Choosing a college is a big decision. For some Lakers, the decision is in their DNA.
What brings students to Oswego? Some say it’s our beautiful campus. Others, exceptional value and a rich college life. Even more alumni tout opportunities and a history of academic excellence. There are those who say it’s all that, and one more thing. It’s also because they are members of a legacy family. Their parents—or grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or siblings—found a home here. A home they found, too.
So how does the love for a college span generations, spur marriages, unite siblings and reach deeply into the branches of a family tree? We asked seven families. They shared.
Nearly 90 Years of Lakers
When Jonah A. Kieffer ’19 graduated from SUNY Oswego this past May, he could look back four generations and see fellow Laker alumni on his family tree.
“SUNY Oswego was the only school to which I applied,” Jonah said. “Looking at the opportunities that Oswego granted to all of my relatives, because of the strong education they received, Oswego was an easy choice.”
It all started with Charles G. Young ’34, who married Mary Bertelsmann Young ’34.
Their nephew, John C. Kieffer ’51, came to Oswego and here met his wife, Julanne Amidon Kieffer ’52; the couple also influenced John’s sister, Una Kieffer Zona ’56, to attend.
John and Julanne had four children—one is Gary J. Kieffer ’80. And it is Gary’s son, Jonah, who became the most recent member of the alumni family as a member of the Class of 2019.
In honor of the legacy stretching nearly 90 years, the Kieffer family gathered to celebrate Jonah’s graduation at his grandfather John’s residence in the Elderwood Nursing Home in North Syracuse, N.Y., in May.
In an interview with John before his death in August, he shared that his family has benefited from a strong background in the importance of education, “and we still honor it today.” It was, in fact, at the core of John’s career, predominantly as an educator in Liverpool, Port Byron and BOCES in Ithaca spanning decades, both as an industrial arts teacher and principal. And John also had an extended Oswego family. For more than 10 years, he was a master teacher, training SUNY Oswego student teachers to become the next generation of educators.
His son, Gary, followed him into the industrial arts program, and today is vice president of New Product Development for Currier Plastics in Auburn, N.Y.
Jonah, who chose different SUNY Oswego signature programs—zoology and operations management—from his father and grandfather, has already landed an internship position at Busch Gardens in Virginia, in its Culinary Business Leadership program. He’s considering an MBA.
“Hopefully, these opportunities will help me throughout my career as it has my dad, grandpa and all my family who graduated from Oswego,” Jonah said.
Raising Laker Alumni
John McLoughlin ’75 and his wife, Donna, have four children. All four followed in John’s footsteps and attended SUNY Oswego.
“When the first one went, I was thrilled,” John said. “I also thought, ‘It’s been a long time since I went there, what if it’s changed? Will he enjoy it as much as I did?’”
John’s oldest, Steven ’08, did.
“As it turns out, some things never change about Oswego,” John said. “There’s an environment at Oswego that’s conducive to friendliness and a good education. As each kid went, I was more and more comfortable about it.”
Steven’s alumni siblings are Caitlin ’12, J.J. ’14 and Erin ’19. Each found his or her “own Oswego,” John said. Each was active around the campus and took advantage of opportunities.
“Looking back, they influenced each other to attend Oswego, probably more than I did,” he said. By the time Erin arrived on campus her freshman year, “she knew that campus better than some of the seniors did, she’d visited so much.”
For Erin’s graduation, John returned to campus to serve as the Commencement Eve Torchlight keynote speaker, sharing his experiences as a Port Authority Police Department sergeant who was trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York. The family also gathered for a wedding shortly after the May 2019 graduation—J.J. married Oswego alumna Alyssa Derasmo ’15 on June 1 in a wedding attended by many Oswego friends and family members.
“People at the wedding witnessed how tight the Oswego kids are,” John said. “The Oswego crowd was the life of the party.”
A School of One’s Own
As a high school student, Eleni Vakirtzis ’19 didn’t want to attend SUNY Oswego.
“Strangely enough, my attempt to avoid loving the campus, town and program itself, it all failed miserably,” Eleni joked. “I immediately fell in love and knew it was the right place for me. Without hesitation, the day I received my acceptance letter was the day that I knew I was a Laker for life.”
Eleni didn’t want to take Oswego into consideration when choosing a college for the sole reason that it was her father’s alma mater, she said.
“I wanted to find a school of my own,” she said. But all of the things that drew Adamantios ‘Montos’ Vakirtzis ’87 to
Oswego as a transfer student from community college also drew her—as well as her younger brother, Panagiotis ’23.
Montos first came to campus as part of a community college program to visit six universities.
“SUNY Oswego’s campus was by far the prettiest,” Montos said. “During my visit I had the opportunity to meet with
administration and professors from the Computer Science department. I found everyone to be caring and dedicated to the student’s learnings and success. In addition, I found the computer lab and academic offerings to be second to none.”
More than 30 years later, he continues to be an “honored, proud graduate and advocate of SUNY Oswego,” he said.
“As a father, my children are my priority, and like every parent I only want the best for them,” he said. “This is why I encouraged each of them to attend SUNY Oswego and to experience some of the best years of their lives there as I did.”
