Leadership Luncheon Recognizes Outstanding Donors and Alumni

The award winners of the 2018 Leadership Luncheon pose for a group photo. Front row: Eileen Ossen, Patricia McGrath (Geraldine Spillane’s daughter), Geraldine Spillane, Eastern President Elsa Núñez, Jack Spillane, Sean Spillane, Ken DeLisa, Vice President. Back row: Lorraine Scanlon (Mike’s wife), Mike Scanlon, and Debra Spillane

Written by Ed Osborn

A spirit of celebration and good will was in the air when Eastern Connecticut State University held its annual President’s Leadership Awards Luncheon on March 16 to honor the University’s leadership level supporters. The luncheon is Eastern’s premier donor appreciation event of the year and also recognizes the University’s most distinguished Eastern alumni. An appreciative crowd of Eastern supporters enjoyed this year’s event in the Fine Arts Center’s Susan Sukman McCray Foyer, named after a major donor to the University’s Theatre Program.

Ken DeLisa, vice president for institutional advancement, opened the luncheon by speaking to the University’s fundraising achievements of the past year. Total giving to the ECSU Foundation, Inc., exceeded $2 million for the sixth straight year, with student scholarship awards totaling $2.1 million over the past four years.  Projected scholarship awards in fiscal year 2019 will approach a record $700,000.

In recognizing the awardees as well as the many donors present, DeLisa said, “Because of your professional achievements, personal philanthropy and unwavering commitment to Eastern, you inspire our passion for higher education. You serve as role models for our students and you create opportunities for them to succeed.”

In her remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núñez told the audience that their generosity was contributing to Eastern’s improved reputation, indicating that the University had entered the ranks of the top 25 universities in the North Region for the first time in last fall’s U.S. News and World Report “Best Colleges” rankings. Eastern was also the only public institution in New England named a “Great College to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education, and was named a Green College by The Princeton Review for the eighth year in a row. 

Núñez also noted the growing philanthropy of Eastern supporters. “Since I arrived here 12 years ago, we have added 52 new endowed scholarships totaling $6.7 million; we have doubled the number of donors making annual gifts of $1,000 or more; and the percentage of alumni making gifts has grown from three percent to nine percent, the highest giving percentage among Connecticut’s four state universities, and higher than private institutions such as the University of Hartford, Sacred Heart University and Quinnipiac University.”  

In applauding the generosity of leadership donors, Núñez said, “Your contributions to student scholarships make a world of difference in the lives of the individual students who benefit from your generosity.  Over time, endowed scholarships at Eastern will benefit not only the thousands of students you are helping to fulfill their personal dreams, but will also have a great impact on Connecticut and our great American Democracy. As John F. Kennedy said in 1961, ‘Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream, which fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.’”

Following the luncheon service, Núñez was joined by Justin Murphy Esq., president of the ECSU Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors, to announce this year’s awards.

Elinore McCance-Katz ’78 was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award.  A graduate of Eastern’s Biology program, McCance-Katz has been a national leader in mental health and addiction policy for decades, and recently was appointed as the assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC. She is the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

In addition to her Eastern degree, she holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and an M.D. from the University of Connecticut.  Prior to her federal appointment, McCance-Katz held senior medical officer positions in Rhode Island, Virginia and California, and has taught at Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, the University of Texas and other universities.

Michael Scanlon ’75 (right) received the Distinguished Service Award. Justin Murphy, president of the ECSU Foundation Board of Directors, and Eastern President Elsa Nunez join him for a photo.

Michael Scanlon ’75 received the Distinguished Service Award.  A native of Manchester, CT, Scanlon earned his M.S. in organic chemistry from the University of Connecticut, and went on to have a distinguished management career in the chemical engineering industry. In addition to years of service as a member and later as president of the ECSU Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors, Scanlon and his wife Lorraine volunteer for Meals on Wheels in their hometown of Redding, CT, and are active with the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, site of the historic Woodstock music festival in New York State.

