By ERIC BERNSEE
The Greencastle and DePauw University communities lost a legend Sunday morning when the inimitable Marvin Long died at age 88.
His very name is clearly synonymous with Marvin's as the campus eatery he opened in 1972 still carries his name. But Long's legacy will be more than the garlic cheeseburger (GCB) that put Marvin's on the map. It was his interaction with students that enabled the restaurant to thrive and endures today as his gift to his successors.
"He really liked the students," assessed Mike Sullivan, whose lengthy association with Long goes back to 1986 when Marvin's moved into the old brown building (since demolished) on College Avenue, just south of the new location at College and Poplar streets.
Sullivan and Joe Miles owned that old building, which Long turned into a campus hangout and local landmark, featuring fraternity and sorority kiwi print proof photos for wallpaper and a casual atmosphere where customers were welcome to go behind the counter to get their own drink refills.
Taking all that interaction in, Sullivan cultivated not only a business relationship but a friendship with Long well before the man emerged as the local legend he became.
"That was the luckiest move of my life, when I got with Marvin," Sullivan said Sunday. "That relationship was so great. He was so damn unique."
Long came to Greencastle with the A&P store in 1962, moving into the house on Elm Street that he and wife Kitty shared ever since, surrounded by DePauw buildings and in the shadow of campus housing for students who would become the bread and butter of his restaurant business.
"Marvin got more out of life than just about anybody I've ever been involved with," Sullivan praised. "He just enjoyed life like no other.
"I've never met a more unique individual," he added. "He just got so much out of everything he did, and I think that's why he was so successful."
Where other local merchants have had trouble attracting student clientele over the years, Long embraced not only their business but their spirit, fostering a longstanding relationship beyond sales opportunities.
"He was more interested in the students as people than he was the university," said Sullivan, who bought Marvin's from Long in 1991 and has since turned over operations to son Kevin Sullivan.
"That's the most lasting memory you can have of the man," Sullivan praised as another Sunday dinner crowd queued up to order GCBs and wet burritos, seemingly oblivious to both the passing of Long and the giant "Marvin for President" bedsheet sign bearing his likeness hanging above their heads.
"You can't fake that," Sullivan said of Long's affinity for young people, "and the kids know that."
Marvin's interest in the students went beyond tapping into their wallet to make his living. Besides employing legions of them to cook and deliver his pizzas, burritos and GCBs, Long was known for advancing students a few extra bucks or making sure they didn't go hungry, many times without even knowing the name of the student he just befriended.
Marvin was like some surrogate grandfather to those kids, many of whom were living away from home for the first time.
"If they were hungry or said they were 'a little short' this week, he would sit them down and give them a wet burrito or cheese fries or GCB, whatever they wanted," Sullivan noted. "That was part of his personality, that he cared more for that part of it than he did the real business side of things."
DePauw coach Bill Fenlon, who has known Marvin since taking the DPU basketball job in April 1992, readily agreed.
"Marvin Long was truly one of a kind," Fenlon said Monday. "One of the first people I met upon moving to Greencastle, Marvin informed me that he was with me ... win or tie! A terrific friend of DePauw athletics and its athletes, he could always be found in his seat in the corner behind the bench, cheering on the Tigers," the coach praised.
"Whether it was supporting their performance or giving them a job delivering to make a few bucks, Marvin Long was a caring person and a DePauw Institution," Fenlon added. "Generations of students and athletes have benefited from getting to know Marvin and sharing his love for the Greencastle and DePauw communities. He will be greatly missed by all of us."
Long always said he felt knowing peoples' names at least was partly responsible for Marvin's loyal repeat business, and ultimately his success. Legend has it at one point he had nicknames for about 1,000 students.
When Long decided to retire in 1991, he sold Marvin's to Sullivan, who took over with little, if any, fanfare or modifications.
"I told him, 'Marvin, I'm not going to change a thing,'" Sullivan recalled, noting he really didn't want to advertise the fact Marvin was getting out of the day-to-day operations. "That's probably the smartest thing I ever did.
"He was a tough act to follow, I'll tell you that," Sullivan assured.
One of the legendary aspects associated with Marvin's has been the 30-year tradition embodied by the slogan "Marvin's delivers anywhere." Ubiquitous homemade banners and signs proclaiming the Greencastle eatery's propensity for publicity have popped up virtually everywhere from Graceland to Key West to Mt. Rushmore and every tropical isle in between.
During a unique "Marvin's delivers to Marvin" day at Autumn Glenn back in June, Long told the Banner-Graphic the origin of those Marvin's delivers photos decorating the walls of the campus hangout can be traced to 1982. The first sign emerged after a trip Sigma Chi member Long knew well, took with his father to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
"The interesting part about it," Long shared, "is that it was his dad who suggested it."
And by "it," he meant creating a homemade "Marvin's delivers" sign (later evolving into posters, bed sheets and banners) and taking a picture of DePauw students, alumni, faculty and/or staff holding it in front of some scenic or historic background.
Later Long was given a small photo to display at the restaurant to commemorate the initial "Marvin's delivers" experience.
"That started it," he said. "It certainly caught on."
Easily the most memorable "Marvin's delivers" moment occurred in 1985 when four students held up signs that read, "Marvin's delivers to Moscow" right in Red Square and ended up in a jail for a couple hours.
Remember, it was the midst of the Cold War, and the Soviets didn't know Marvin Long from Lee Marvin or Melvin Laird.
The Russians apparently thought Marvin's was a weapon, Long laughed, and that the students were going to "deliver a missile."
"We did have some wild stories," Long said that day. "I enjoyed every minute of it."
Funeral services for Marvin Long are scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25 at Hopkins-Rector Funeral Home, Greencastle, where visitation is set for 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Friday.