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Published on February 27, 2020

Steady Support from Faithful Donors

Front row: Ann Gruenberg MS ’80, Mary Shea Sweeney ’54 and Kathleen Fabian ’72. Back row: William Strouse ’63, Matthew Abel ’14 and Jennifer Reid Morrison ’84.

Eastern Connecticut State University has been fortunate to receive support for student scholarships and other programs from donors who have maintained their generous giving over the years.

Jennifer Reid Morrison ’84 easily explains why she has remained a donor year after year: “I like Eastern’s philosophy.  It builds a community of lifelong learners,” she says. “I felt a part of something.  Kind of a home away from home.”

Morrison grew up in West Haven, graduated from West Haven High School in 1979 and has lived in the greater New Haven area throughout her life.  She earned her Eastern degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Psychology and is a proud member of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for Education majors. 

She entered the work force after graduation at a time when teaching jobs were hard to find in Connecticut. Not wanting to move out of state, she landed a job with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut.  In this role, she taught senior citizens how to secure the best supplementary health insurance policies to augment their Medicare coverage.

For more than 18 years, Morrison has been a recreation therapy coordinator for Masonicare at Ashar Village, in the assisted living recreation department known as “Pond Ridge” in Wallingford, CT. 

She feels her Eastern education helped her develop communication skills to find a niche working with senior citizens.  “In my life senior citizens have played such an important role.  I communicate well with them.”

Mike Pernal came to Eastern in 1969 as a counselor and education instructor and was later promoted to assistant professor. He retired in 2013 after serving the University for 44 years.

“When I was first asked as an employee to make a contribution in support of Eastern and its students, I regarded it as an obligation that I was happy to undertake,” Pernal recalls.  “As the years went on, this sense of obligation changed to a feeling of pride for playing a small but important part of Eastern’s transformation into a quality liberal arts institution.  As a retiree, I retain this sense of pride and look forward to continuing my support each year.”

Over the years, Pernal’s dedicated service to the University included appointments as director of financial aid and veterans affairs (1972–77), dean of personnel administration (1977–88) executive dean (1988–98) and executive vice president (1998–2013). In 2006 he served as interim president between the administrations of David Carter and Elsa Núñez.

Pernal’s commitment to philanthropy was also evident by his leadership role in Eastern’s participation in the March of Dimes Walk America, serving as Windham Area co-chair for two years; the American Cancer Society Relay for Life; and the State of Connecticut Employees Charitable Campaign, which he coordinated for more than 15 years.

Kathleen Fabian ’72 majored in Educational Studies but saw herself better suited to the role of an administrator than that of a teacher.  Not long after she graduated from Eastern, she was working for a software company and thought it would be a good idea to take some computer classes at Manchester Community College (MCC).  She found the classes to be interesting and eventually was approached about applying for an administrative position at MCC that required data processing experience.  “The job description could have been written for me,” she says, and she was hired as assistant registrar. “Every student had to come and see me once each semester to register for classes, so I saw everyone on campus.” 

Eventually Fabian came to Eastern where she served as registrar for more than 20 years.  Since her retirement, she has remained active as a volunteer, serving on the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association and the ECSU Foundation, Inc., and volunteering for alumni events throughout the year.

“I always thought of giving to Eastern as the right thing to do, and it became easy because of payroll deduction.  During my years here, I saw the growth of the campus, and the encouragement that faculty and staff gave to the students.  Eastern faculty were teachers and they cared.  The campus was intimate, and allowed me to grow.”

Her parents were able to pay for Fabian’s schooling at Eastern, but she also saw how important giving was to the students she saw in her role as registrar, and it remains a big motivator for her philanthropy.  “I want to help students to be able to come here.”

Robert Strouse ’63 was president of the Class of 1963, and is married to the former Judith Dolan who graduated from Eastern in 1965.  He has very fond memories of his years on campus and his classmates.  “We were all training to become teachers, and we were all very close.  There couldn’t have been more than 75 in our graduating class, so we did everything together.”  He and Judy married after his graduation, and he began his career teaching junior high school science in Waterford, going on to become an assistant principal and then a principal in the Groton Public Schools. 

“Eastern gave me a good education, and the overall environment really nurtured me and gave me the foundation for all the success that I had as a teacher and administrator.” 

Strause remains close with many of his classmates and was among the group that came back to campus for their 55th Reunion in 2018. His father was an attorney and graduated from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.  “He was so connected with Lafayette and made it a point to stay connected and to donate money to the school every year, and that’s what I learned from him.  He instilled in me that giving back to your school was important.” 

When Eastern began soliciting donations by mail years after they graduated, the Strauses knew immediately they were going to help.  “I sent a check in response to that first letter, and I’ve been giving ever since,” says Robert, “and I’m going to continue giving every year until I die.” 

John Sweeney, Mary Shea and Dr. Núñez.

