On one hand, the story of SUNY Oswego’s endowment is one of numbers—how the gifts made from generous donors to the Oswego College Foundation have been wisely managed to support the institution. On the other hand, it is a story of people—how alumni, faculty and friends give generously; how the Foundation Board members, stewards of the fund, manage those gifts, and how Oswego students and faculty members ultimately benefit.
Wise Investing, Good Stewardship
Oswego’s endowment stands at more than $15 million dollars, a powerful force for good that benefits the college’s students, faculty and staff in myriad ways every day.
It has grown from $4 million in 2004 — a more than threefold increase — thanks to Oswego’s generous supporters and the wise stewardship of the Oswego College Foundation and its Investment Committee, headed for many years by the late Tom Lenihan ’76.
“State budgets have been plummeting, so for education it is vital that the Oswego College Foundation step up to raise money for those empty spots in the budget every year to maintain a quality institution,” said Dr. Harold Morse ’61 of the foundation board’s investment committee.
Morse added that the endowment provides “additional basic support to everybody at the college through more scholarships, improved facilities, quality faculty and research.”
The foundation’s investment committee members monitor the performance of investment fund managers, manage the asset allocation of the Foundation’s investments, make an annual recommendation of the spending rate, and recommend all changes in investment relations and procedures.
The committee looks at each fund and its long-term spending goal. They consider the need to generate sufficient returns to make the desired annual awards and to keep pace with inflation.
The goal, according to the Oswego College Foundation’s Director of Finance Mark Slayton, is to generate long-term annual returns in the 8 to 9 percent range, since an endowment typically spends 5 percent each year.
“We have been able to do that over a 10-year window,” Slayton says.
Oswego’s 10-year return rate is 8.2 percent—even given the 2008 crash of the financial markets.
Oswego’s endowment has consistently shown earnings ranking in the top 10 percent of nearly 500 participants in an annual study conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). Of the 493 institutions that reported their 10-year rate of return from the years 2003 to 2012, Oswego ranked 51st, higher than universities with multi-billion dollar endowments such as Princeton and Stanford.
In fact, in eight of the last 10 years Oswego has outperformed the industry average, including the six straight years ended June 30, 2012.
When broken down into smaller time periods, Oswego’s performance is even more impressive. For the last five years, Oswego earned 4.2 percent, ranking 23rd of 666 institutions completing the report, or in the top 3 percent. Three-year data shows Oswego’s increase at 13.5 percent, placing the college 25th of 705 institutions, or the top 4 percent.
“The Investment Committee and Board of Directors took decisive action in the summer and fall of 2008 when the world economy was in a free fall. That’s really the year that set us apart from the rest of the endowment world,” explained Slayton.
Oswego’s loss that year was only 10.9 percent versus an industry average of 18.7 percent, according to the NACUBO report.
But as any successful investor knows, preserving principal isn’t enough. You also need to increase it.
So, as early as November 2008, the Investment Committee began to strategically re-engage the equity markets to take advantage of the recovery. As a result, Oswego’s endowed funds have each now fully recovered and exceed their pre-crash levels.
All Above Water
The other outcome of the Investment Committee’s successful work was in the area of underwater funds. That’s when a fund is underperforming to the point where it is worth less than its original principal.
Half a decade after the stock market crash, many not-for-profits are still struggling with underwater funds. The Oswego College Foundation’s experience with underwater funds was brief and insignificant. The fund has carried no underwater funds at all since 2010.
“The success of Oswego’s endowment is not only due to the prudent oversight of our investments over the years but to our board taking decisive action and doing something unconventional,” said Slayton.
In summer of 2008, Oswego was just coming out of the successful Inspiring Horizons campaign, which raised nearly $24 million to support the college. “We wanted to do everything we could to protect those investments our alumni and friends had made in Oswego’s future,” said Slayton. The board carefully watched the markets and began to reduce our allocation in equities even before the crash of September 2008.
“After much conversation, the board adopted a very conservative approach and it paid off very well for us,” Slayton said.
Much of that success was due to the masterful leadership of Tom Lenihan ’76, who chaired the Investment Committee for nearly seven years until his untimely death in March.
Lenihan graduated from Oswego with a degree in economics and computer science. While at Oswego, he met the love of his life, Lynn Van Order Lenihan ’76. They were married in 1976 and have two children, Brian and Colleen.
