From labs to landmarks, donors leave their marks on student experiences.
By Carol Marcy
Fifty years ago, Geneseo’s then-president Robert W. MacVittie made the visionary decision to create the Geneseo Foundation, in recognition that private support would be needed in the years ahead to supplement declining state support for the College.
In the early years, contributions to the foundation from alumni and community members allowed the College to provide merit scholarships for outstanding students and faculty grants for travel and research. Those priorities have continued through the years — and have grown as the College evolved.
This year, the foundation celebrates its 50th anniversary of financial support, stewardship, leadership and advocacy for the College with an endowment of $44.6 million (as of June 30, 2021).
“In 1972, a year after the foundation was incorporated, the nine board members reported a balance of $3,770,” says President Denise A. Battles. “Having an endowment that’s grown to more than $44.6 million is a testament to the outstanding work of our generous board members and their commitment to Geneseo through the years. They continue to create opportunities that change students’ lives.”
Art Hatton, the Geneseo Foundation’s first executive director and vice president emeritus of college advancement, worked with board members in his role for 32 years. “They have always been strong ambassadors for the College and led the way in providing growing private support for Geneseo,” he says.
Mollene Benison ’97, an accounting major who is now a partner at DeJoy, Knauf & Blood, LLP, joined the board in 2014 and was struck by the commitment her fellow alumni board members have to Geneseo. “There’s an alumni base that wants students to know they really care and wants them to succeed,” she says. “They are willing to provide guidance and financial support for them. It’s something I didn’t know when I was a student.”
Looking at the future, board Chair John Gleason ’87 wants to continue to see more board members from across the country and from many backgrounds. He and his spouse, MaryGrace Jiran Gleason ’84, have been giving back to Geneseo for nearly three decades; he’s been a board member since 2012. “As chair, I want to continue to develop the board to reflect all types of diversity, including alumni class years and majors,” he says.
Financially, John Gleason says the board will also focus on building an endowment that provides unrestricted funding for the College. There’s a need to build operational funds, he says, because state support is a fraction of the college’s revenue, and population trends mean the pool of incoming full-time students is diminishing. “Increased funding in this area would position the College to make financial decisions that would better meet immediate needs and address priorities,” he says.
Financial support affects generations of students and the outstanding experience they receive. As a student, Gleason says, the world fully opened up for him at Geneseo. “It was literally the best four years of my life,” he says. “It allowed me to try different things in a supportive environment. There was no failing at Geneseo — it was all about trying. Those experiences really made a lot of us who we are, and we want more Geneseo students to have those same opportunities.”
The vision and efforts of past and present foundation board members are woven into educational and life experiences across campus — often under the radar.
Here are some of the many ways that private gifts made through The Geneseo Foundation make a difference:
Alumni Carillon in Sturges Hall Clock Tower
Across campus we hear music played from the Alumni Carillon in the central clock tower of James V. Sturges Hall. Donors like the late Bruce Godsave ’65 and the Class of 1994 keep the bells chiming. On Sept. 13, 2021, the carillon bells played Geneseo’s alma mater at 9:13 a.m. to mark the 150th anniversary of the first day of classes, then chimed the alma mater at the top of the hour for the rest of the day.
Each year, the College offers nine student ambassadorships in: entrepreneurship, community engagement, diversity, student affairs, innovation, first-generation students, business, the arts and leadership. Ambassadors have collaborated with community members as close as Main Street and as far away as Nicaragua, Nepal and Ghana. John Gleason ’87 and MaryGrace Jiran Gleason ’84 are among several alumni and alumni-community groups that fund the ambassadorships to support student-designed projects that combine independent learning, innovative approaches to problem-solving and community-based action. The newest is the Keith ’11 and Joanna ’13 Walters Artist-in-Residence Ambassadorship, which provides funds for a student to create original artwork, in any medium, that engages a wider community in a meaningful way, either in the display or creation of art. Watch Nawang Sherpa ’20 explain his project from Nepal:
Athletics Film Room
Student-athletes review games and practices to fine-tune strategy and performance — and now they’re able to watch those videos in a state-of-the-art film room in the Schrader Sports and Recreation Building. Opened in 2019, the room features stadium seating for 42 and an 80-inch smart television (about as long as a queen-sized bed!) to serve all 21 intercollegiate athletic programs and their 450 student-athletes. The room was funded through private donations to Geneseo athletics.
The Bear Fountain
Geneseo’s beloved bear was erected on Main Street in 1888 by brothers William Austin and Herbert Wadsworth to honor their mother Emmeline, for whom the bronze bear is also affectionately named. The fountain originally served as a watering hole for thirsty horses. Through the years, The Geneseo Foundation and community members have come together to fundraise for its restoration and maintenance.
