Former Queens College liaison honored at THHS

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Dr. Leiner at a meeting in the principal’s conference room.
Dr. Leiner at a meeting in the principal’s conference room.  Courtesy of the Touchstone Center.

Family, friends, and colleagues gathered in the Malcolm G. Largmann Library at THHS to commemorate the life of Dr. Marvin Leiner on June 5. Dr. Leiner was the Queens College liaison for THHS from the early 1990s until his retirement in 2004. He passed away on May 21, 2013.

The ceremony consisted of both scheduled and spontaneous individuals who desired to share their memories of Dr. Leiner. It concluded with all the of the guests paying tribute to him with a plaque now positioned on the 2 floor of the building. The plaque features a bridge that represents Dr. Leiner’s success running the Queens College Senior Bridge Year Program. Dr. Leiner attended THHS in 1944 for one year, until Mayor Fiorello Laguardia closed it. Despite his short time here, he was devoted to expanding the focus on humanities and worked hard to bring his innovative ideas to fruition. Alongside former Assistant Principal of Humanities Lynn Greenfield (1989-2002), Dr. Leiner created the Election Simulation in 1996. Since then, it has been a tradition at THHS for seniors taking United States Government courses to participate in mock elections that parallel authentic current elections. He also helped introduce the seniors to the Humanities seminar classes at Queens College, where a THHS teacher works with a QC professor to facilitate in depth discussions of literature at an undergrad level. Dr. Leiner took his contributions a step further by bringing the Imagination Workshop to Townsend Harris. With the help of Richard Lewis, founder and present director of the Touchstone Center for Children, they introduced The Imagination Dialogues which engaged students and teachers in dialogues exploring creativity and the extent of the imagination. “It was really Marvin who made it happen,” Lewis said. “I don’t know of any school in this city, frankly maybe in the country, that was doing this kind of thing.” As a result of these workshops, the students created a mural in 1999. Now displayed directly outside of the auditorium, the mural portrays the students’ interpretation of the origins of language. In addition to bringing new ideas to his alma mater, Dr. Leiner held an avid interest in Latin America, evident in his works. He lived in Cuba for two years, and published  Children Are the Revolution: Day Care in Cuba (1978) and Sexual Politics in Cuba: Machismo, Homosexuality and AIDS (1994). Everyone at the memorial ceremony spoke highly of Dr. Leiner. “He was a scholar,” English teacher Judy Biener said. “He was a humanitarian and a fascinating individual- definitely not your average man.” English teacher  Robert Babstock remembers him as “a proud dad whose son is well known [for directing] ‘Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle’ movie franchise.” English teacher Joseph Canzoneri met Dr. Leiner in 2003, his first year teaching at THHS. Mr. Canzoneri comments that Leiner was “very pleasant, lovely, [and] very grandfatherly.” He goes on to say that he will always remember Dr. Leiner as “somebody [who] went out of his way to make me feel comfortable.” Dr. Largmann, the first principal of the reopened THHS (1984-2001), also comments that Dr. Leiner was a very warm person; “he knew how to tap people’s strengths,” and he was a “very good reader of human nature.” These qualities, he mentioned, helped Dr. Leiner get along with people and act as a “diplomat.”

Dr. Leiner’s warm personality was highlighted even further by Paul Longo, the current Director of the Center for the Improvement of Education (CIE) at Queens College. Longo and Dr. Leiner worked together since the late 1960s, beginning in the Department of Elementary Education.

“He was just an exceptional figure,” Longo says, “Very warm, intellectually very bright and capable.” Longo explains that Dr. Leiner’s interpersonal skills really aided in his desire to interact with other people and having good human relations with them. “Mar was a special person,” he concluded.