Keene State alumnus donates $1 million to college to support liberal arts

Nov. 20—More than 70 years after graduating, a Keene State College alumnus with a love for education has gifted his alma mater $1 million, the college said in a news release Friday.

Vincent D. Russell, 93, of Bowie, Md., who spent his career as a field director for the American Federation of Teachers, a national teacher's union, described the liberal arts education he received at Keene State as life-changing, according to the release.

"I wanted a liberal arts education," Russell said in the release. "My gift to the college is tied to the liberal arts because that is the best education a person can receive. College for me opened an entire world, and it changed me. It positioned me for who and what I became. I want to impact the lives of as many students as possible through my gift to Keene State."

The funds will go to support experiential learning scholarships and the college's visiting faculty program, according to the release. The inaugural Vincent D. Russell Experiential Learning Award and Visiting Scholars Award are expected to be selected on an annual basis, beginning next academic year, the release states. A representative of the college was not available Friday to provide more information on these scholarships and awards.

Russell grew up in Troy and attended local schools before enrolling at Keene State as an industrial arts major in 1946 at age 17, according to the release. All but five of the male enrollees that year, including Russell, were veterans getting GI Bill assistance, which aimed to provide benefits for some returning from service in World War II, the release states.

At Keene State, Russell pledged Kappa Delta Phi and lived in the fraternity's college-owned house, then located where Mason Library is today. He helped found "The Monadnock" — now "The Equinox" — with his fraternity brother, Donald Averill, according to the release. Rather than tap into college funding, the newspaper at the time relied on sponsorship from local businesses in the area that he and others involved with the publication had to seek out, Russell said in the release.

"Vincent's love for education and for Keene State are genuine," Veronica Rosa, Keene State's vice president for advancement, said in the release. "You see it across all aspects of his amazing life and career. He is not shy about telling others how he felt wholly prepared to compete and thrive in the military and in helping to grow the nation's second largest teacher's labor union because of his education here."

Russell is a thinker, well-read, and believes deeply in the enduring value of his work, politics and bargaining for better wages and benefits, according to the release. He said he is blessed with a memory that allows him to recall with detail so much of his past, including his childhood, the release states.

According to the college, while recalling his days of supporting teachers, organizing unions and defying judges, Russell said, "In my work, I was able to go around the country telling people to break the rules."

But the big picture, he added, according to the release, "is about strengthening education for everyone."

Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell said Russell's gift to the college is emblematic of the enduring value of a public liberal arts education.

"Vincent's life work has had enormous impact on so many," she said in the release. "His gift to Keene State will directly support student and faculty dedication to a liberal arts education as a foundation for a long life filled with meaning and purpose."

Ryan Spencer can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1412, or rspencer@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter at @rspencerKS