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When Terry Kearney was a sophomore at St. Bonaventure University in 1957, one of the friars handed him an envelope from an anonymous donor and said, “I’m going to make you the beneficiary of this $100 gift on one condition: you send a check back for $200 whenever you can.”
Kearney has since sent that check. A few times.
Now he is establishing The Terrance H. Kearney ’60 Endowed Scholarship at St. Bonaventure.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, the scholarship will be awarded annually to a deserving student from Venango Catholic High School in Kearney’s hometown of Oil City, Pa. Kearney visited Venango Catholic last week to announce the scholarship.
Growing up with modest means in a county that boasts the world’s oldest producing oil well, Kearney never planned to go to college. The eldest of three children born to a homemaker mother and a loan officer father who’d lost his job, Kearney figured he’d get a job close to home and help support his family.
But a scholarship shifted his focus and changed his life. With his mother’s encouragement, he headed two hours north to St. Bonaventure after graduating from St. Joseph High School in 1956. (St. Joe’s would become Venango Catholic in 1962.)
“I had the good fortune of receiving a scholarship,” said Kearney, who graduated in 1960 with a degree in English and is a longtime resident of Allentown. “I wanted to give something back so that others can get a better than average education and experience the closeness that exists between Bona’s faculty and students — just as I once did.”
Kearney credits Fr. Jerome Kelly, O.F.M., an English professor from 1949 to 1964, for helping him move beyond a failed chemistry class to better study habits and a major more suited to his interests.
Kelly was also the friar who awarded him the anonymous scholarship his sophomore year.
“He was one of the great priests there,” said Kearney, noting that the two forged a strong friendship and maintained close contact until Fr. Jerome’s death in 1997.
The loyalty and passion of the faculty and alumni is among the greatest strengths of St. Bonaventure, said Dr. Dennis DePerro, university president.
“Mr. Kearney’s tremendous generosity in establishing this scholarship illustrates our Franciscan charism in action,” said Dr. DePerro. “Just as an unknown benefactor and an engaged faculty member did so many years ago, Terry Kearney is fueling the academic dreams of young men and women.”
Kearney hopes today’s students enjoy the same camaraderie across campus he once did.
What he remembers best are peanut butter sandwiches with friends at the Rathskeller after mandatory study hall until 10 o’clock each night, followed by “a mass exodus to the one black-and-white television set in the lounge between Robinson and Falconio Halls.”
Other highlights include basketball games at the Armory, full carloads and even fuller hotel rooms for the NIT tournaments in New York City, and working at Hickey Dining Hall, where Kearney swept, mopped and waited tables, all for “the grand sum of 50 cents a meal.”
Kearney will retire next spring following a 50-year career as a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch. What he will miss most is contact with his many customers. “I talk to a lot of different people every day, many of whom began as clients and became friends,” he said.
With three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild just months old, Kearney has no worries about filling his time. He also intends to continue his investment research.
“My hope,” he said, “is that whoever receives this scholarship will pay it forward in the years to come.”
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #6 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.
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