GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The legends started as soon as the college did. Before, even.

Did the state of New Jersey overpay, grossly, for the 1,600 acres of forest that would grow into Stockton State College - now Richard Stockton College of New Jersey?

That's one of the tales that traces all the way back to the college's roots in the Pinelands. So is the story on how the most-scenic, generally best-loved hangout on campus, the languid Lake Fred, got its name.

The official version is that it was already called that when the state bought the Galloway Township property in 1969 - Fred was just the name of a former lake owner.

But Dan McMahon, the first editor of Stockton's newspaper, The Argo, says the truth is that there was a student who used to spend a lot of time around the lake, admiring its beauty and occasionally enjoying a smoke - that wasn't necessarily tobacco. The nature-lover's name was, yes, Fred.

"So people just began calling it Lake Fred," says McMahon, 64, who lives in Brigantine. "It kind of became known as Lake Fred by common usage."

Tony Marino, an original faculty member, adds that there's more to the story. The Lake Fred namesake had a girlfriend named Pam, and Stockton has another lake - now generally known as Lake Pam.

Marino, 69, of Egg Harbor Township, was also there for the birth of another campus legend.

The office of Stockton's first president, Richard E. Bjork - which happened to be in a converted hunting cabin, across the lake from the first new campus building - burned down one night in the midst of a controversy between the administration and faculty. And at the time the fire was discovered, the faculty was in a strategy meeting on campus.

"We were talking about striking, or censuring the president" when somebody burst in with news of the fire, Marino says. "I remember a voice yelling out, 'At least we all have alibis.'"

Bill Daly has also been there, and telling Stockton's story, from the start. Daly, now 72, of Port Republic, remembers going out regularly and speaking to local community groups about everything a new college could do for South Jersey and its students.

That speaking role may have had something to do with the fact that Daly, a political science professor, usually wore a shirt and tie to work - which wasn't common at an institution often known locally as the "hippie college," Daly says. But he flatly denies the legend that he owned the only tie on the campus in those early days.

Still, some people clearly believed that one. Daly remembers a visit from a student - one he didn't know - who asked to borrow a tie from Daly. The kid explained that he had to look presentable for a court appearance, and when Daly asked why the kid came to him, the student said it was simple: Daly was the only person anybody ever saw wearing a tie on the campus.

So Daly loaned it to him - sort of: "I never saw the student, or the tie, again," he says, laughing.

There are many more Stockton legends and mysteries. Was Patty Hearst in the area during her kidnapping saga? Was the college's old logo a pair of barely disguised peace symbols?

And those bits of campus lore are the subject of an annual panel discussion, "Stockton Myths and Legends," scheduled this year for Oct. 13, in Alton Auditorium. Michael Hozik, the professor who started the sessions five years ago, says the program is free and open to the public. It's pretty popular too - maybe even on its way to becoming a campus legend.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237