Relationships. Connections. These two ideas came to life for me in very meaningful ways starting with Reunion 2013. This was my husband Jerry’s ’77 35th cluster reunion, so many of our long-time Oswego friends returned to campus, and we shared memories and laughter galore, the joys that really only happen with those people with whom you have long-time relationships and experiences.
During Reunion Weekend, the Board of Directors of the Oswego Alumni Association holds its annual meeting. Board member Judy Letvak ’83, one of Oswego’s most loyal cheerleaders, ambassadors and advocates, was with us for the last time. She was unable to attend most of the Reunion Weekend activities, but she did attend the Board meeting.
Very unexpectedly, Judy passed away just two weeks later. The outpouring from alumni—fellow Board members, her wide circle of close friends from the ’80s who still gather annually, and recent alumni friends she had mentored in their post-Oswego job searches—was testament both to Judy and to the power of relationships and connections we make at Oswego.
The relationship Jerry and I have with magazine cover feature George Wurtz ’78 and his wife, Nancy, goes back more than 30 years —when we were all young, newly married and starting families and careers. George and Nancy lived in Fulton, where George started what was the beginning of a successful career in industry at Miller Brewing. Nancy was my Lamaze teacher and the nurse who helped deliver our first two children.
George and Nancy moved away in the mid-1980s, but we have reconnected as George has engaged with Oswego and our students in many meaningful ways.
And then there is this issue of the magazine. When Michele Reed, our most recent editor, retired last spring, we had to move quickly to ensure we continued to get OSWEGO in the hands of our readers without interruption! We reached out to our two previous editors, Denise Owen Harrigan—“Denny” to those of us in the Alumni Office—and Linda Morley Loomis ’90 M ’97. They enthusiastically agreed to sign on, along with Michele, to produce this, “the alumni editors reunion” issue.
It’s been a joy to reconnect with Denny and remember when we worked together in the Alumni Office in the ’80s and ’90s—and to see Linda again almost daily as she shepherded this issue to print.
So, my message? Cherish your friendships, relationships and connections. Don’t wait to reconnect. Come back to your next Oswego reunion, reach out and encourage those you knew when you were here to come back too. In the meantime, reconnect with friends and classmates through our new and improved OsweGoConnect online alumni community!
(This excerpt from Someone, a work of fiction, is set in the aftermath of World War II. In this chapter, author Alice McDermott ’75 writes about a returned airman telling his near-death story and explaining his miraculous reprieve. McDermott’s lyrical novel examines an ordinary woman’s life as it is lived day by day in an Irish-American Brooklyn neighborhood.)
His parachute training, Tom said, had been short and perfunctory, and after a few easy missions, he’d stopped even imagining himself jumping out of a plane. When the order came, the plane shuddering—like a subway car going over cobblestones, he said—he gripped the door. He seriously considered just hanging on. Going down with the ship. But then he felt a push from behind and then he dropped into the worst nightmare anybody ever had: cloud, smoke, the thick smell of the fuel. A dream’s endless falling.
He laughed telling it, as if it were a joke and the joke was on him.
He said he only remembered after he had pulled the parachute cord—touching his forehead in a comic gesture of despair—that he was supposed to count to ten before he pulled it, not after. And then he counted anyway, a second too late.
And then out of the noise of the worst and loudest sound he had ever heard and hoped never to hear again he fell into dead silence. Nothing at all, he said—and held out his hands and made his eyes wide to replicate his astonishment.
So suddenly quiet that he thought his ears were blown out for good. He saw the air was now blue and there was a serene patchwork world beneath him. Even children running across a churchyard, into a field, and he thought—“I kid you not” he said in his the-joke’s-on-me way—“now, this isn’t so bad. I could get used to this.”
The children were the first to reach him when he fell, tumbling back to the hard earth, busting up his shoulder, breaking his wrist.
“But those kids,” he said, “That was the luck of the Irish, it turned out.”
