If ever there were an alum who reveres BCC, it would be John Bresnahan '74. Not only did he and his sister and brother matriculate from BCC, but all four of his children also attended BCC.
It all started in 1972, the year John graduated from St. Joseph's High School in Pittsfield, where he was born and raised and still lives today.
I wasn't quite sure of the path I wanted, other than I wanted a baccalaureate degree. I decided to start with my associate degree at BCC. I had great mentors there, people who were all-stars in their own field.
John, who calls BCC "the operating model for the community college system," was part of the first class that started at and graduated from the West Street campus. Founded in 1960, BCC was the first community college established by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. During its first 12 years, BCC was located in a former junior high school in downtown Pittsfield until moving to its current location in 1972.
"It was a great place. What was nice about it was that it really was a full collegial experience, because they had athletic programs that functioned all over the state," says John, who joined the basketball team and eventually became the student senate president. It was also a unique time in American history, with the Vietnam War still in the headlines and societal mores constantly changing.
"I played basketball with some guys who had come home from Vietnam. They had seen the world," John recalls. "The beauty of that is the age and the circumstances of the people who were there helped me grow — and it's still that way today. You can establish as many relationships as you care to."
Forming relationships is an essential part of John's career as funeral director and president of Devanny-Condron Funeral Home on Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield, a business that has been in his extended family for 108 years and where he has worked on and off for nearly 45 years. He still credits BCC with giving him the foundational communication and listening skills essential to his job, even after earning four degrees in higher education: an MBA from Jones International University, a bachelor's degree in political science from Siena College, an associate degree in funeral service from the New England Institute of Applied Funeral Arts and Sciences, and an associate degree in liberal arts from BCC.
In fact, John says, BCC made it easy for him to continue his education. He interviewed on the BCC campus with a Siena College representative, and it didn't take long for him to decide to enroll at Siena for his bachelor's degree.
"From there, I've had a magical mystery tour career," he jokes.
Perhaps most magical of all is that all four of John's children — Liam, Meaghan, Patrick and Norah —attended BCC, and all went on to earn advanced degrees. Married to his high school sweetheart, Jane, John and his wife now have several grandchildren who are "on their way to becoming the next BCC graduates," he says with a laugh.
In all seriousness, John reflects back on his time at BCC as one that paved the way for him to become successful. "You learn how to manage your time when you go to BCC," he says. "Many people I went to school with worked at the same time they were attending. It was the place to do that, and it still is. It was a great place to be able to find yourself."
John also underscores the fact that the academic environment at BCC is the same as that at a four-year school. "I did all the college things I was able to do — I just went home at the end of the day as opposed to going back to a dorm," he says. "That was really the only difference."
And the price, of course. When John attended BCC, tuition was about $600 per year, but today at under $6,000 per year for residents of Massachusetts, it is still a bargain.
"Math 101 and English 101 are basically the same everywhere. It's about finding a niche that works for you, but it costs way less at BCC than at a four year-school," he says. "BCC serves as a safety net for when you start out. I view it as an opportunity to understand what is required of you to be successful."
In 1980, John was appointed to the very first Board of Trustees at the College by former Governor Edward J. King. Today, John is still in touch with people he went to BCC with, and he often encourages others to consider community college for themselves or their children.
"I believe in community colleges. I speak about it to my mortuary colleagues," says John, who was named BCC Alumnus of the Year in 1996. "I never miss an opportunity to reinforce the value of community college."
Calling himself lucky to have gotten his start at BCC.
Words can't describe how I feel about BCC. I would have stayed there for four years if I could. It was a terrific experience.