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Valerie Sodano ’49CBA

Valerie Sodano ’49CBA has always been determined to turn challenges into opportunities, and opportunities into success.

She was a gifted student in high school, and when she realized that her family didn’t have the means to pay for her college education, Sodano decided that her only choice was to get a job during the day and earn her undergraduate degree at night. Taking evening classes after a full day of work wasn’t easy, and most of her studying took place on the subway during the trip from Manhattan to St. John’s Brooklyn campus on Schermerhorn Street.

“I worked full-time during the day for my entire education,” she recalled, “and took all of my classes at night, up until the day I graduated. I went to night school at St. John’s for my B.S. in Management, and then to NYU for my M.B.A. and Ph.D.  It took me 14 years to get my three degrees, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I learned so much in the business world, and that helped me to really appreciate what I was getting in the classroom. I won’t say that it was easy, but my education meant so much to me that it was definitely worth the effort.”

Sodano’s connection to St. John’s spans more than 60 years. She readily acknowledges that her undergraduate degree, which she earned summa cum laude, provided a solid foundation for two successful careers, first in business and later in higher education. After a successful stint in the corporate world, serving as a Financial Analyst for Mobil Oil Corporation, she became a Professor of Management at St. John’s University, followed by her appointment as Chair and Professor of Management at the University of Bridgeport.

Never a professor who used precious classroom time to simply paraphrase the textbook, she incorporated her extensive business experience into each of her lectures, strongly believing that her students would benefit from the values that she learned in what she always referred to as “the real world.” 

“The students appreciated that I had so much business experience,” she said. “I always told my students that I didn’t teach from the textbook, because the textbook was primarily for background reading. My students really enjoyed that approach, and I think that they were able to carry that information with them when they started out on their own careers. That sense of practicality is one of the best things that I got from my own education at St. John’s, and I’ll always remember fondly my time here on both sides of the classroom desk.”

And that’s not the only reason the University holds a special place in her heart. It was here that the outgoing and vivacious Valerie Marek met Gerard Sodano ’49CBA, a fellow classmate in  St. John’s College of Business Administration who would one day become her husband.

“I was late for one of my classes and ended up taking a seat behind this handsome young man,” she remembered. “We started speaking to each other and nearly got tossed out of class by our professor, who didn’t appreciate the disruption. We were certainly attracted to each other and enjoyed being together, but our paths took slightly different directions after graduation. I was working and going to graduate school and Gerry was establishing himself in his career, and so it wasn’t until a few years later that we were finally able to marry. We had a wonderful life together, and St. John’s has always been a part of it.”

Sadly, Gerard Sodano passed away in 2010.

The Sodanos have always been among St. John’s most loyal alumni and generous donors.  Maintaining her own commitment and her late husband’s legacy, She continues to support the University as a member of The Loughlin Society, a premier group reserved for St. John’s most generous donors, and as a member of The McCallen Society, an exclusive group of donors who seek to ensure the University’s future by including it in their estate plans. Most recently, her generosity provided for the establishment of the Sodano Coffee House on the Queens campus.

“Gerry and I both had a love of education,” she said, “and we both appreciated what was done for us. I think that from the day Gerry and I graduated we were making donations to St. John’s. Every year we gave a little bit more, and then when Gerry passed away I wanted to have him remembered because he really loved St. John’s. A lot of our success was because of St. John’s, and not only the fine academics. We were also taught and encouraged to believe in ourselves.”

Over the years, a grateful University has conferred a number of awards upon these very special members of the St. John’s family.

In 1995 she received the President’s Medal, awarded to outstanding individuals in recognition of the extraordinary service and support that they have rendered to the University as well as the external community-at-large. Four years later, both Valerie and Gerry received the Pietas Medal, awarded to outstanding graduates who have demonstrated a lifetime of extraordinary loyalty and fidelity to the University. St. John’s honored them again in 2004 with the Fidelitas Award, presented to alumni couples who have demonstrated exceptional fidelity and love for each other and St. John’s.

“Looking back, I really appreciate what St. John’s has done for so many people, and that includes my husband and I,” she mused. “Gerry and I would like to be remembered simply as two people with a love of education, and a dedication to giving students the opportunity that they wouldn’t ordinarily have. I know that today’s students are working just as hard to succeed as we did, and if I can help them along the way, I’m ready to do it. Gerry would feel the same way.”