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  November 6, 2000

Alumni Give $2 Million to
Support Learning Disabilities Program

Any doubts that Joyce and Philip Mahoney might have had about their $2 million gift to support the Neag School of Education's special education programs evaporated after a 45-minute conversation with three graduate students.

"They were the most effective spokespeople that Dean Schwab could have put in front of us," Mahoney says of the three graduate students, Michael Alfano, Holly Bussier, and Emily Gross.

"They talked about what they were doing in the field of education for students with learning disabilities," he says, "and it was eye-opening in the sense of the breadth of their activities, their commitment, and the value that they were delivering. You just couldn't help but support that kind of activity."

For Richard Schwab, it was a creative way to expose the Mahoneys to "typical UConn graduate students who are outstanding men and women.

"The Mahoneys had a chance to see the kind of people whom they would be supporting with their gift," he says. "The direct impact of their gift will affect future generations of people, just like these three students."

You could say the Mahoneys' recent gift was 37 years in the making. In 1963, Philip Mahoney met Roger Gelfenbien, now chair of the University's Board of Trustees, when the two took up residence at Kingston House. They have remained friends since graduating in 1965.

Late last summer, the Mahoneys, who had retired to Arizona, were planning their estate. Their oldest son had struggled with a learning disability, and the couple wanted to do something to help others with similar problems. Their lawyer suggested establishing a Charitable Remainder Unit Trust to accomplish their goal. Under this type of trust, the donor receives certain tax benefits and a return on the assets. After the donor's death, the remainder of the trust comes to the UConn Foundation Inc. to be used as the donor designated.

"We put these two ideas together, estate planning and supporting students with learning disabilities, and said 'let's see what UConn is doing,'" says Mahoney. "So we did a little investigation, and we were really pleased with what we found."

He then consulted his longtime friend. "Frankly, he had it all figured out when he called me," says Gelfenbien. Gelfenbien put the Mahoneys in touch with Schwab and Foundation President Edward Allenby. And in a matter of weeks the gift was arranged.

"This gift will have a great impact on the school," Schwab says. "It will benefit future teachers, it will benefit future teacher educators, and it will help prepare highly qualified future special education administrators and leaders in the field."

The Mahoneys say the University's continuing transformation as a result of UConn 2000 also played an important role.

"Today, the place really looks like it's a much more serious educational institution," says Philip Mahoney, who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in economics and went on to a 24-year career at Citibank. He retired as a vice president. "That's another reason why I think we're pleased to be able to help the University. It clearly has a more robust focus."

Gelfenbien says the Mahoneys' gift builds on the foundation established when Ray Neag committed $21 million to the School of Education last year. It was the largest gift to any school of education in the country.

"The governor and the legislature deserve credit for having the foresight to set up the UConn 2000 program in 1995 and to give us matching dollars. That created an atmosphere in which people are willing to donate money to help us," Gelfenbien says. "People are excited about the University of Connecticut and our School of Education."

But, the Mahoneys say, their commitment is even deeper than that. "When we see the kinds of students who are studying there and preparing themselves for professional careers, it makes us want to try to help as much as we can," they say. "We want to promote alternative ways that students with learning disabilities can master material and become more productive. Hopefully, this gift will help the University do that."

Richard Urban