The Founders Society Induction Ceremony Honors Generous Benefactors and Celebrates the St. John’s Family

June 3, 2019

A gathering of many of the most generous supporters of St. John’s University was held in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, when nearly 80 people attended The Founders Society Eighth Induction Ceremony and Dinner.

The Founders Society, St. John’s most prestigious donor recognition society, celebrates those individuals and organizations who have made lifetime gifts and pledges to the University totaling at least one million dollars. The event, which featured remarks by University officials, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, benefactors, and an undergraduate student, gave powerful witness to the power and promise of a St. John’s education.

The celebratory evening featured heartfelt remarks from William L. Collins ’76C, ’12HON, outgoing Chair of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Collins addressed the audience, stating, “My wife, Lesley, and I were proud and honored to be inducted into The Founders Society in 2008. Tonight, in one of my last official acts as Chair of the Board of Trustees, I want to encourage all of you to continue to light the way for the St. John’s community in providing the opportunity of a Vincentian education. The cost of higher education is a challenge to most of our students. Yet, those that come to St. John’s are retaining and graduating at the best levels in a decade. This is a remarkable achievement that you all should be proud helping the University achieve.”

St. John’s President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., remarked during the ceremony that, “Through their generosity, members of The Founders Society have made a transformative impact on the lives of our students and they are so vital to the ongoing success of St. John’s. Their giving is remarkable and inspirational.” Including the new inductees, there are now 64 members of The Founders Society. These generous benefactors have collectively given or pledged close to $250 million to St. John’s University. 

The new members of The Founders Society inducted on May 28 included

  • Vanna F. Beeth and Harry R. Beeth ’67CBA, ’70MBA
  • Joan M. Lacagnina ’88CBA
  • Peter Lou
  • JoAnn A. Reed and Kevin F. Reed ’75C
  • The Starr Foundation, represented by Florence A. Davis, President of the Foundation

Christian P. Vaupel, Ed.D., Vice President for Advancement and University Relations, addressed the guests and drew parallels between their philanthropy and the mission of St. Vincent de Paul.

“Like Vincent,” Dr. Vaupel said, “the members of The Founders Society reach out to others in word and deed, not for notoriety or reward, but simply because it is the right thing to do and they are in a position to do it. They know that they have been blessed, and in the St. John’s tradition, they are eager to share those blessings with others, particularly with the University that obviously means so much to them.”

A common theme heard from each inductee was the lasting impact that St. John’s University had on their lives and how that serves as motivation for them to give back.

Harry R. Beeth ’67CBA, ’70MBA recounted being the first member of his family to go to college, and, how his St. John’s education led to a successful career in business. After a successful on-campus interview, he began a 32-year career at IBM, ultimately ascending to the position of Chief Financial Officer, Service Group. He later served as Corporate Vice President and Controller of the Xerox Corporation, and in 2006 was named Chief Financial Officer of the United States Tennis Association. Mr. Beeth described how his philanthropic support, “gives an opportunity to today’s version of the Beeth family, thus expanding the St. John’s family.”

Joan M. Lacagnina ’88CBA attended the Staten Island campus of St. John’s University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. A self-described, “Italian, Catholic school kid,” Ms. Lacagnina recalled how she learned interviewing skills while a student at St. John’s and how those skills have helped her throughout her career. Now a Managing Director at Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. L.P. (KKR), Ms. Lacagnina is a member of the St. John’s Board of Governors, an ardent supporter of scholarship funds for students pursuing degrees in the University’s The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, and a generous benefactor of Red Storm Athletics.

Unable to attend the ceremony in person, Peter Lou was inducted in absentia. Accepting The Founders Society award on Mr. Lou’s behalf was Michael A. Simons, Dean and John V. Brennan Professor of Law, St. John’s School of Law. Dean Simons shared a recent conversation he had with Mr. Lou in which Mr. Lou described “finding a family at St. John’s,” and shared his commitment to supporting immigrants and their children. Mr. Lou, an immigrant from China, provides scholarships for Chinese-American law students who commit to serving the Chinese immigrant community in New York City.

Upon being inducted into The Founders Society, Kevin F. Reed ’75C declared that, “It is easy to support St. John’s because of our mission. The Vincentian mission makes us who we are and how we work to make the world a better place.” Mr. Reed, now retired after a distinguished career in business and in the financial services sector, focuses his volunteer efforts on mentoring young women and men. He is joined in this endeavor by his wife, JoAnn. Mr. Reed serves as the Chair of the Board of Advisors for The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, and he has helped to guide many of the students he mentors towards pursuing degrees in business.

The Starr Foundation, established in 1955 by Cornelius Vander Starr, was the first foundation inducted into The Founders Society. Accepting the honor on behalf of the Foundation and its Chairman, Mr. Maurice R. (Hank) Greenberg, was the Foundation’s President, Ms. Florence A. Davis. The Starr Foundation awards grants in a number of areas including education, medicine and healthcare, human needs, public policy, culture, and the environment. In 2018, St. John’s University received a historic gift of $15 million from The Starr Foundation to establish the “Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative” to support students, faculty, and programs in the School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science (SRM) at St. John’s. In describing why The Starr Foundation chose to support the University in such a substantial way, Ms. Davis stated, “Mr. Greenberg is always impressed by graduates of St. John’s and the well-trained men and women that come out of SRM. The Starr Foundation is proud of the SRM and of St. John’s University.”

The inspiring evening was made even more memorable when Eve Austin, a current undergraduate student and recipient of a Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, addressed the guests in attendance and described the influence that St. John’s has had on her life. Eve, who hails from the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, is about to embark on a two-month research trip to Alaska. She said, “I didn’t come to St. John’s with a perfect GPA. I didn’t come to St. John’s with the means to pay my tuition in full each year, without scholarship and financial assistance. I didn’t know what my major would be. I didn’t know how to live away from home. My experience has taught me to set goals, dream big, and never underestimate the value of hard work. Your hard work and dedication to student success at St. John’s has made it possible for generations of Johnnies to learn and live these principles of persistence, excellence, and resilience. Thank you for your generosity, your support, and for allowing Johnnies to keep dreaming.”

At a private ceremony held on Saturday, June 1, during Grand Alumni Homecoming Weekend, Louis D’Isidori, D.D.S. ’52C was also inducted into The Founders Society. Recalling that 70 years had passed since he began his studies at the Lewis Avenue campus of St. John’s, Dr. D’Isidori described the lasting influence that St. John’s—and in particular, one professor—had on his life. The first member of his family to go to college, Dr. D’Isidori cited the generous scholarship he received which proved to be the deciding factor in his decision to enroll at St. John’s. Dr. D’Isidori shared how his Biology professor, Dr. Edward Keegan, encouraged him to pursue a career in dentistry. Dr. D’Isidori heeded his professor’s advice, and it led to a long and successful career. Recently, Dr. D’Isidori pledged $1 million to establish the Virginia and Dr. Louis D’Isidori ’52C Partners for Student Success Endowed Scholarship Fund as a way to give back to alma mater.

“Just as St. John’s helped me many years ago,” he said, “it is now time for me to do the same.”