Union College is like family for Frank Messa.
A graduate of the class of 1973, Messa has served on the Board of Trustees for 16 years including the last three as chairman. He had given $1.5 million for the Frank L. Messa Rink and also provided funds for scholarships, the Taylor Music Center and the renovation of Shaffer Library.
His latest gift is $2 million to rename one of the college’s Minerva Houses, Blue House, as Messa house. The houses serve as residential and academic centers. The building will formally be rededicated as part of the ReUnion festivities on Saturday at noon.
Messa, who lives in Saratoga Springs, recalled instantly falling in love with Union College when he visited it with his mother. “I canceled the rest of our college tour. I never looked at another college. I never applied to another college,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful place to be. It’s a small place. There’s a lot of individual attention. People are friendly,” he added. “It’s not a place where you’re one of 10,000 people and you’re just a number. There’s small classes, very intimate. You can get to know your professors. There aren’t lots of places like this in the world.”
Messa, 59, said he is still close with many students and professors from when he was in school. “My three best friends in the world were my roommates at Union College.” He has also stayed in touch with some of his professors, who will be attending the rededication ceremony this weekend. His daughter graduated from Union College in 2008. In an odd coincidence, Messa started out as a history major and was assigned a young professor named Robert Wells as an adviser. His daughter was assigned the same adviser.
Messa, who is also a graduate of Albany Law School, is a retired tax attorney who worked for the Ayco Company in Saratoga Springs. The firm was sold in 2003 to Goldman Sachs. He retired in 2006.
Messa gradually became more involved in Union affairs. He was the gifts chairman of his class and then went through a variety of leadership roles, including serving as chairman of the annual fund.
He enjoys chairing the board meetings. “I’m sitting there presiding over all of the energy of the table. It’s pretty awesome,” he said.
Messa said he was prompted to make the gift because the college is in the midst of its “You Are Union” $250 million fundraising effort. He is optimistic the college will reach its goal in the next two years. “We’re now closing in on about $190 million.”
His five-year gift will be unrestricted, which means it can be used for anything. Messa said these kinds of donations are most urgently needed as the economic downturn has affected fundraising at all colleges.
Union College officials have higher expectations of the students admitted today, he said “We hope the graduates turning out today will change the world.”
Union’s endowment is currently about $320 million, a figure Messa said many institutions would be envious of, but behind other institutions in its league.
Other fundraising efforts are also flourishing. They are on track to top $3.5 million in its annual unrestricted giving campaign. “We’re probably going to break our all-time record,” he said.
He also credited President Stephen Ainlay for his leadership during challenging financial times without layoffs and pay cuts.
Messa and his wife, Colleen, have been married for 32 years. They have three children — Christopher, who is a lawyer in Delaware; Peter, who works for Northwest Mutual; and Keri, who works for a recruiting firm in Manhattan.
Messa believes the liberal arts education offered at Union can translate well to any future career path. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on Wall Street or a scientist or a teacher.”
Messa loves being apart of the Union College community.
“I show up at random field hockey games, yell at the refs and hope they don’t find out I’m the board chairman.”