Opening Remarks

Opening Remarks

Back in 1999, when I learned that I was likely to be asked to serve as Niagara University’s 25th president, I let some close friends know that I thought the Board of Trustees was making a mistake. After all, I was 60 years old and possessed limited fundraising experience; even though I had spent time as an administrator, my work was primarily as an educator and theologian. Eventually, the people I trusted helped me to better understand how my abilities would translate to the President’s Office of this excellent, Catholic and Vincentian university.

The offer was made and I accepted. And so began the long and winding road.

Throughout this time, Niagara University has experienced a great deal of success. Much has changed on and around our campus. Some have called it the most transformational period in our proud institution’s long history.

Together, we completed an $80 million capital campaign despite the sharpest global economic recession in decades. By doing so, we saw to it that the next generations of Niagara University students would be equipped with the technological tools and financial wherewithal to do more, as St. Vincent intended.

Since my March 2000 inauguration, I’ve met many people and formed many relationships, the true treasure that I take from my 13 years as president.

Jim Glynn, for example, was a member of the Board of Trustees when I was elected president, and his support has never wavered. Jim, the first lay chairman of the Board, and his entire family have been so generous in donating time and resources to support Niagara’s mission. Others that fit this description are Bob Dwyer, ’65, former Board chair and national chairman of “The Promise of Niagara” (as well as his wife, Connie, and their family); Jeff Holzschuh, ’82, our current Board chair, whom I met when he was a freshman at Niagara; and Marsha Joy Sullivan, a trustee and dear friend who has helped us establish many community partnerships.

I am so grateful to my fellow university administrators. Dr. Bonnie Rose has been at Niagara since 2002, serving the last decade by my side as executive vice president. She is an outstanding educator and administrator, and a truly effective leader. Mike Jaszka, as vice president for administration, deserves as much credit as anyone for stewarding the university’s strong financial performance in the face of challenging economic times. Dr. Judy Willard, ’70, M.A.’72, perhaps the only person who has maintained a longer relationship with Niagara University than I have, has been instrumental in charting the future course of this institution. Meanwhile, relative Niagara newcomers like Father Kevin Creagh, C.M., who spent some time at Niagara in the 1990s, and Drs. Kevin Hearn and Tim Downs will be directly involved in shaping that future.

Our deans — led by Drs. Debbie Colley, Shawn Daly, Nancy McGlen and Gary Praetzel — have made immeasurable contributions to the excellence of this institution. Transitioning from a faculty role to the deanship requires great dedication, discipline and sacrifice, and I am happy to say that Niagara University has been blessed with special women and men, willing and able to make this change.

At Niagara, we have wonderful professors like Drs. Tim Osberg, Tim Ireland, Sharon Watkinson, ’66, and John Overbeck, ’75, who have made Niagara University a better place by touching so many lives in a manner consistent with our Catholic and Vincentian mission. I have spent many evenings conversing about how Niagara could best serve our communities with Mike Skowronski and Dr. David Taylor. Dr. Taylor oversees our Institute for Civic Engagement, an initiative near and dear to my heart. I am also confident that Joe Mihalich has carried Niagara’s core institutional values with him in his new role downstate.

Collectively, we have made a commitment to serve the neediest in our community, and those efforts have been advanced with the help of so many. Business leaders like Niagara USA CEO Deanna Alterio Brennen (and many other Chamber members) have worked collaboratively with us toward constructing a brighter economic tomorrow for the Western New York region. Meanwhile, Sister Beth Brosmer of Heart, Love & Soul is representative of the numerous community advocates working with us to alleviate poverty and social injustice.

At the end of the day, it has been, and always will be, about the students. Despite being involved in higher education for more than four decades, I continue to be inspired by our students, those young people like Christopher Zukas, ’12, James Tipa, ’15, and Erika, ’13, and John Osberg, ’13, who possess so much vision, energy and enthusiasm. Our students have an opportunity to be the St. Vincents of our day, servants of the poor, using the wisdom and leadership they gain from our excellent education. They are the change agents of tomorrow.

Lastly, I must express sincere gratitude to my support staff — Claudia Fleckenstein, Norma Poreda and others — those who were masterful in ensuring that my time was used as efficiently as possible. These women, of course, were much more than “assistants”; they were colleagues, friends, family. Others who have had a unique impact on my time at Niagara include Shirley Martin, who served as my assistant when I was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Sema Tarpinian Shepard, our longtime campus postmistress; and Father Louis Trotta, C.M., an exceptional mentor and dear colleague.

My enthusiasm and passion for Niagara and helping our local community is rooted in our Vincentian nature as a university, in doing all that we can — all the time — to live as St. Vincent did, as the catalyst of hope for all of God’s people. As I write to you in this space for the final time as president, let me encourage you, our alumni, to be bold, go out and make a difference in the lives of others, for that is our mission.

And it will never change.

God bless you, Niagarans. I am forever thankful for all of you.