Tom Lenihan retired from MetLife after 30 years with the organization, having risen to the position of managing director for investment management and capital markets. It was that expertise he put to the service of Oswego’s endowment.
Tom and Lynn Lenihan were steadfast supporters of their alma mater for more than a quarter century. They were lead donors for the Inspiring Horizons campaign, and supported the Campus Center and the Possibility Scholarship program. Tom and Lynn served as Reunion Giving Chair for their 25th anniversary class reunion and spearheaded the revitalization of the college’s reunion giving program, in addition to Tom’s membership on the Oswego College Foundation Board of Directors.
‘Labor of Love’
In June 2012, the Oswego College Foundation board honored Lenihan for his “dedicated steadfast leadership” of the Investment Committee, noting he deserved “recognition and accolades for his tireless efforts.”
“We were privileged to have the benefit of his guiding interest,” said President Deborah F. Stanley. “The future of this institution is stronger and more secure due to Tom’s unwavering commitment to his alma mater, especially as the dedicated steward of our endowment.”
Foundation Board Chairman Bill Spinelli ’84 concurred. “Tom kept a vigilant watch on market conditions, opportunities and challenges to extract the most beneficial position for the Foundation’s investments and assets,” he said.
During his tenure, Lenihan always humbly deferred to his colleagues’ contributions, calling the work of the entire committee a “labor of love.”
“Tom, in his humble way, never accepted personal recognition but would say it was the work of the entire committee,” said Kerry Casey Dorsey ’81, vice president for development and alumni relations and president of the Oswego College Foundation. “But in his sailing vernacular, he was the captain of that ship.”
“Every time the markets dipped or moneys got short, Tom would also give us a great talk at board meetings — how we have this huge responsibility to Oswego to rise to the occasion,” recalled Morse. “Particularly when we had the recession, he led the effort to help prevent any of the scholarship funds from going underwater at that time. He made us feel that we had a responsibility not only to watch everything but also to fix it.”
“The vigilance that he provided in overseeing that everything was all right was outstanding,” added Morse. “I’ve been on several boards and have never seen anyone who was so responsible.”
Lenihan’s “labor of love” stemmed from a genuine affection for his alma mater and its students.
“Tom would say, ‘These are our brothers and sisters and we have to take care of them,’” said Morse. “It’s how we all felt on the board.”
That empathy comes from personal experience. The vast majority of the board members are alumni, and some faced obstacles to fulfill their own educational dreams. They may have worked to earn money for tuition or books, and some benefited from the generosity of donors.
The empathy and commitment the board has for Oswego’s students, coupled with their knowledge of financial markets and their dedication to their fiduciary responsibility to the college are all part of the winning combination the Investment Committee brings to their stewardship of Oswego’s endowment – the art and science of investing success.
By definition, an endowment is when a donor makes a gift with the understanding that the college will never spend the original gift, just a portion of the investment earnings. The gift exists in perpetuity — that is, forever — and benefits all generations of SUNY Oswego students and the college’s programs.
Most often, we think of an endowment as the pot of money behind a scholarship. When a generous alumnus gives a $25,000 gift to Oswego (often with a multi-year pledge) with the intention to endow a scholarship, the funds are invested. Once they generate sufficient income (usually after a
year), a potential $1,000 scholarship can be awarded each year to a student meeting the donor’s criteria. The donor can designate whether the scholarship goes to a student with a certain
major, from a specific hometown or military background, or one who has overcome hardship or faces financial need.
An endowment could also create an excellence fund for an academic department, sports team or extracurricular program. The dean or director can use a portion of the accumulated earnings to bring speakers to campus, help students attend conferences and career-exploration field trips, or buy needed equipment.
One donor’s gift has allowed the establishment of a student-run Investment Club, which invests a portion of the endowed fund established by Gordon A. Lenz ’58 so students can learn about financial markets and gain real world investment management experience. The Public Justice Excellence Fund, established by David Cutler ’74, helps students attend an annual scholarly conference and travel to corrections facilities to explore career opportunities in the public justice field. An endowed chair, like the Marcia Belmar Willock ’50 Chair in Finance, provides funds to assist with paying the salary of a professor — usually a scholar of some renown — to teach in a particular area or department. These are but a few examples of the power of philanthropy.