Because, he said, the next thing he knew a mad old Kraut was pointing a Luger at his head, so close that he could smell the hot metal. “He was in a tizzy,” Tom said. “Mad as hell,” and he apologized to my mother for his language. “I couldn’t understand anything he said but ‘kinder,’ waving the goddamn gun”—he apologized again—“and telling me, I guess, that he’d like to blow my brains out except for the kids who were there, all around us.
He even tried to chase them away, but they were having too much fun, throwing little handfuls of mud in my direction, yelling their heads off. So much excitement. You know how kids are.” He laughed and touched his fingers to the teacup. “The crazy old Kraut had enough decency not to want to shoot me in front of them.”
My mother put her hands to her lips and said, “Glory be.”
Tom gave a self-deprecating wave of his hand. “Well,” he said. “To make a long story short, a German officer showed up—officer hell, he looked all of eighteen—and gave the old man Hail Columbia in German, and then told me in English to get out of the harness and follow him—mach schnell—if I wanted to live. It took me a few minutes to get it. I thought I was already dead.”
He laughed again. He was enjoying our attention. He was a man who loved to talk.
“This fellow grabbed me under the arm. I was still wobbly-kneed, shaking like a leaf. He told me the old man was crazy, crazy with grief. He’d learned just the day before that his son, his only child, a German airman, had been killed by the Allies. So he was out for revenge. He would have put a bullet in my head if those kids hadn’t been there.”
“An eye for an eye,” my brother said.
Tom sat forward. He shook his head. “But here’s the thing.” He was smiling oddly, with less mirth than before. “Here’s the way I looked at it. If the old guy had shot me, then and there, it wouldn’t have been the same. It wouldn’t have been equal.”
He turned to my mother, as if she alone needed an explanation. “I was an orphan, you see,” he told her. “A Foundling Home kid. I had no father to grieve me. So it wouldn’t have evened out, if he’d shot me right then and there. There would have been no counterpart, no American counterpart, so to speak, to match that poor old Kraut and his grief. There still would have been more pain on his side of it. The pain of a father losing a child. There wouldn’t have been any pain like that on my side, since I had no father.
So it wouldn’t have been equal.”
There was an awkward silence. And then my brother said softly, “We’re all of equal value in the eyes of God.”
Tom turned to him with some admiration. “Well, that’s a nicer way to think of it,” he said. He said, “That’s a good point,” and smiled again before he added, “But that don’t mean some of us won’t leave this world without anyone much taking notice.”
AS CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER FOR PYRAMID Management Group, one of the largest and most innovative real estate developers in the Northeast, Robert Utter ’93 possesses a precise and comprehensive understanding of the factors that lead to success and fulfillment, whether for an individual, a company, or a country. He sees SUNY Oswego as poised to make a fundamental difference in the future of its graduates, as well as for the nation and the world, and that’s why he has made a leadership gift to Oswego.
“What makes this country great is the opportunity available to all of us,” says Utter, a steadfast supporter of The Fund for Oswego who invites his fellow alumni to follow his example in providing the financial support that will make that opportunity possible. “But now more than ever, in retaining our status in the international market, we have to stay competitive. We have to help motivate and support the entrepreneurial spirit in our talented and highly skilled young people.”
That all starts with a great education, Utter affirms, like the one he gained as an accounting major in Oswego’s School of Business and continued to build on as a young professional. “We all need to ensure that kind of quality education continues to grow and flourish,” says Utter, pointing to the valuable opportunities for practical application along with the diversity and professionalism of the faculty as highlights of his Oswego education. “With today’s economic pressures, and the escalating costs of private education, the value of a public education is more compelling than ever. Let’s do what we can to make it the best that we can.”
STUDENTS DURING LAST SUMMER’S HOLLYWOOD POV had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of Janice Simcoe ’83, who was happy to share her unique
point of view from her exciting role with one of the world’s best-known brands.
As the account director for Disney’s Yellow Shoes Creative Group, Simcoe handles marketing and promotion of the entertainment giant’s parks and resorts.
