Victor Buscemi Montana, of Concord, and Brooksville, Maine, died Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at the age of 71, 13 years after being diagnosed with cancer.
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In these 13 years he built two wooden boats, worked as the carpenter's assistant to transform his summer cottage on the coast of Maine into a year-around house, sailed as often as possible, created portrait-quality photographs of his grandchildren, wrote a family cookbook, enthusiastically unsnarled a multitude of mechanical problems for friends and neighbors, read at least four newspapers a day, relished a rousing political discourse, cooked fabulous food and loved his family. He had a unique blend of talents and endearing personal values.
Born in 1942, the eldest son of Helene Bortnovsky Montana and Vanni Buscemi Montana, Victor was raised in New York City with his brother, John. His parents were proudly first generation Americans, but Victor was raised in a home of European traditions. As French was the common language of his parents, he spoke French until he realized that his childhood playmates spoke English, and thereafter swiftly switched to English. Victor graduated from the Brooklyn Technical High School, which he often said was the finest educational institution he was privileged to attend. He held a B.S. Degree in physics, first in his class as a summa cum laude from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1964. He attended graduate school at Harvard University as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, where he earned an A.M. and Ph.D. in high energy experimental physics. Following graduate school he was selected to be a Danforth Intern in physics at Earlham College. His teaching career began at Empire State College in 1972 in Rochester, N.Y., when he joined the faculty of the newly-founded nontraditional college of the State University of New York. This was beginning of Victor's lifelong interest in providing higher educational opportunities to adults. He played a major role in bringing Empire State College to maturation as a nationally recognized institution serving adult students, as he moved from Associate Dean to Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs and Acting President. During this time he returned to Harvard to earn a Certificate from the Institute for Educational Management. In 1990, Victor was appointed CEO/Dean and subsequently President of the College for Lifelong Learning (now Granite State College) of the University System of New Hampshire. Access to higher education became available to adult learners throughout the state of New Hampshire as never before. When Victor resigned from the College in 2000, due to ill health, the College had 10 locations throughout the State and was serving over 1,600 adult students, the highest enrollment in the College's history. In 2001, Plymouth State University awarded him the Harold E. Hyde Award, recognizing that over his 30 year career in higher education, thousands of individuals realized their academic and career goals because of his leadership and unswerving commitment to the highest quality of education for adults. The College for Lifelong Learning established the Victor B. Montana Alumni Award, honoring a CLL graduate who exhibits a commitment to lifelong learning and the "can do" attitude that characterized Victor. In 2002 the College for Lifelong Learning awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Victor was a Director of the National Center for Adult Learning, President of the Rochester Area Colleges consortium, Trustee of the Capitol Center for the Arts, Chair of the NH College and University Council and an alumnus of Leadership New Hampshire. In the last year of his life he volunteered several mornings a week at the NH Technical Institute as a tutor in math and physics, a responsibility he took most seriously and found to be most gratifying. He was a lifelong and independent learner: he taught himself to cook and to sail, and in his 40's he studied up on how to design and build a house, and then built a house on the coast of Maine with his son, John.
In his 50's, he taught himself to ski, to build boats and to speak Italian. Victor wore his accomplishments lightly, but of all his associations he was perhaps proudest to be a member of the Bagaduce Boys, a group of friends and neighbors living on the Bagaduce River in Brooksville, Maine. They help one another put in and take out docks and boats, and have been known to rescue runaway floats and boats. The adventures of the Bagaduce Boys are a source of wonder to those friends and family members huddled on the shore watching their marine exploits and just-in-time problem solving.
The last months of Victor's life were gentled by the expertise and many kindnesses of the Concord VNA Hospice staff, for which his family is deeply grateful. To the end, he bore his illness with quiet dignity.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia Vasbinder; his son, John Montana of Boston; stepson Dawson Bartlett (and wife Laura) of Chicago; stepdaughter Liann Eden (and husband Andrew) of London; his first wife, Ilene Montana of Rochester, N.Y.; and five grandchildren, Jackson and Samuel Bartlett, Rebecca, Eleanor and Julia Eden. He also leaves cherished cousins and their families in Finland, Italy and Israel, as well as the United States.
He was predeceased by his brother, John.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 15, at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord.
Following cremation, committal of the ashes will be made next summer in Brooksville, Maine.
Memorial donations may be made to the Victor B. Montana Scholarship Fund, established to provide financial aid to new Americans pursuing degrees in science, math, engineering or technology. Contributions may be sent c/o the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, 37 Pleasant St., Concord, N.H., 03301.
Published in The Concord Monitor on Jan. 3, 2014