly after the completion of the Technology Center. One evening while teaching his class on the ground floor, he looked out the window at several people sitting on the benches in the quad and thought, “my God, this actually looks like a college campus for the first time in my career.”
Cecil College has come a long way over five decades with the addition of new buildings, two branch campuses, and expanded opportunities. Sandy Fabella’s contributions to physics and technology were recognized in 2014 when a laboratory in the newest building on the North East Campus was dedicated in her honor.
“The thing I take the greatest amount of pride in is when a former student or parent comes up to me in the grocery store and talks about enjoying one of my classes and how they’re now successful,” says Fabella.