Simcoe works with the internal creative team to create an experience that is appealing and exciting for everyone. “I spend half the day in the office, and half the day in the park.”
“There is an effect that people get in our parks that they don’t get anywhere else,” said Simcoe, “It’s exciting to see how people react.”
While she was at Oswego, Simcoe was very interested in both business management and advertising. “I love the strategic side of the business, but I also love being close to the creative.”
A broadcasting major, Simcoe originally aspired to break into a career in production. She landed her first job as an administrative assistant at a small-time ad agency, eventually becoming manager of advertising administration at Fisher-Price in Buffalo.
Since then Simcoe has worked out of each of Disney’s three major resorts over the past 13 years, including a stint in Paris. She said her experience in Oswego’s London exchange program gave her confidence she could be comfortable spending three years overseas.
Her time at Oswego powered her career in many other ways as well.
“Oswego gave you the opportunity to try so many things,” Simcoe said. “The experience is very hands-on.
“You can try things and decide what you want to pursue,” she said.
“I would never have predicted where I was going from Oswego,” said Simcoe. “I wanted [Hollywood POV students] to see what happened to someone who was in their shoes.”
Hollywood POV allows students to get inside access to the entertainment industry. The highly competitive 3-week summer course concludes with 10 days of field experience in Hollywood, an opportunity for students to network and gain insight into show business.
Last year 18 students had the opportunity to visit entertainment icons such as Nickelodeon Animation Studios, The Academy of TV Arts & Sciences, Warner Brothers Studios and more.
Since the program’s inception in 2005, students of all majors have been provided with visits to “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “Scrubs,” FX network and dozens of other household name productions.
Simcoe advised the visiting students to “Try different things to see what works and what you love,” emphasizing how careers often start in the most unusual places. “Just start somewhere and be enthusiastic,” Simcoe said. “Be a positive force.”
—Tyler J. Edic ’13 and
Shane M. Liebler
COOKING IS A BIG DEAL TO MAUREEN O’DONNELL SANCHEZ ’87. She sells luxury ingredients to Chicagoland restaurants, she blogs about her family’s kitchen adventures and Feb. 24, she competed in front of a national television audience on Food Network’s “Chopped.”
“Chopped” tests chefs’ skill, speed and ingenuity. Each week, four chefs compete before a panel of expert judges and turn baskets of mystery ingredients into a three-course meal.
“It was an incredible experience to be in front of all those cameras and be in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar ingredients and cooking in front of celebrity chefs,” said Sanchez, who gained appreciation of great food starting with paella dinners at the home of Professor Emeritus Pedro Diez Del Rio as a child.
Sanchez was a familiar face on campus and in the community as a student, working at Penfield Library and tending bar at Old City Hall.
A Spanish major at Oswego, Sanchez started out in customer service at a Cambridge software developer and she continued in different capacities for different companies as she found herself on the move from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Raleigh, before finding a career that truly fits her tastes. Today Sanchez sells delicacies like truffles and caviar to high-end restaurants in Chicago and beyond.
At home in Oswego, Ill., she and her husband, Gene, are devotees of scratch cooking, focusing on using often self-grown, unprocessed ingredients to create healthy gourmet meals for their three children.
Sanchez’s TV aspirations went well beyond her love of cooking. Although she didn’t become the “Chopped” Champion, “It was a great opportunity to get press for my sister,” said Sanchez, who has become an advocate for missing persons during a decades-long search for her sister, Judith Erin O’Donnell. Last seen in November 1980, Judy has influenced Sanchez to pursue her passions. “Judy has provided the lens. The rest of the noise and distractions fall off and you can focus on what’s important once you find it.”
—Shane M. Liebler
Getting Away With It
I stole. It’s hard to believe those two little words follow a man around for 28 years like a shadow but they do. Do the right thing and you forget it in a day, do the wrong thing and you regret it for years. And you can try to justify what you did; rationalize it away but the harder you push it away, the more it sticks. I’ve found guilt seldom has anything to do with courtrooms and trials because in the end we are all our own judge and jury. As long as you know what you did there’s no getting away with it.
