Contributing to Preserve the Marist Spirit

 Marist College psychology professor Dr. John Scileppi

Dr. John Scileppi

By Shaileen Kopec

John Scileppi has achieved a lot between delivering the valedictory to his Marist class in 1967 and celebrating his 45th reunion this past September. He earned MA and PhD degrees in social psychology from Loyola University in Chicago and undertook a 41-year college teaching career. As a young man, he founded an innovative school in Chicago and served as academic vice president of the Oglala Sioux Community College on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

At Marist, he attained the rank of full professor and, among other leadership roles, served as director of the MA in psychology program and chair of psychology during his 39-year tenure at the College. The recipient of two coveted Marist honors, the Faculty Service Award and the Outstanding Teacher Award, Scileppi stepped down from full-time teaching this past spring. He is writing his sixth book and hopes to teach some classes in community psychology this spring that would include a trip to Ghana.

Then there is his full personal life. He and Dr. Lynn Ruggiero, a psychologist and Class of ’76 alumna, have been married 30 years and are the proud parents of Luke, 22. The professor’s involvement with community organizations includes service with the Anderson Center for Autism, Rehabilitation Programs of Dutchess County, and Compeer, a program of Mental Health America. He is also a volunteer at the local library and a lector and special minister at Regina Coeli Parish in his hometown of Hyde Park, NY.

In a recent interview, Scileppi spoke about his start at Marist, noting with characteristic enthusiasm, “I am most happy when alumni write to tell me the great things they are doing in the field.” This backdrop gives some context as to why he has been and continues to be a generous donor to Marist.

 What drew you to the field of psychology?

I had really great mentors at Marist — Dan Kirk, Ed O’Keefe, and Bill Eidle. All three were both caring and demanding. They frequently set high standards, and many of my classmates and I strove to meet them. Proportionally, a high percentage of our psychology majors that year went on to attain PhDs — over half of us. I thought psychology offered a great way to help people and to change the world.

What brought you back to Marist, and what was it like then?

In 1973, Dan Kirk wrote to me about the new Community Psychology Graduate Program and he invited me to teach in it. I jumped at the opportunity. At the time, all faculty and staff knew one another. There was a strong sense of community on campus, and of the value of service to the larger community. Also, each student was treated holistically as a full person. The faculty frequently helped to organize and participate in student activities. I recall religious discussion/hiking weekends at Hunter Mountain, initiating honor societies and clubs of various kinds, sponsoring lectures and socials, etc. These activities were done as a natural part of the College’s value climate.

Why did you start supporting the Marist Fund, some 30 years ago?

I believe strongly in Marist College! It has been my alma mater and where I have focused the bulk of my energies as an adult. In addition, when foundations evaluate which proposals to fund, commitment to the institution by faculty, staff, and alumni is a criterion highly valued. After all, why should they support a college if the college community is not doing so?

What prompted you recently to initiate a charitable gift annuity at Marist?

I am at a point in my life when I want to make a major contribution. The charitable gift annuity makes this easy to do. My current style of life is not adversely affected by this contribution. Instead of keeping the money in a bank account paying a relatively low rate of interest, I can donate the funds to Marist and at my age receive a nearly 5 percent annual return for as long as I live. Those slightly older than me will get a higher rate of return.

In addition, I will receive a tax break for a portion of the contribution. True, the contribution goes to the College when I die, but I don’t expect to have much need for it then. Of course, I have other funds to pass on to my wife and son. I expect that when reviewing my financial situation after my full retirement in two years, I may find myself able to make another charitable gift annuity. A final incentive: donations made prior to December 31 of this year make me eligible to become a Founding Member of the newly established Marist Legacy Society.

What would you say to others that might encourage them to look into this form of giving?

Paraphrasing a classic typing course assignment, “Now is the proper time for all good alumni and staff to rally around Marist College!”

 Shaileen Kopec is Marist’s senior development officer for planned giving and endowment support.