A local family has donated more than $2 million to Fulton-Montgomery Community College, the school’s largest ever single donation and, in the words of college president Dustin Swanger, a “game-changer” for many students who may not have otherwise been able to afford a higher education.
“Having the kinds of funds that this endowment provides means that we can close the gap for a significant number of students,” he said at a press conference Friday morning. “This really is a game-changing event for many students.”
The funds were donated by the estate of Violet Elizabeth and Donald M. O’Connell, longtime Palatine Bridge residents and entrepreneurs. According to Del Salmon, chairman of the College Foundation Board of Directors, the endowment exceeds $2 million and has been estimated to be as high as $2.7 million.
Swanger said the interest generated by the endowment will be used to fund scholarships for low-income students.
“Today community colleges are being called on to do much much more than they ever have in the past,” Swanger said. “It is so important to see these kinds of gifts to community colleges and how they can impact our students.”
According to Salmon, Violet Elizabeth O’Connell died in 2012 and Donald died last year on October 6. They had been married for 62 years.
The two owned and operated Palatine Industries, which included a gravel mining business and heavy equipment sales and rental center, as well as a car wash and storage facility. They also owned and developed property in Montgomery County.
Salmon described them as “down-to-earth, approachable and involved citizens.” Violet was a liflelong animal advocate, he said, and Donald was “a man of faith,” a Korean War veteran, and “a morning fixture at the local Stewart’s Shop who greeted customers with a warm, infectious smile.”
“More important than their business acumen is the enduring impact the O’Connells have left on their beloved community,” Salmon said. “Thanks to the value that Violet and Donald O’Connell have placed on philanthropy and the importance of a college education, the Foundation will be able to assist the college in providing funding for needy students who might otherwise not have been able to afford a higher education into perpetuity.”
For the members of the O’Connell family who attended the announcement at the college Friday morning, this was the culmination of a year of work managing the O’Connell’s estate.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Jane Remington, Donald’s cousin. “This is great. Fabulous.”
Remington and others described the couple as private and frugal. “Didn’t believe in squandering money, didn’t believe in vacations. Good living people,” Remington said.
The O’Connell’s had roots in Little Falls, in Herkimer County, but no connections to the college other than an interest in education, according to family.
Donald’s niece, Mary Ann Cheney, said it was a relief to finally see the fruits of their labor.
“It’s what he would have wanted,” she said. “He saved up all his money very frugally and he just wanted it to go to a good cause, to do good.”
In honor of the gift, the college’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Friday morning to rename the college’s Classroom Building “O’Connell Hall.” Swanger said the letters have been ordered and should be up before winter.
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