The Oswego College Foundation has nearly 175 endowed funds providing more than $500,000 in scholarship and program support back to Oswego’s students. Annually, more than 200 students benefit from just the direct awards provided by donor-endowed scholarship funds. These are in addition to the scholarship benefits provided by the campus.
The Oswego College Foundation Board of Directors and its Investment Committee are charged with managing these endowment dollars to ensure that desired payouts are available each year and that they grow to match inflation.
Their diligent stewardship means the funds will always fulfill the donors’ wishes, benefiting generations of Oswego students and giving future donors the confidence to invest in Oswego’s mission.
Focusing on students and their needs as a way of paying tribute to her family perfectly fits Linda Panarites Sweeting’s sensibilities regarding philanthropy. A 1975 graduate, she has been making gifts to SUNY Oswego’s annual fund and volunteering as a reunion gift organizer over the years, but always “hoped to do more.”
When she consulted with her husband and her brother about honoring departed family members through an endowed scholarship, they were of one mind in creating a fund that would provide financial assistance to one entering student each year. That student would come to SUNY Oswego from Spencerport or Hilton, alternately, and would personify the values of the Panarites and Sweeting families.
Sweeting spent her career in the alumni and development office at SUNY Brockport, where she saw the “difference a gift could make in the lives of the student and the donor.” She says she always wanted to make a gift to Oswego that went beyond supporting the annual fund, and she was inspired in philanthropy by coworkers, especially Brockport faculty member emeritus Frances Moroney Whited ’44.
“I valued my time at Oswego and the education I received as a student,” Sweeting says. “Now, I completely admire and trust the people in the Office of Development, and I really like the direction Oswego is going in terms of academics.”
Sweeting says her father’s people came to America from Greece, and even though they all valued education, only one of the siblings had the resources to complete a college degree. The Panarites-Sweeting Family Scholarship will ensure that the selected student will have access to higher education without incurring crippling debt.
“When we talked to professionals at Oswego, we said we didn’t want to put a lot of restrictions on the choice of the recipient,” Sweeting says. “But when we met Bianca, the first recipient, and her family, we felt as if she had been hand picked for us.”
—Linda Loomis ’90 M ’97
Lou Borrelli ’77 is a cable television pioneer, media executive and steadfast supporter of SUNY Oswego. He continued his support this year with a gift of $25,000 to the Student Media Excellence Fund.
Giving to student organizations is important to Oswego, as it provides funding that cannot always be provided by the Student Association.
“I have been directing my annual giving the past several years to ‘Excellence Funds’ to provide support for WNYO and WTOP to supplement their SA budget,” Borrelli says. “My gifts over the years have provided equipment, travel expenses and fees for conferences and award competitions.”
These organizations, although mostly funded by SA, benefit greatly from philanthropic support by alumni. Excellence funds can be supported by anyone who wishes to designate their annual gifts to student organizations, and new excellence funds can always be established.
“Excellence Funds are a good way to get involved,” Borrelli says.
Borrelli supports student organizations as the founder of the Lewis B. O’Donnell Media Summit, which provides networking opportunities for students in media fields and attracts communication professionals from all over the country.
After the launch of the Summit, he established the Student Media Excellence Fund, as he saw the need to further provide for WNYO and WTOP. The majority of his most recent gift funded “a multichannel digital replay system used during Laker Hockey games,” which put WTOP on par with sports networks like ESPN and NESN.
Borrelli is also a member of the Oswego College Foundation Board and the School of Communication, Media and the Arts Advisory Board, and he was Reunion Giving Chair for his 35th Reunion cluster this year. He encourages other alumni to give back to Oswego and show their support for students.
“A little support goes a long way to help current students and student organizations,” he says.
—Kaitlin Provost ’12
Howard Olinsky ’81, a disability attorney and managing partner of Olinsky Disability, has given a gift of $50,000 to SUNY Oswego. Two-thirds of his gift will go
to the School of Communication, Media and the Arts Dean’s Fund, and one-third to where the need is greatest.
Olinsky serves on the first SCMA Advisory Board, and is a loyal supporter of SUNY Oswego. He says supporting his alma mater is an important part of his philanthropy plan, to give back to “the schools and universities that have helped me become successful.”
