Alumnus’ estate gives largest donation in school’s history

The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry recently received the largest cash donation in the college’s 103-year history.

The estate of Raymond M. and Rita J. Smith gave the $2.4 million donation, which will fund student scholarships, according to an April 8 SUNY-ESF news release.

“It is fantastic,” said Brenda Greenfield, executive director of the ESF College Foundation. “It is transformational. The gift will be invested in the fund and grow in the years to come, allowing ESF to give out more scholarships.”

Raymond Smith died in 2012 at age 84, according to the release. Rita, his wife of 42 years, died in 1996.

Smith was a World War II veteran who entered college at SUNY-ESF with the support of the G.I. Bill, Greenfield said. He graduated in 1952.

“The G.I. Bill was what allowed him to afford to come to college,” Greenfield said. “He really felt it was important to have the financial means to be able to attend college.”

After college, Smith returned to Davey Expert Tree Co., where he had held a job since he was 16. He spent the next 40 years there until retiring as regional vice president, according to the release.

Smith credited this success to the technical education he learned as a forestry major at ESF, Greenfield said.

“The work ethic, technical skills and analytical thinking skills really helped him grow the company to what it is today,” Greenfield said.

The scholarship funding will give a preference to students from Western New York, where Smith spent his life, she said.

“If we were to give away a minimum of $1,000 in support, we would be able to give an additional 100 students scholarships,” she said. “That is pretty impactful.”

Smith established a scholarship fund at SUNY-ESF several years ago with a $250,000 gift, but this recent gift was left in his will, Greenfield said.

The Smiths have given $2.65 million in gifts to the university, according to the release.

Eighty-four percent of the students at SUNY-ESF receive financial aid, said Mark Hill, a senior financial aid advisor at the university.

If an alumnus such as Smith donates funds specifically for scholarships, the financial aid office can start allotting funds as soon as the money is made available, he said.

“If money has been specified for use as a scholarship, it can be very impactful in terms of what we would be able to do for our students,” Hill said.

Paying for higher education challenges many students, but SUNY-ESF offers a range of opportunities and support for students trying to afford college, Hill said.

Joey O’Reilly, a sophomore environmental studies major, is a recipient of the Class of 1951 Fund Scholarship, which is endowed through alumni.  O’Reilly said students receiving scholarships from alumni appreciate the support donations can offer current students.

“It means a lot that alumni help out with current students,” he said. “Having a support system organized by past students as well as current faculty makes me feel that the school is there for us.”


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