York Valentines: Alumni Love Story
Meeting as York College, CUNY students in 1969, the two, according to Mr. Brinn, were in a “sensitivity group” being managed by Professor Stanley Rustin. York, then a burgeoning institution housed on the campus of Queensborough Community College, had less than 400 students, and he and the future Mrs. Brinn became part of the same group of friends.
Given the creativity of the era, they were music lovers too; and Brinn sang and played the guitar. What young woman wouldn’t be impressed by a fellow-teen strumming a guitar and singing his heart out? Nancy Laight certainly couldn’t resist and fell harder for him.
The sophomores had their first date in the “summer of ’69,” and they became part of student leadership protesting the war in Vietnam and other political issues of the day. But the college sweethearts also joined other students, faculty and staff to take the fight to Albany to Governor [Nelson] Rockefeller and the state legislature.
They also rallied locally in New York City and as President Milton G. Bassin lobbied local officials and community leaders on behalf of the college, they were in full support. They were among York’s first student advocates ensuring the college’s right to exist and build the campus York now calls its permanent home.
As children of parents from “the greatest generation,” both alumni say their parents and grandparents, some of whom had served in World War II, were instrumental in their political consciousness. “My grandmother was a Suffragette,” Nancy Brinn says. “I was influenced by their view of the world.”
Mr. Brinn, who came to York through the SEEK program, recalls that while they had a temporary home base on Queensborough’s campus, they were also learning in basements, synagogues, and other makeshift classrooms throughout the area. However, they were being taught by vibrant young professors who invested in them – students of color and poor whites.
But it wasn’t all books and protests. Ron, a Psychology and Literature major; and Nancy, a Psychology and Elementary Education major, enjoyed life in the little college that could. Music continued to be a theme too. He continued to strum as they both enjoyed the artists of the day and other youthful pursuits. That passion also led to a lifelong memory for him.
A business decision by Brinn’s dad to buy a tavern in Upstate New York provided an opportunity to get out of the city and work a summer job at a hotel. As it happens, it was not far from a place soon to become synonymous with the ultimate music fest: Woodstock! And Brinn, like any other young person able to, had to attend.
“Woodstock was the largest, happiest bunch of young people and I was happy to be there,” the former “Pandora’s Box” reporter says. “By the time we got there nobody was taking tickets anymore. It was terrific and the last day was a mud bath,” he says, relishing the memory.
Graduating from York in 1972 and marrying in 1973, with fellow-alum Hank Sheinkopf as best man and several other classmates in attendance, the young couple grew together in their relationship and life. The love birds are now the parents of two “smart, beautiful, loving
daughters,” as their proud mom describes.
Both Ron and Nancy Brinn pursued advanced degrees, Mr. Brinn at New York University, where he earned the Master’s in Counseling Psychology and Ms. Brinn at Stony Brook University, where she earned her MSW.
They have had long and varied careers in their fields of social work and in addiction counseling. Mr. Brinn, at one time, was also a compliance officer for the governor’s office and a human rights director on Long Island. Ms. Brinn also was an executive at JCAP (Just Caring About People) not far from York’s campus.
“’York gave me something special,” Mr. Brin has said. “’It charted the direction for my life.’”
Now semi-retired, they are looking forward to continuing to lead active lives. As for the “secret” to their long relationship, they are in tune there too.
“We have been in love for a long time,” says Mr. Brinn. “We are a work in progress. Love is saying ‘it was all my fault.’”
Nancy Brinn, for her part believes laughter is essential. “We are both fortunate to have a sense of humor,” she says.