Kent State alumni continue to donate

Mike Crissman

More and more Kent State alumni have been donating money to the university in recent years.

Steve Sokany, senior associate vice president for institutional advancement, said Kent State has seen a significant increase in its number of donors.

“When I started back in 1993, as an institution we were raising about $2 million a year,” Sokany said. “Last year we raised $40 million.”

Judy Devine, former associate athletic director, is one of many alumni who have given back to the university in a big way. She estimates that she has given around $1.4 million in total to Kent State since graduating.

Devine earned her master’s degree in educational administration in 1970. Also, she has set aside a portion of her estate to be endowed to the university after she passes away. The money will go toward solving women’s equity issues in athletics, she said, a cause she worked on for years as a Kent State administrator.

“Looking back, I realized they’ve given me everything that I’ve got,” Devine said. “I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than investing in young people’s education. Whether it’s giving toward the creation of a building, funding a professor’s salary or providing scholarships, it all will help young people achieve their educational goals and then go on and do great things for society.”

Sokany said all the accolades Kent State has been receiving lately have helped the university’s fundraising efforts.

“It’s an exciting message to deliver to alumni,” Sokany said. “So many of them had such great experiences at Kent that it’s just a matter of reconnecting them and re-engaging them with what we’re doing.”

Despite the fundraising success, Sokany said only 8 percent of Kent State alumni contribute to the university on an annual basis, whereas similar state institutions average 12-14 percent.

“The biggest issue with Kent State in the past was that no one understood how good the school actually was,” Mel Mellis, 1968 Kent State graduate and university donor said. “I think that’s over. Most of the people involved with Kent State, including its students, know how good it is.”

Mellis, 64, former chairman of the Kent State University Foundation, was an investment advisor and then the president of the Real Estate Group of Bartlett & Company in Cincinnati. Since retiring in 1996, he and his wife have funded three $100,000 Medallion Scholarships for students in the College of the Arts, Arts and Sciences and Business Administration.

They endowed each of the scholarships to Kent State, meaning the university invested the principle donation amount, and every year the generated interest is awarded to students in the form of a scholarship.

“As a human being, you either want to give back and help people, or you don’t,” Mellis said. “I can’t imagine dying tomorrow, on my deathbed, knowing I never did anything to help other people. What a senseless life that would be.”

Mellis and his wife also made a gift to support the construction of the women’s field hockey stadium. The alumnus said Kent State helped him go from an immature kid from New York City to an individual ready for the real world. He added that the real point of giving is to “maintain Kent State University and continue its greatness.”

“Do what you can afford,” Mellis said. “If it’s a hundred dollars or a hundred thousand, if it’s a million. I don’t give a damn.”

Contact Mike Crissman at [email protected]