Now, two of Montos’s three children are on track to be Laker alumni.
“Prior to my sister’s graduation this past May, we as a family would take the opportunity to visit her often,” Panagiotis said.
“At times I would stay with her, spend days during the week and even attend a class or two. Our family trips to SUNY Oswego were more than just visiting my sister, it was the chance for me to begin preparing for making SUNY Oswego my school, too.”
The Family You Meet Along The Way
Love must be in the air at SUNY Oswego—so many of our legacy families met their spouses here. Take eight members of the Bacon family, who perhaps all should have made their wedding colors green and gold.
Patrica Kallmeyer Bacon ’60 married William Bacon III ’59; all three of their alumni children also married alumni. One grandson, William Bacon V, graduated in 2018. Another, Kyle Bacon, is a member of the Class of 2020.
For Patricia and William’s children: Diane Bacon Rizzo ’88 (who married Donald Rizzo ’87); William IV ’90 (who married Holly Roth Bacon ’88); and Robert ’95 (who married Kathleen Liguori Bacon ’95), SUNY Oswego has nourished the branches of their family tree.
Patricia and William III met at SUNY Oswego—most likely at a Delta Kappa Kappa social, their son William IV believes—but didn’t start dating until after they graduated and reconnected at the wedding of fellow Oswego alumni.
Their children met their spouses on campus, “started dating, and the rest is history,” William IV said.
“We believe it’s quite an honor for each generation to be part of the legacy family,” William IV said. “To experience Oswego firsthand is something you will never forget. We received outstanding educations that have helped us find careers that we are very passionate about. We are teachers, firefighters, state troopers and entrepreneurs. We have made lasting friendships and continue to experience life at Oswego through our family members.”
For the third generation Bacon family members to come to SUNY Oswego, athletics also played a role.
“We attended an Oswego open house and met with Coach Drew Bezek,” William IV said. “Our sons were very impressed with coach, the lacrosse team, campus and academic majors. They soon decided they wanted to become future Lakers and play lacrosse for Oswego. I believe, on that day, they made their decision to attend Oswego.”
William V wishes the first generation of Bacon Lakers—Patricia and William III—were alive to see the legacy continue.
“It all goes back to the first generation,” he said. “Our grandparents shared many memories and told fond stories of life at Oswego. They built friendships that lasted a lifetime.
A Legacy of Laker Women in Education
For the Janes family, the Laker Legacy is all female.
When Kaleigh Janes graduates with the Class of 2022, she will represent a long lineage of alumni women in her family: Ruth Nelson Templeton who attended in the early 1900s, Ruth’s niece Marian Nelson Jardin ’64, Marian’s daughter Yvonne Jardin Kniskern ’71, Yvonne’s cousin Jennifer Warner Janes ’91 and Jennifer’s sister Sarah Warner Silvia ’97. Kaleigh is Jennifer’s daughter. This lineage is all on Kaleigh’s paternal side; a maternal aunt is also an alumna—Sandy Bradley Odell ’79.
Like many of the family’s women before her, Kaleigh chose SUNY Oswego for its teaching program. Oswego was founded primarily as a teachers’ training institution, drawing many women of the era to attend; today, it remains strong in preparing educators.
“My family has been involved with Oswego for so long,” Kaleigh said. “I enjoy the fact that I get to follow in the footsteps of so many of my family members and I hope the tradition can continue in the future.”
Similar to Kaleigh, Jennifer said she grew up hearing a lot about Oswego.
“Ironically, I am the only graduate in our family who did not go into teaching,” Jennifer said. “They were all very successful teachers, and I guess I wanted to be a part of that success in my career of choice. I have spent over 20 years working in higher education, though!”
From Guyana to Oswego
Maxine and Frederick Jones traveled nearly 3,000 miles to become Lakers—in the late 1960s for Maxine and the early 1970s for Frederick—and not only did they share Oswego with their own children, they served as educators for the greater SUNY Oswego college community, too.
Maxine Jones ’71, who also holds a master’s degree in teaching physics from SUNY Binghamton, was an adjunct professor in the Oswego mathematics department. Her husband, Frederick Jones ’74, who also holds a master’s degree in plant pathology from Oklahoma State University, was a teaching support specialist for Oswego’s biology department.
All three of their children are alumni: Ida A. Jones ’98, Edward Jones ’01 and Jeffrey Jones ’03. Edward married Adzele Kitissou-Jones ’02, whose brothers, Ako ’00 and Kpoti ’04, are both alumni; the Kitissous’ father, Marcel, also taught at SUNY Oswego.
The Jones Laker legacy began when Maxine and Frederick met in Guyana in 1966. The couple traveled to Oswego from the South American country and set roots in the SUNY Oswego community.
Before coming to Oswego, Maxine taught physics and mathematics at institutes in the United States, Guyana and other Caribbean countries. She prepared Caribbean students for international examinations in physics. After her time in Oswego, Maxine further taught at a community college and Ithaca College.
In Guyana, Frederick taught plant pathology at the Guyana School of Agriculture and the University of Guyana. He was a
plant pathologist and head of unit at the National Agricultural Research Institute, and also served as a country representative in St. Kitts and St. Lucia for the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.
