by Cheryl Abrams
During his first address following the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III spoke admiringly about the attributes that characterized his mother’s life and reign. He spoke of having a “deep gratitude” for the queen’s life-long sense of duty, service, dedication and devotion.
These formidable sentiments are being expressed this month as the College of Professional Studies honors the service of an organization whose members have steadfastly exemplified these same qualities over many decades: the Women of the University Community (WUC).
Dean’s Lifetime Ambassador Award
During the College’s alumni luncheon as part of Orange Central on Thursday, Sept. 29, Dean Michael Frasciello will present WUC with the Dean’s Lifetime Ambassador’s Award. This accolade is one of the highest forms of recognition the college bestows on alumni and organizations for their support of Syracuse University, the college and its students. Members of the University community and the public are invited to attend the event, from noon to 2 p.m. at Drumlins Country Club.
“Syracuse University is tremendously grateful to the Women of the University Community for their unwavering belief in the transformational power of a college education and their commitment to our shared mission of providing and supporting access to Syracuse University,” says Dean Frasciello. “We look forward to celebrating their achievements on September 29.”
Near Century of Dedication
The Women of the University Community was founded in 1927 (as it happens, a year after Queen Elizabeth’s birth) by some formidable women to bring together alumni and other women affiliated with Syracuse University. For nearly a century, the organization succeeded in providing support for women and education. Beginning in 1969, three scholarships were created to honor Beverly Whaley (SUNY ESF), Mildred Eggers (University College, now the College of Professional Studies) and Ruth Tolley (Falk College). These scholarships, which eventually became endowed and have since distributed more than $200,000 to deserving female scholars, will continue to be awarded.
The Mildred Eggers award is presented annually to three women studying through the college who are matriculated in a bachelor’s degree program and taking at least six credits the following semester. Recipients are selected primarily on academic merit, with financial need considered. The Ruth Tolley award is presented to outstanding juniors in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics; and the Beverly Whaley scholarship goes to a sophomore or junior at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Retired Syracuse University administrator Esther Gray, who led the University Lectures Series for many years since its inception in 1996, is a College of Professional Studies alumna and past president of WUC. She received a Mildred Eggers scholarship while pursuing her degree. “That scholarship meant the world and helped get me through my studies at SU,” she says.
As a WUC member who attended many ceremonies when scholarships were awarded to recipients, Gray recalls one comment from a deserving student that has inspired her since. The young woman said, “The Women of the University Community’s belief in me through this scholarship led to my believing in myself.”
In 2021, WUC was formally disbanded for many compelling reasons, including the aging of long-standing members and their abilities to participate, as well as time commitments of current and potential members. The COVID-19 pandemic stalled in-person get-togethers and events, greatly impacting the cohesiveness of WUC as a sustainable organization.
Affirming the Past
While the disbanding of WUC could be viewed sadly, as a mourning for something that had been vibrant on campus for so many years, the remaining members instead focus on celebrating the accomplishments made possible by many women, as well as moving forward with the promise of and inspiration in women scholars of today.
“We take heart in all that was achieved since WUC’s formation,” says Kate Veley, a Syracuse University alumna and long-time University employee who is now the director of corporate philanthropy at Make-a-Wish® of CNY. As a former president of the group, Kate looks back with pride on both the time dedicated by members, as well as their monetary donations along the way.
Whenever WUC presented fundraising events, members paid for all associated costs, such as invitations, postage, room rentals and more. “From the very beginning, every penny raised went directly into the scholarship funding,” says Veley. “Administrative expenses were totally covered by the members; it wasn’t a line item in our budget.”
WUC held many annual book and garage sales, as well as its primary fundraising activity, an annual poinsettia sale, with more than 12,000 plants being sold over the years. Community and social services have also played a significant role in WUC through an outreach tutoring program, events for international students and families, and support for local charities such as the American Cancer Society and the Hendricks’s Chapel Food Pantry.
At its core, the WUC has always been a highly social organization. Traditionally, members held three annual events: a Fall Welcome, a seasonal Holiday Party, and a Spring Luncheon. Other activities included bridge, a book review group, gourmet dining events, bowling, creative writing, theater, and crafts and sewing. Neighborhood groups were also vital, with 15 different meeting locations in its heyday.
Service from a Different Age
While the WUC has seen many changes over the years, the organization has remained true to its founding as an organization of women who gather in friendship, camaraderie, and respect to sustain one another, create meaningful relationships, and assist future generations in their academic pursuits.
Although the group formally disbanded last year, what continues say Veley and Gray is a profound sense of caring and support, particularly for its oldest members. “We have an email list and routinely stay in touch with one another,” says Veley. When a member may be ill or having a tough time, other members rally around to provide meals and whatever help they can, adds Gray.
As the college prepares to honor the WUC, two additional attributes that King Charles III ascribed to his late mother can aptly be applied to WUC members: “a fearless embrace of progress and an unerring ability to see the best in people.”
William, the now Prince of Wales, also stated that he thanks his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, “on behalf of my generation for providing an example of service and dignity in public life that was from a different age, but always relevant to us all.”
The Syracuse University community, likewise, thanks the Women of the University Community for 95 years of its example of dedicated service and engagement in the life of the campus and surrounding community.