It was 1984, the fall of my junior year at SUNY Oswego. Like a lot of college kids I took loans, paid my own way and was broke all the time.
Money was as rare as free time and as anyone who has ever struggled can tell you there are weeks where you literally have to watch every penny if you want to eat. It was a week like that, that led me down the road to perdition. I had exactly ten dollars in my pocket which had to last me six days. Whenever I was this broke, I’d go to the store in the student center and buy a bagel for fifty cents. The bagels were huge and filling so they were a nice substitute for lunch. I went to the counter, handed the guy my ten dollar bill, took the bagel and change and turned to go. I counted the money before putting it in my pocket and realized the clerk made a mistake in my favor. He gave me change for twenty dollar bill not a ten.
When times are tight and money falls into your lap the voices of your better angels are easily drowned out by the sounds of a growling stomach. You start to talk yourself into doing the wrong thing. I told myself in that moment that this school had overcharged me for so many things. They had fees on top of fees for courses and services I’d never use. Heck even the laundry machines in my dorm must have stolen from me. Soon enough you convince yourself that you are entitled to that extra ten bucks the guy gave you. They won’t even miss it.
I knew it was wrong to keep it but I was young, broke and stupid, so I took it. For the next few days I found myself avoiding that store for fear the guy might realize what he’d done and ask me about it. Even when I did eventually go back I hung my head and found it difficult to meet his eyes when he rang me up at the register. To the casual observer I’d gotten away with it but the truth was I hadn’t. That ten dollars owned me now and wouldn’t let me go.
Long after I graduated from Oswego that ten dollars I took kept turning up in my mind, like a stone in your shoe. I couldn’t understand how such a small stone could cause such a large ripple in the pond that was my conscience. Then in 1994 I went to see the movie Quiz Show and had a moment of clarity. Toward the end of the movie there’s a scene where Rob Morrow tells a story about an uncle who cheated on his wife and never got caught. Many years later he came clean about what he’d done and everyone in the family asked him why in God’s name he confessed, after all he’d gotten away with it. He said, “It was the getting away with it that I couldn’t live with.”
So why am I telling you this story now; confessing to a petty larceny I committed 28 years ago? Same reason I guess. I haven’t been to confession at church in a long time but I do believe you can talk to God and ask for forgiveness whenever you want. So there I was sitting at a red light on Route 9 near Hoffman’s Playland in Latham when I had a short yet long overdue chat with the big guy. I said I know I can’t go back in time and give the money back but please know I’m sorry, I learned from it and I’ll never do something like that again.
The light turned green and then something very odd happened. I put my directional on and pulled into the Stewart’s shop to grab a cup of coffee. I handed the clerk a ten dollar bill, took the change and turned to go. Anyone in the store that day would have seen me stop and smile because for an instant it was 1984 again. In my hand wasn’t change for my ten dollar bill but a twenty. I looked up toward the ceiling and said under my breath, “Thank you for the second chance.”
The manager was pleasantly surprised when I told him of his error and handed back the ten dollars extra he’d given me. “Wow, thanks,” he said. He probably thinks I’m this rare good guy who did the right thing when in reality I’m just the dummy who did the wrong thing 28 years ago and has paid interest on the debt ever since.
I haven’t been back to Oswego since graduation but a part of me will be visiting soon. The store in the campus center will soon receive an envelope with a ten dollar bill attached to a newspaper column telling this tale of avarice and absolution. I’m sure that guy who gave me the wrong change is long gone but when it comes to one’s eternity and passage at the pearly gates, the sheep that got away needs all the help he can get. •
Reprinted with Permission of the Troy Record.
John Gray ’85 is the news anchor at News10 ABC in Albany, N.Y. He also is an award-winning columnist for the Troy Record newspaper and Capital Region Living Magazine. While he resides in the Albany area helping raise his three children and his dog Max and has traveled extensively, he still insists he has never seen a sunset prettier than those outside of Onondaga Hall on Lake Ontario.