“I am truly humbled and honored to be recognized today,” said Scanlon. “I was blessed with a quality education at Eastern, where I learned the value of social responsibility and how to think critically in real-world settings.” A first-generation college student, Scanlon followed three friends to Eastern, where he majored in biology. He thanked several professors who had inspired and supported him, including two — retired Mathematics Professor Steve Kenton and retired Chemistry Professor Max Ferguson — who were on hand to congratulate him.  “Some of my best years were at Eastern,” concluded Scanlon, sharing that the day was also he and his wife’s 27th wedding anniversary.

The Hermann Beckert “Friend of the University” Award was given to Rheo Brouillard, recently retired President and CEO of the SI Financial Group, Inc., a role he assumed in 2004 after being the president of the Savings Institute Bank and Trust (SIBT) since 1995.  Under Brouillard’s leadership, SIBT has contributed more than $60,000 to support Eastern students and University initiatives.

Through the SI Financial Group Foundation, established in 2005, Brouillard and his colleagues have also provided financial support for local organizations such as the Covenant Soup Kitchen, Camp Horizons, and the Northeast Connecticut Community Development Corporation, which is providing safe, affordable housing for local Windham residents and working to revitalize downtown Willimantic.

Eileen Ossen speaks on behalf of her family foundation after receiving the ECSU Foundation’s Board of Director’s Award.

Local philanthropist Eileen Ossen and the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation received the Foundation’s Board of Director’s Award. Jeffrey Ossen, a local businessman who built a successful company in the manufactured housing industry, passed away in 2007. A lifelong philanthropist, Ossen made a $500,000 leadership gift that led to building the $8.5 million Jeffrey P. Ossen Emergency Center at Windham Community Memorial Hospital. 

Ossen’s widow Eileen has continued her late husband’s work through the Jeffrey P. Ossen Foundation, which has been instrumental in creating and supporting a variety of endowed scholarships at Eastern. The scholarships have a cumulative balance of $240,000 and have supported 53 students with scholarships ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 each of the past three years.

“I believe in Windham and Willimantic,” said Eileen Ossen in accepting the award. “Supporting education is the best way to help this community, because it can empower our residents to fulfill their dreams for a better life. Jeff would have a light in his eye if he saw how many young people we are helping through the foundation.”

The Spillane family: (first row) Jack Spillane, Geraldine (Shea) Spillane ’57, Debra Spillane (Sean Spillane’s wife), Patricia McGrath (Geraldine Spillane’s daughter). Second row: Sean Spillane, nephew Steve Spillane.

Pawcatuck, CT, resident Geri (Shea) Spillane, Class of 1957, her brother-in-law Jack Spillane, and his son, Sean Spillane, were honored with the ECSU Foundation’s Distinguished Donor Award. Gerry Spillane’s late husband, Robert “Buddy” Spillane ’56, served as superintendent of schools in Boston, as well as in school districts in Virginia, New York and New Jersey. He later worked as the European regional officer for the U.S. State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools. 

In addition to his distinguished career in education, Buddy Spillane served on the ECSU Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors for more than a decade, and was the first recipient of the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1969.

Following his passing in 2015, Spillane’s brother Jack, and nephew Sean, joined with Geri Spillane to create an endowed scholarship in Buddy’s honor, and have funded it with gifts in excess of $150,000. Sean and Jack Spillane are successful businessmen in the Minneapolis, MN, area, and Jack serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing.

In speaking for his family, Jack Spillane recounted how he and his brother grew up on High Street in Willimantic upstairs from what is now Blarney’s Cafe. In the 1950s, the family ran a lunch counter on the first floor of the building. “The Campus Shoppe” was frequented by many Eastern students at the time, including Buddy Spillane’s future wife, Geraldine Shea.

“Bud’s heart was in this school,” said Jack Spillane, “and we are pleased that we can create a long-lasting legacy for him at Eastern.  Bud is not gone . . . he is still in all the places where he made an impact.”

In concluding the day’s festivities, DeLisa thanked the donors in attendance: “You honor Eastern through your continued faith in the University and your ongoing commitment to giving our students access to all the opportunity that comes with higher education.”