Geneseo’s Department of Career Development runs many programs to empower students and alumni in their career development, including connecting students with alums for career guidance, internships and mentorship. Geneseo Foundation board chair emeritus Kevin Gavagan ’75 and his spouse, Nancy Mogab Gavagan ’76, established an endowment to support many career-building activities, including programs and initiatives for new students to explore careers and majors.
Clock on the College Green
Some of Geneseo’s most dedicated donors are employees. The ornate clock outside of Erwin Hall beside the Donors of Distinction Wall and garden was donated by retired staff members Robert Lyon, director of facilities, and Marilyn Lyon, campus life secretary. “The Verdin-made clock was our way of giving back to the College after having worked there for many years,” Lyons says. “We wanted to donate something that was both beautiful and useful, and the donor garden was a nice setting for it.”
Donors of Distinction Wall and Garden
Flowering bushes and a bench outside of Wadsworth Auditorium enhance the Donors of Distinction Wall, which recognizes those whose contributions to Geneseo exceed $1 million. Honorees include Charles L. VanArsdale; Spencer J. Roemer, director emeritus of admissions; Richard J. Fernan ’46 and Mary Thomas Fernan ’40; Cal G. Melick ’69; Edward J. Pettinella ’73; Jack Kramer ’76 and Carol Patterson Kramer ’76; Dan Loughran ’86 and Nancy Wentworth Loughran ’86; Greg O’Connell ’64 and Elizabeth O’Connell; Geneseo’s Campus Auxiliary Services; the Geneseo Student Association; and the former Geneseo Alumni Association (1943-2016).
Edward Pettinella ’73 Trading Room
Members of the Student Managed Investment Fund, who often outperform the pros on investments, make their strategies and trades from the Edward Pettinella ’73 Trading Room in the School of Business. One such student was Jonathan Drabek ’18, now an assistant vice president of environmental and social risk management at Citigroup. The room features Bloomberg terminals, live stock exchange updates and space to work and was collectively funded by alumni, faculty and friends, including Geneseo Foundation board members. It’s named for past Geneseo Foundation Board chair Edward Pettinella ’73, whose major endowment gift supports the annual operating costs of the trading room.
In 2020–2021, Geneseo had more than 4,800 students, 475 of whom could more easily buy books, focus on their studies and find support through scholarships. Private gifts to the foundation have created 164 endowed scholarship funds for students, which ensures the continuation of scholarships for years to come. Endowed funds are invested, and the accrued interest — not the principal amount — is used to provide scholarships each year.
Faculty Incentive Awards and Development
Thanks to donors who make gifts to the general fund or “where needs are greatest,” Geneseo’s Office of Sponsored Research can offer research awards to faculty. In 2021, Geneseo provided 287 student and faculty awards or grants, supporting undergraduate travel, research, creativity grants, assistantships and fellowships. One example: A faculty incentive grant made it possible for three students to study toxic algal blooms in Conesus Lake with Isidro Bosch, professor of biology.
Geneseo Athletic Teams
Have you ever cheered at an Ice Knights game or yelled from the soccer stands? All Geneseo’s athletic programs rely on gifts to support student experiences and successful seasons. Since fall 2014, the Knights have won five State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Commissioner’s Cups and 57 SUNYAC Championships. Many improvements are made through donor support.
One example: Dan Loughran ’86 made a gift to create the George H. Loughran endowment, which supports athletic initiatives such as a major upgrade to the gym floor in the Myrtle A. Merritt Athletic Center.
Geneseo Dance Ensemble.
Now in its 54th year, the Geneseo Dance Ensemble, directed by Professor of Dance Studies Jonette Lancos, is supported by donors, including local businesses. Performances feature works by student choreographers.
GREAT Day — Geneseo Recognizing Excellence, Achievement and Talent — is a college-wide, annual symposium that celebrates the creative and scholarly endeavors of students. Jack Kramer ’76 and Carol Patterson Kramer ’76 support many of the GREAT Day student activities, including the annual keynote lecture, which hosts leading experts on topics from science to dance and history. Last April, astrophysicist Adam Frank presented “Light of the Stars: Seeing Climate Change and the Human Future in Our Universe Awash in Worlds.”
Thanks to donor support, leading experts on global issues, science and current events present topics to the Geneseo community and public each year.
The American Rock Salt Lecture partners with the geology department to bring scientists and experts in their field, from volcanology to space exploration, to campus every year. The lectures are made possible through gifts from Joseph G. Bucci ’67 and Elaine Tramontana Bucci ’66. Joseph Bucci was a former Geneseo Foundation board member and co-founder of American Rock Salt company in Mt. Morris, NY. This year’s lecture, “Short Scientific Stories from the Galapagos Islands,” was presented by volcanologist Karen Harpp, professor of geology and peace conflict studies at Colgate University.