Ed. note: SUNY Oswego gratefully accepted John’s donation last autumn.
OSWEGO alumni magazine welcomes submissions for consideration for “The Last Word.” They should be no more than 600 words and should reflect upon the writer’s Oswego experience. Send to email@example.com.
Each week, La Rae M. Martin-Coore ’99 is used to getting a few glances when she cruises the grocery aisles with her husband, son and three carts in tow.
They’re shopping for their extended family, the six New York City teens who live with them in Manlius.
The girls are enrolled in the A Better Chance, or ABC, program at Fayetteville-Manlius High School. The nationwide initiative brings bright inner city youth to high-achieving school districts to give them a different perspective while preparing for college and career.
ABC, one of two in the state, has been a part of the community for nearly 40 years. Martin-Coore took over as resident director last fall and made quite a commitment. As part of the position, she and her family moved into the ABC house in Manlius.
“The way a family operates, that’s very much the way we operate,” Martin-Coore said.
She is a mentor, counselor and, in many respects, mother to these teens. On any given night, the house is buzzing with activity — the stairs creak with frequent commuters running up and down, cell phones vibrate with text message alerts and gatherings in the kitchen or at the dinner table fuel constant conversation.
“I have a passion for working with young people, young women in particular,” says Martin-Coore, who also works as the academic coordinator for Le Moyne College’s Higher Education Preparation/Upward Bound Program. As a high schooler at Nottingham in Syracuse, Martin-Coore was herself a participant at Le Moyne before heading to SUNY Morrisville and eventually to Oswego.
“I like to help students achieve with the same opportunities that I have had in my life,” says Martin-Coore, who at Oswego was very active in ALANA and the Black Student Union — the community service projects, in particular.
Helping Students Succeed
Like Upward Bound, ABC focuses on getting talented students ready for college. The teens must meet high academic standards to qualify.
“This is just another experience for the students to have,” Martin-Coore says. “You get to learn about people from all walks of life and get along with all different people.
“That’s the college experience … and colleges recognize that too,” she says. “It sets you apart.”
Even the youngest in the house, freshman Tanaja Stephenson of Brooklyn, has college plans. “I like that I’m being challenged more than I would at home,” she says over a plate of chicken riggies with her housemates.
Many in this group of six, like junior Sara Elzeini of the Bronx, have aspirations to enter the medical field.
“I think it might be hard for some kids to go away to school,” says Elzeini, vice president of her class at Fayetteville-Manlius and a part-time swim instructor at the YMCA. “I feel like it won’t be a shock to me to go to college.”
The teens split up household chores and handle their own, like laundry, says Martin-Coore, who lives in the home with her husband, Zaire M. Coore ’98, and son, Zaire J. Coore.
Students spend all four years of high school at their ABC destination.
“You get to connect with people you would otherwise never have met,” said sophomore Kesi Rivera of Harlem. “This program opens a lot of doors.”
Martin-Coore hopes to one day open her own leadership academy for young women of color.
“I’m showing them who they can possibly become,” she says. “I know when I do that, I’m going to be blessed.
“It’s about being happy.”
There is beauty in their decay.
In rusty brilliance, the remnants remind passersby there was life here. There was commerce, there were castle homes, there was economic might in the Empire State.
Robert Yasinsac ’99 has done his best to capture it before these abandoned buildings disappear.
He concentrates his urban exploration on the Hudson Valley, where factory ruins and grand mansions are left for dead. With his camera, Yasinsac brings history to life.
“There’s a lot of change happening out there right now,” says Yasinsac. Long-neglected riverfronts welcome new development like condominiums. At the same time humble, but historical, structures are swept away.
“I think we’re at a time when these are the last buildings that are still standing,” says Yasinsac, a history and anthropology major who has spent the better part of two decades capturing the ghostly remains of Upstate New York. “I am documenting what is still here. I’ve got all these pictures of places that aren’t around anymore.”