“Successful” is no exaggeration – Olinsky manages 16 full-time attorneys and 22 contracted attorneys at his firm, which is the largest filer of Social Security Disability federal court cases in the nation. He has offices in Syracuse and Orlando.
Olinsky got his start in Oswego, opening up his law firm on West First Street. The firm’s name still adorns the front of the Old Marine Midland Bank Building, where his office was for more than 15 years. He says the firm moved to Syracuse in order to expand, but Olinsky never lost his love for Oswego or the desire to give back to the college.
“I plan on being an active participant,” he says. Giving back is “a way of bringing additional money into the individual schools without having to raise tuition,” and he believes this is crucial to Oswego’s success.
His goal for this gift is to help students who graduate with a communication degree become more marketable. He and Dean Fritz Messere ’71 M ’76 are working on a plan to create a PR program that can help students get experience with all aspects of advertising and media.
“It’s a big goal,” he says, “but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
—Kaitlin Provost ’12
Oswego public justice students are exploring career opportunities, attending conferences, and meeting mentors thanks to the generosity of David Cutler ’74, the founder and executive director of the Arapaho Community Treatment Center, a residential community corrections facility in Englewood, Colo.
Cutler augmented his Public Justice Excellence Fund with an additional gift of $170,000, bringing the total of the fund to $420,000. He is motivated to help Oswego students because of his love for his alma mater, which he feels provided a great education that helped him build his successful career. “We need good leaders in corrections and law enforcement. It’s a really challenging time right now in the field,” said Cutler, who noted that the field was “shrinking,” due to a drop in crime rates and smaller budgets.
He feels motivated to support Oswego because of his own experiences. “Oswego changed my life — that’s why I really wanted to contribute back to Oswego State,” he said. “I had a great time up there and learned so much.”
Using the Cutler fund money, the public justice faculty sends eight students each year to the Criminal Justice Educators Association of New York State, where they attend presentations and seminars and take advantage of opportunities to enhance their career searches.
“Our students make an excellent impression on faculty members of other colleges and they wish they could take their students to the conference,” said Public Justice Professor Diane Brand. “But they don’t have the blessing of Mr. Cutler to provide them with that opportunity.”
In addition, Cutler’s gift funds field trips for 40 students each year to maximum security Auburn and medium security Butler correctional facilities. As a result of one-on-one interaction with the inmates and corrections officers, some students are inspired to take courses toward a career in corrections and others have gone on to graduate school in counseling to work with inmates and those with substance abuse issues.
“It was very different than the textbook or reality TV shows,” said Gaston Owen ’13, a public justice major and forensic science minor who went on the prison field trip during his first semester at Oswego. “It helps you tweak your career options and think of things you might never have thought of before.” He serves as a peer adviser for other public justice majors and is an active member of the Public Justice Club, which brings speakers to campus and sponsors trips like one this spring to Washington, D.C.
Mike Muller ’13 went to the CJEANYS conference in October, in addition to attending the prison field trips. The public justice major and forensic science minor says hearing presentations by an ex-state trooper and professors from other colleges helped him refine his future goals.
“It was great to have a real-world experience. You can read every day in a book but it’s nothing like this,” he said. “We got to sit down with people who do it every day and hear their experiences.” In addition to his participation in peer advisement and the Public Justice Club, Muller serves as a teaching assistant. At press time, he was awaiting results of a physical that would allow him to accept a job with his hometown police force in Port Jervis right after graduation.
Oswego has been a family tradition for Barbara Brown McCormack ’44, going back to the turn of the last century. That’s why she has been a loyal supporter of The Fund for Oswego for more than 30 years and is a member of the 1861 Society of The President’s Circle.
“I loved Oswego when I went there, and think very highly of it.”
The love comes naturally. McCormack’s father, Leon N. Brown, went to the Campus School as a child in the early 1900s. Her mother, Helen Picken Brown ’18 took the train from Yonkers to enroll at Oswego Normal School.
McCormack herself attended the Campus School, literally following in her father’s footsteps as she walked from the family home several blocks away on West Mohawk Street. “In the winter snow, we sure were glad to see that pergola,” she said with a laugh.
McCormack met her first husband, John Murphy ’49, when both were undergraduates at Oswego. After his death, she married the late Robert “Rod” McCormack.
Her life is full of memories of the college, especially as a young bride working as a library assistant under legendary librarian Helen Hagger.
