On Nov. 7, the President’s Leadership Awards Luncheon was held in the J. Eugene Smith Library at Eastern Connecticut State University to honor and thank the university’s “leadership level” donors. The luncheon is the premiere donor appreciation event of the year; in addition to recognizing Eastern’s top donors, the event also honored several distinguished Eastern alumni.
Opening the luncheon program was Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “So why are we here today? Quite simply, we are here to say ‘thank you,’” she said. “I am also here especially to bring thanks from the hundreds of Eastern students who, without your support, might not be walking our halls, sitting in our classrooms and working tirelessly to achieve their goals as scholars and budding professionals.”
Ken DeLisa, vice president for institutional advancement, spoke to the fundraising achievements of the current year. “With students facing unparalleled needs, your generosity resulted in our being able to award an all-time high of $750,000 in ECSU Foundation Scholarships to more than 300 deserving students!” he said.
Following the luncheon service, awards were presented to three alumni, one friend of the university, one individual donor and one financial institution.
Dr. Zygmunt Francis Dembek ’72, an epidemiologist and biochemist with more than 30 years of state and military service, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. Dembek spoke of his own experience on the receiving end of philanthropy. “The son of immigrants, I come from a humble economic background,” he said. “I would not be where I am today if not for the state programs that provided me with financial aid to attend Eastern.”
The second Distinguished Alumni Award went to Kathy Regan-Pyne ’79, whose career includes positions in education, human resources and career development. Most recently, she is a member of the tribal governing body of the Mohegan Tribe. A decorated Eastern athlete, Regan-Pyne said, “Eastern’s coaches and educators have made me a better person. My journey here began more than 35 years ago and continues today.”
Alumnus Edward J. Giard ’00, whose relationship with Eastern began as a graduate student, earned the Distinguished Service Award for his parish work in churches and volunteerism throughout Connecticut. “Eastern gives to its students a love of learning and passion for service,” he said. “Midway through my career, Eastern gave me an opportunity to earn a master’s degree in organizational management, which helps me to better serve now.”
Ray Aramini earned the Hermann Beckert Friend of the University Award for his commitment to students as a role model, mentor and assistant coach of the rugby club. Aramini stresses character and work ethic as much as sport, and said, “We might not have anyone on the team that will become a professional player, but they will all become professionals.”
The ECSU Foundation Distinguished Donor Award went to alumna Mary Lou Corbett DeVivo ’60, whose involvement with Eastern includes an endowed scholarship and participation in boards and a number of campus events. “Our family has been at Eastern a long time,” she said. “My mother was first here to become a teacher, I was the second generation, my son graduated from here, and I hope one of my grandchildren will be the fourth generation to graduate from Eastern!”
Finally, the ECSU Foundation Board of Directors Distinguished Donor Award went to First Niagara Bank. Jim Bzdyra, senior vice president and market executive for First Niagara Bank’s New England region, accepted the award. “We greatly value our relationship with Eastern,” he said. “First Niagara has made supporting quality education initiatives a key philanthropic focus area, and Eastern Connecticut State University is an institution that we are proud to support.”
“Thank you to this group of exceptional alumni and friends who we have honored today, and to everyone who has contributed to our success,” said DeLisa. “We are humbled by your faith in us, and by your commitment to giving our students the important support that will allow them to continue on a path to graduation and to success in their careers.”