“Our initial introduction to Oswego snowfall was unforgettable,” said Frederick.
Over time, the couple’s three children were encouraged
to strive for educational excellence, they said.
“We knew that Oswego was the place for them to achieve their objectives in a safe environment,” said Maxine. “We knew that their academic advisors and the college community would support their best efforts.”
Ida, who also holds both a master’s and a doctoral degree from SUNY Binghamton, was the first Jones child to attend.
“They came, we followed,” joked Ida of her parents’ encouragement to attend Oswego. “Once I had gone through, the link was relayed to Edward, who then passed the torch to Jeff.”
All of the Jones children sang for college groups, including State Singers, College Choir and Chamber Singers; all three graduated with honors. Today, Ida is a language services professional in Washington, D.C.
Ida’s younger brother Edward filled out his application form for Oswego the same night he attended the Commencement Eve Torchlight Ceremony that honored Ida and her fellow graduates of the Class of 1998.
“I remember the moment, I remember the feeling,” said Edward, who today is a software engineer in Boulder, Colo., and
holds a master’s degree in systems engineering from Cornell University. “My parents were alumni, my sister was about to be an alumna … it felt like I just belonged in Oswego.”
Jeffrey, who holds a doctorate from SUNY Stony Brook and today lives in the New York City area, agreed.
“I benefited greatly from the experiences and relationships of my older siblings,” he said. “I was eager to make memories of my own.”
Branch Sprung from Brotherhood
Christopher Roker ’92 (far right) was first introduced to SUNY Oswego by his older brother, Al Roker ’76. However, after arriving on campus, he developed bonds with new brothers through the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
The Roker branch of the Oswego family tree strengthened when Latice Hardy-Roker ’90 married Christopher.
The Roker branch extends into the New York City area, where Christoper serves as chief executive officer for NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens, Latice is manager of support services at Visiting Nurse Service of NY and Al co-anchors NBC’s Today show, among other roles.
The Alumni Family of Firsts
Since its inception, the SUNY Oswego community has been especially proud of one of its families: the family of first generation college students.
“Because they are not raised with a higher education tradition, first generation college students may face different issues,” said college President Deborah F. Stanley. “We are here to support them. That is what the state university system is all about. Lifting people up, that’s what it’s all about.”
According to Grace Maxon Clarke ’11 M’14, an academic planning counselor for the Educational Opportunity Program and organizer for SUNY Oswego’s First Gen Day activities, SUNY Oswego has a long legacy of service to first generation college students.
Even our college founder, Edward Austin Sheldon, was a first generation college student, she said.
“We have historically emphasized a value and respect for learning that is experiential, as well as providing access to education,” Grace said. “Recognizing the hard work of our students is always important but also it validates that there are likely additional barriers they have had to overcome for their success. We can only serve our students better when we understand their first generation college student identity as an important piece of who they are and their experience at SUNY Oswego and beyond.”
The Next Generation
The demographics of SUNY Oswego students and families have changed dramatically over the decades, but the number of first generation college students who join the campus each year remains strong. Recent statistics place the Class of 2018 at 29% first generation college students. Women are more likely than men to be first generation students: 32% of women vs. 27% of men.
It’s an opportunity for future legacy families to join the ranks of so many who have come before them. Who knows how many new legacy families are in the works among the students on campus today—who will become tomorrow’s alumni, and tomorrow’s legacy families? —Eileen Moran
DID YOU KNOW? Nov. 8 was First Generation Day on the SUNY Oswego campus, a celebration of Lakers who represent the first in their families to attend college like the students featured.
Since 2017, SUNY Oswego has awarded more than 60 scholarships a year to first generation SUNY Oswego students, thanks to a $7.5 million bequest from Nunzio “Nick” and Lorraine Marano.
“The Marano gift is a testament to the transformative power of public higher education and how private philanthropy can make the dream of a college education a reality for students,” said Mary Gibbons Canale ‘81, vice president for development and alumni engagement. “Generations of students will now be able to forge new paths for their families as the first to graduate from college.”
The following Marano Scholarship recipients share what it means to them to be the first in their family to attend college.
|“I did not believe that I would be recognized for being the first in my family to attend college,” said Samantha Dominique ’20. An aspiring broadcast journalist, Samantha said that “being recognized by the campus gives me more confidence to succeed and pursue my dream career to my fullest potential.”
|Lok Chi Hon ’21 is studying computer science and participates on the swimming and diving team.
“As a first generation student who
comes from a family of immigrants, I have firsthand experience of how difficult it is to go for and finish a college education without accruing massive debt,” she said. “This award motivates me to aim high and to continue working even harder to achieve excellence. It will serve as a reminder to continue to fully dedicate myself to the path I am on, not just for my own good, but for the world’s greater good.”
|Omar Garbanzo ’23 said that his entry into the family of first generation college students has brought joy to his parents.
“I have been given a very generous opportunity to continue my education and make my parents proud of who I grew up to become,” Omar said. “Seeing the way that [this scholarship] has been able to make not just me, but my family happy inspires me to some day pay it forward myself.”