Arnold Rist’s life boils down to one word: service. A humanitarian by every account, the graduate’s service involves his country, his students and his alma mater.
“My mother and father were always helping people,” Rist said. “It just came naturally.”
He came to Cortland from his small Adirondack Mountain hometown of Newcomb, N.Y. before World War II interrupted his education. As a 20-year-old Army sergeant, Rist served in the 20th Armored Division that liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, Germany.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1947 and spent the next 60 years dedicated to the development of young people.
But Rist did not find his passion in teaching the most capable students. Rather, his focus was on the ones who needed and sought improvement.
His infectious smile aside, Rist is best recognized for his work with minorities and underachieving students. He led Rockland Educational Services, Inc. for 51 years, from 1955-2006. The firm, which he founded, offers speed learning programs, PSAT preparation programs and scholarships to deserving students in grades 8-12.
Rist maintained close ties with SUNY Cortland while he championed the educational rights of underprivileged students. In 1963, he worked directly with the local alumni chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity to establish a scholarship incentive program for minority students in Rockland County. He earned a Certificate of Commendation for the Advancement of Minority Students from the trustees of the Rockland County Negro Scholarship Fund for his efforts.
“Arnie Rist has spent a lifetime quietly helping numerous young people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds realize their potential,” said Douglas DeRancy ’75, assistant to the College’s vice president of Institutional Advancement. “He has done it without fanfare. He is driven to create educational opportunity for those who are less fortunate.”
A former soccer and baseball player at Cortland, Rist was inducted into the C-Club Hall of Fame in 1987. His efforts, though, could not be measured in statistics.
Rist drove the endowment fundraising efforts of the T. Fred “Prof” Holloway Award in the late 1980s. This honor recognizes leadership, diligence and fairness in one male and one female physical education senior. Holloway, a former physical education professor and men’s soccer coach at the College, left a permanent impression on Rist.
In 2002, Rist established the Stefan Mascoll ’99/Brian Lange Senior Athlete Award in Track and Field. The accolade, like Rist’s lifelong pursuit, recognizes the track and field athlete who shows the most progression, not necessarily the greatest ability.
Rist received the Distinguished Alumni Award, SUNY Cortland’s highest honor, in 1993. He has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors for the past 24 years and he has offered guest lectures relating to the Holocaust for the SUNY Cortland History Department for the past five years.
Rist, who resides in Nanuet, N.Y., earned two master’s degrees from Syracuse University and a doctorate from New York University. He and his late wife, Roberta, have two children, Kevin and Randy.