Stanley Morytko Jr. ’74 attended Alumni Day in fall 1984 after being laid off from Electric Boat that August. He went to a seminar for people seeking employment, and afterwards spoke to the woman running the seminar. He returned the following week and she identified several companies that might want to hire him.  Within months he was hired by the Air Force Plant Representative Office at Pratt & Whitney and was later reassigned to another defense agency, working 27 years for the government. “I was so grateful that the Eastern Placement Office was there for me when I needed it the most,” Morytko says, “and I have been giving back ever since.” 

He comes from a long line of Eastern alumni, including his cousin Thomas Morytko ’64, the first family member to graduate from Eastern, who was a teacher in the Windham School System and later became a vice principal in the Hartford School System. Other family members who are alumni include cousin Peter Morytko ’72; Peter’s wife Barbara ’70; second cousin Mark Morytko ’88 and his brother Michael ’92 and sister Laura ’92; and Stanley’s stepson Steven Dickau ’05 and his sister Angela ’18.

Stanley credits his late friend Brian Massey ’68, who he worked with at Electric Boat, for encouraging him to join the alumni association in 1979: “It was through the alumni newsletter that I was aware of the seminar in fall 1984.  Thanks to Brian, the woman at the Placement Center and divine intervention!”

Roger Abell ’70 started with Potter’s Oil in 1958.  During the 1960s, he fluctuated between part-time and full-time employment status while an Eastern student, graduating with a degree in mathematics.  He took over the company in 1990 with his wife, Tina, following the death of Baron Bray and the retirement of Louise Potter.  

Abell’s great aunt Clara Loomis Abell was the first family member to graduate from Eastern when she earned her diploma from Willimantic State Normal School in 1900. 

Since then the family has enjoyed many Commencement exercises at Eastern.  Roger and Tina watched their son, Matthew, graduate in 2014 and their youngest son, Eric, will graduate this coming May. Their daughter Lori graduated in 1990 with a Business Administration major.

“We all thank Eastern for providing us with a great academic foundation to the world beyond the classroom,” says Abell.  “It has been my honor to be a part of Eastern’s annual giving campaign for the past 30 years, supporting its continued growth and lending a helping hand to the next generation of students.”

Abell was also a member of the ECSU Foundation Board for many years.  “It was my great honor to serve on the Eastern Foundation Board and be part of its dynamic growth.”

Mary Shea Sweeney ’54 has a connection to Eastern and the teaching profession that runs deep.  Her mother, Eileen Sullivan Shea, graduated from Willimantic State Normal School in 1918 and taught in Colchester for more than 35 years. 

An October 2018 Norwich Bulletin story noted that the Shea family had devoted a staggering 203 years to teaching. 

Mary lived in Bozrah for 62 years, raising seven children with her husband, Paul.  Her daughter, Sheila Sweeney Hummel ’83 is the director of the Small Business Development Office for the State of Connecticut.  Mary’s son, John, served as Eastern’s associate vice president for finance for 10 years before being appointed senior vice president/CFO at Providence College in 2010.   He was chosen as Providence Business News (PBN) “CFO of the Year” in 2016. 

“Philanthropy was instilled in me by my parents and we tried to instill it in our family,” says Mary. “My husband died in 1996 but we always contributed to his alma mater, Boston College, and my two colleges, Eastern and St. Joe’s, because education was always so important to us.  We started this trend and I have continued it year after year.”

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” says Mary.  “Julie Bartman, my principal at Bacon Academy, planted the seed and two teachers who I admired — Ms. Okerfelt and Ms. Nelson —were both St. Joseph College graduates (now the University of St. Joseph).  That is why I went to St. Joe’s to get my first teaching degree.”

Ann Gruenberg MS ’80 calls herself “an accidental academic” yet ended up spending 25 years teaching in the Education Department part time and then as a full-time professor specializing in early childhood and special education. She says she especially enjoyed placing student teachers in classrooms taught by Eastern alumni and likes staying in touch with former students to this day. “I continue to bump into alumni in various places—on committees and boards.”

Gruenberg got her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education before going on to the University of Connecticut for her master’s degree in special education and then her doctorate.  Her involvement with education prior to joining Eastern’s Education Department included working as a Title I tutor in Plainfield, making home visits in greater Hartford to see children with developmental challenges, and teaching part time in community colleges. She even recalls working in Keeler Hall, the original home of Eastern’s Early Childhood Education program.

Gruenberg retired from Eastern in 2015 but stays busy volunteering, including a stint as president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. She is proud to be a steady donor to the ECSU Foundation, Inc. — “I have some pretty deep roots in Eastern” — and applauds the University’s longstanding commitment to serving local communities, as well as the personal connections that are possible due to Eastern’s scale.

“Eastern has retained its value and character—it’s very distinctive, and keeps people involved and motivated to stay.” As to her philosophy on philanthropy, “I think it’s important for people to know that there are different ways to support organizations they appreciate.” She says her own giving represents “the gratitude that I felt for having been a student here and then getting a job here.”