The Tarrytown native cannot restore these brick-and-mortar gems he first discovered on grade-school class walks around his hometown. In attempting to highlight the hidden dignity of faded façades and disintegrating interiors, Yasinsac also hopes to inspire restoration and save them.
A growing number of urban explorers have taken to cities and towns, posting discoveries on the Web as Yasinsac and his partner in photography Tom Rinaldi do at hudsonvalleyruins.org. It’s a promising phenomenon to Yasinsac, who works as historian at the Phillipsburg Manor historic site in Sleepy Hollow.
“Hopefully the more people [who are] involved and have even a casual interest, the more will get saved,” he says.
Photographs by Robert Yasinsac ’99
Words by Shane M. Liebler
FROM THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS to the bright lights of Broadway, from the pages of major magazines to the studios of ESPN and NBC, and from the art galleries of New York to the concert halls of major cities, graduates of Oswego’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts (SCMA) are making a name for themselves…and their alma mater.
We are so proud of all of their accomplishments. And we are especially pleased to feature in this issue stuntwoman Joanna Shelmidine ’89, Disney executive Janice Simcoe ’83 and movie producer Andrew Miano ’95.
Theses accomplished professionals, in the spotlight today, are among the thousands of graduates from the departments of art, music, theatre, communications and broadcasting, the fields that have long been studied at SUNY Oswego and now are combined in SCMA, our newest school. The inspiring successes of our graduates from these areas form a springboard for the future.
This year, we welcome the leadership of our inaugural volunteer Advisory Board to the school, as plans are under way for a renewal of the physical spaces that now house SCMA. It’s all in the future, so as they say in show business … “Stay tuned!”
EVEN THOUGH THEY ARRIVED during a frigid cold snap this January, Oswego gave a warm welcome to 40 South Korean students who enrolled as part of a 1+3 agreement with Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.
They were paired with current Korean students to serve as mentors, and housed in Hart Hall Global Living and Learning Center. Cooper Dining Hall added sticky rice and kim chee to the menu for every meal and Dining Services presented each student with a set of stainless steel chop sticks, the favored eating utensil in Korea.
Their Oswego sojourn promises to contrast considerably from the urban lifestyle at Hankuk University, however.
“It’s very big here,” said Hunmin Jung, a sophomore studying accounting. “We can enjoy nature and go anywhere … here you can enjoy the campus life.”
Several students noted the lakeside location of Oswego and its relative proximity to New York City and Canada as draws to enrolling here. SUNY’s reputation for academics is also important, students said.
“Oswego has a good program in accounting, better than in Korea, I think,” said Jung, who would like to become a CPA. Majors of the Hankuk students vary, though, from business administration to political science to English literature.
Na Kyung Kwon ’15 was eager to get started on her graphic design degree at Oswego while Yungmin Chung ’14 looked forward to watching hockey and getting involved in a student organization.
“I want to improve my speaking and writing skills,” Haengwoo Cho ’13 said,
sharing his goal with several others taking part in the program. Almost equally universal: the desire to network and make friends stateside.
The Office of International Education and Programs, a cross-campus committee and the college’s new Institute for Global Engagement have worked with Korean faculty and students to make sure the college is ready in terms of welcome, housing, curriculum, professional development and campus culture.
With the arrival of some 40 degree-seeking South Korean students in January, SUNY Oswego’s international student population topped 200 for the first time.
“We are positioned to welcome a large cohort of international students, and in so doing to grow the profile of international students on this campus,” said Joshua McKeown, director of international education and programs. “I feel very confident of where SUNY Oswego is in terms of welcoming international students. We have seen tremendous campus buy-in.”
McKeown and others pointed to numerous benefits of a growing population of students from other countries: amplifying intercultural awareness in an era of globalization; boosting interest among Americans to study, teach or do research abroad; establishing relationships with students from new global economic powerhouses; and presenting the opportunity for lifelong friendships.