Even now, she loves to attend plays and musical performances on campus.
She supports Oswego with unrestricted gifts, giving to where the need is greatest, because of her high esteem for the college.
“I admire the school – they’ve done a wonderful job. It has a great reputation. Even people from afar know of Oswego. I know because I’ve lived afar,” said McCormack, who spent many years living in Montana and New Jersey.
Thanks to her loyal support and generosity, students today can benefit from the same great education McCormack enjoyed . . . and come to love Oswego as much as she does.
NEW PRESIDENT’S CIRCLE GIVING SOCIETIES will go into effect after June 30 of this year. Membership in the entry level of The President’s Circle will increase on July 1 from $250 to $1,000.
It is the first time since their establishment in 1984 that giving society levels will increase.
“Increasing the minimum donation for participation in The President’s Circle from $250 to $1,000 overcomes the inflationary forces that have eroded the real value of gift levels which have not changed for nearly three decades,” said Joy Westerberg Knopp ’92, director of annual giving. “Due to inflation, a $500 gift 28 years ago would be the equivalent of $1,070 today to make the same impact.”
See the chart at right for the new societies.
Also changing are the recognition levels for gifts from $250 to $999. Gifts from $250 to $499 will provide admission to the Green Club level, and gifts of $500 to $999 will designate members of the Gold Club level.
Donors wishing to stretch their giving to the next level so they continue to be a member of The President’s Circle will be able to make their gifts in installments.
Donors may make their gifts to be used in areas of greatest need or priority, or designate their gifts to support scholarships, one of the college’s four schools, an academic department, or a specific organization or program.
For more information on joining Oswego’s philanthropic leaders, call 315-312-3003 or visit alumni.oswego.edu/presidentscircle
New Giving Societies
(effective July 1, 2013)
THE PRESIDENT’S CIRCLE
$25,000 + Medallion Society
$10,000 – $24,999 Torchbearer Society
$5,000 – $9,999 Ambassador Society
$2,500 – $4,999 Ontarian Society
$1,861 – $2,499 1861 Founder’s Society
$1,000 – $1,860 Pillar Society
GREEN AND GOLD CLUB:
$500 – $999 Gold member
$250 – $499 Green member
JAMES F. OKONIEWSKI ’72 FEELS strongly about two things – his love for his hometown of Fulton and the Oswego County area, and his belief that mathematics is a key subject for success in life.
He decided to act on those convictions by establishing a scholarship for students from Fulton’s G. Ray Bodley High School, his alma mater, to attend Oswego and study math. His gift of $50,000 will endow a scholarship for a Bodley graduate with financial need, majoring in mathematics or in education with a concentration in math. The first scholarship will be awarded for the 2013-14 academic year, and it is renewable, provided the recipient meets certain academic standards.
“I’m trying to counteract the feeling out there that the study of mathematics is not that important,” Okoniewski said. “Math is clearly important in analyzing any situation.”
He pointed out that if people were better able to analyze the risks versus the return on their investments, it would benefit, not just individuals, but the economy as a whole.
It’s a strategy he used to build a successful real estate business by analyzing the value of his property investments.
Now he would like to share his success with students from his hometown school, where his cousin Joseph Sczupac was chair of the math department. Francis Godici was a Bodley math
teacher who influenced Okoniewski.
Okoniewski’s roots run deep in Fulton, particularly in its Polish community. He was the youngest president of the city’s Polish Home, a post he held in his teens during the 1960s. “When I was younger I hung around adults more than kids my own age, so that is when I joined the Polish Home,” he explained.
As an Oswego student, he took his love for his ancestral homeland one step further and studied one summer in Poland at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, thanks to encouragement from Professor Emeritus Joseph Wiecha to apply and win a Kosciuszko Foundation fellowship.
Okoniewski shared his Polish heritage by starting a Polish language affiliation club at the college, holding a book drive to raise money to buy Polish literature for Penfield Library and bringing the first polka band to Oswego State.
He became a DJ at the student radio station WOCR and his talent was recognized by WRVO station manager Bill Shigley, who invited him to go on air at the public radio affiliate.
His other mentors were in the math department, including Professors Emeriti Richard Orr and John Daly.
Now the influence comes full circle, as with his generous endowed scholarship, Okoniewski reaches out to help generations of Oswego college students to come. l
— Michele Reed
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.”