The James Jeremiah Wadsworth Lecture was established through an endowment gift from former foundation board member Alice Wadsworth Strong and her husband, Trowbridge Strong. The public lecture series is named in honor of Alice Strong’s father, former United Nations ambassador James J. Wadsworth, as a memorial to his life of public service and quest for world peace. Renowned speakers in the series include past U.S. presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, as well as Lesley Stahl, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.
The Kenneth Roemer Lecture on World Affairs is endowed by Spencer J. Roemer, director emeritus of Geneseo admissions, in his brother Kenneth’s name as a memorial to his interest in global issues. In April 2021, Kathryn Hochstetler, professor of international development at the London School of Economics and Political Science, presented “Responsibilities in Transition: Emerging Powers in the Climate Change Negotiations.”
Men’s Ice Hockey
The Ice Knights, reigning SUNYAC champions, enjoy a newly renovated locker room thanks to a major gift from Larry Gaus ’84 and Lisa Mollica Gaus ’84. This gift also included funds for an endowment to support Geneseo athletics. In recognition, the men’s ice hockey locker room was named for the Gaus family.
Among the many donors supporting music programs and scholarships are SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Music Bob Isgro and his spouse, Mary Isgro. Their most recent gift created an endowment to support all academically recognized chorus ensembles of Geneseo, from artists-in-residence and voice lessons to performances and tours.
Physics and Astronomy Research
Students work with professors to unravel the mysteries of lithium production in stars or understand how aerosols react with light in the atmosphere. The department recently won a national award for excellence in undergraduate education from the American Physical Society. Donor support provides funding and scholarships, including the Padalino-McKenna Endowment Fund and the Dr. Jerry D. Reber Student-Faculty Research Fund.
Greg Roloff ’12 found his passion to fight cancer through his work on a research project with SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Biology Robert O’Donnell. The research project was made possible through an endowed gift to create the Carl Savino ’50 and Olga Gerych-Savino ’53 Research Fund, which supports biology projects for cancer-related research at Geneseo. Today, Roloff is a resident physician at Loyola Medicine in Chicago and has worked with cancer researchers at the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute. Many research opportunities are made possible through gifts from donors like the Savinos.
Spencer J. Roemer Arboretum
As you walk through nature in the Spencer J. Roemer Arboretum, you will see 70 species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers, including a group of oak trees more than 200 years old. The arboretum was made possible through an endowed gift to The Geneseo Foundation by Spencer J. Roemer, director emeritus of admissions at Geneseo and member of The Geneseo Foundation Board of Directors.
Student Managed Investment Fund
The Student Managed Investment Fund was founded by a small group of dedicated donors in 2007, including School of Business alums and Geneseo Foundation board members, who provided $15,000 seed money for students to reinvest. The students regularly outperform professional investment firms and between September 2020 and May 2021 pulled a 19.01 percent return on investments — bringing in approximately $72,000.
Study Abroad connects students to transformational experiences around the world. Today, more than 40 percent of all Geneseo students will study internationally before they graduate, choosing from more than 600 programs, with more than 50 led by Geneseo faculty. Many students receive help from donors like Lynn Melizzi Kennison ’81 and Weston Kennison ’79, adjunct lecturer in the departments of English and languages and literatures and faculty fellow for International Programs, who support an annual scholarship for study abroad in Italy.
Read the recent Scene story about transformational study abroad experiences.
Students taking a first-year research lab with Kevin Militello, professor of biology, investigate the genetic mechanisms controlling antibiotic sensitivity, which aid in an understanding of drug-resistant superbugs. Professor Militello was awarded a donor-funded supported professorship, established to provide eligible faculty members with an annual grant for a three-year appointment to design and teach one course and deliver one college-wide lecture. Supported professorships include the Dr. Spencer J. Roemer Supported Professorship, the Dr. James and Julia Lockhart Endowed Supported Professorship, and the Dr. William R. Cook Supported Professorship.
Theatre and Dance Scholarships.
Geneseo also has seven endowed theatre and dance scholarships established by donors, which recognize creative talent, innovative projects and excellence in the arts. They are examples of the numerous scholarships that can be found in other departments as well.
Transitional Opportunity Program
For academically talented students who are from minority, underrepresented or first-generation families, scholarships are available for students participating in the Transitional Opportunity Program (TOP). The Greg ’64 and Elizabeth O’Connell Family Endowment supports TOP and underrepresented and underserved students with a preference for students living in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
The School of Business entrepreneurship and networking program was created through a $2.5 million dollar gift from the late Charles L. VanArsdale, former president of the Bank of Castile, to help students learn to build high-tech, soft-tech or low-tech, start-up companies. One of those students, Benjamin Conard ’16, launched Five North, a Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate business, while participating in VentureWorks. His company was named one of 2016’s Top 10 Biggest Fairtrade Advocates in the World by Fairtrade International.