"It's nice just to sit," said Myrtle Merritt, as she explained why Sunday is her favorite day of the week.
This is no surprise, coming from a distinguished service professor who taught physical education for 30 years, and, 27 years after her retirement in 1982, is president of her Garden Club, president of the Genesee Valley Conservancy, director of development for the American Association of University Women's Rochester chapter, leader of the women's group at Geneseo United Methodist Church and active on the board of directors of the Roundtable Athletic Association and the Geneseo Foundation.
Merritt, better known as Myrt, graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, which is where she grew up. She came to Geneseo in 1952 after being asked to come for an interview by Louise Kuhl, the namesake of Kuhl Gymnasium.
"We didn't have any facilities except oak trees," Merritt said, recalling her first years at Geneseo. Schrader Hall was not constructed until 1962, and the Alumni Field House, which was dedicated to Merritt and renamed in 2004, was not constructed until 1970.
All Geneseo students were required to take physical education classes until 1989, when the requirement was dismissed under former President Carol Harter. "It was a done deal before [the students] realized what hit them," Merritt said.
Merritt taught a variety of classes including hiking and backpacking, cross-country skiing, square dance, folk dance and yoga, which she said was "always full." She said students appreciated being able to learn about sports and become better athletes without having to pay a professional trainer for lessons.
Additionally, Merritt also taught personal health classes as well as camp counseling and community recognition. As a professor, the most important part of the job was the students.
Asked if she is herself an athlete, Merritt replied: "I was, but I'm old." Though she played basketball for four years in high school, she said she was born "40 years too soon," referring to Title IX, which passed in 1972 and increased the number of women's sports offered at the high school and college level.
Merritt said that finding out from President Christopher Dahl that the Field House would be renamed the Myrtle A. Merritt Athletic Center was a "great surprise."
"I said, 'Well, I haven't given a million dollars and I'm not dead!'"
Merritt said she loved working at the campus and remains good friends with many of the current faculty, including Director of Athletics Marilyn Moore, who was once one of Merritt's students. "I try to go to all the games, it's sort of hard when there's four all at the same time," she said.
Her biggest regret is that athletes at Geneseo never had the facilities necessary to excel. She described the planned stadium and YMCA as "long overdue," but complimented athletes present and past on having held their own in spite of inadequate facilities.
Noting that there were only about 50 men on campus when she started teaching, Merritt said the biggest change in the college over the past half-century has been the entrance requirements. "I probably wouldn't get in here [today]," she said.
The Dr. Myrtle Merritt Scholar-Athlete Award continues to be awarded annually to a female student-athlete who maintains an excellent grade point average while making a significant contribution to her respective team.