The following stories are of RMU alumni who have chosen to create a charitable gift plan with the university and, in turn, provide the gift of opportunity for future students. We are grateful for their generosity and for their commitment to RMU's ongoing efforts to change the lives of our students.
If there's one statement that defines Ruth Garfinkel '78, it's "I can do that."
Garfinkel, a Johnstown native who's lived in Pittsburgh for 55 years (the last 18 in Shadyside), built a successful, fulfilling career by taking on challenges that others might have passed on, simply because they believed they weren't qualified. But that never stopped her.
"I had the strength of my Robert Morris skills behind me," she says.
Garfinkel moved to Pittsburgh during her senior year in high school, graduating from Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill. After graduating, she went to the University of Pittsburgh for one semester before dropping out due to family issues. She needed a job, though, so on the advice of a friend she signed up for a one-year secretarial skills course at Robert Morris downtown. "I took typing and shorthand," she says, "and I even had a charm teacher. She told me to lose 5 pounds and to smoke my cigarette in the middle of my mouth. That's how it was back then."
Garfinkel finished number one in her class and ended up taking a job with Duquesne Light as a secretary. Then one day she got a call that Chief Judge Wallace S. Gourley of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania was looking for a secretary. "I didn't even know what that meant," she says. She interviewed for the job, however, and ended up working there for six years.
After becoming pregnant with her first son, Marc, Garfinkel decided to put her career on hold for a while. She always wanted to finish her degree, though, and by 1974 she was ready to go back to Pitt and pick up where she had left off studying business teacher education. "They really didn't have much for me, though. So I took a look at Robert Morris, and it turned out to be the most embracing opportunity for me."
Garfinkel says Robert Morris went out of its way to help her. "I was an adult student with young children at home and needed flexibility in my academic schedule. The Robert Morris administration and faculty were very helpful." When she took her professional semester, she wanted to teach close to home at Fox Chapel High School, even though Robert Morris had never partnered there before. So they made it happen. "They even allowed me to take courses at Duquesne and apply the credit towards my degree." In 1978 she earned her BSBA in Business Education.
"They did whatever it took to enable me to earn that degree," she says. "From that point on Robert Morris became such an integral part of my life."
Eventually Garfinkel took a job teaching at the Zoar Home in Shaler, a home for unwed mothers, a residential facility that provided one-on-one instruction to pregnant unmarried women and school-age girls. "In those days you couldn't stay in school if you were pregnant," she says.
Then, in the early 1980s, when the school program was forced to close due to a lack of funding from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the Methodist Church asked Garfinkel to stay on and start a private school and serve as its director. It was a lot to ask of someone with her limited experience. But she didn't let that stop her. "I said, 'Sure…I can do that!'" Soon she was hiring teachers for the first time and finding the supplies they needed, and in three months the new school, Encore Tutoring, was up and running. "I was even able to get the school licensed solely on the strength of my Robert Morris education."
In 1988, Garfinkel took on another challenge when the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), an organization with programs and projects that support women, children, and families in the general community, brought her on to handle most of the business operations. She ended up becoming the council's first executive director, which allowed her to go out and raise money for the organization. The whole time she kept leaning on her Robert Morris education. "RMU was always a part of my life here," she says. She retired in 2004 after more than 15 years of service.
One of Garfinkel's proudest moments came when she was presented with RMU's Heritage Award in 1994. The ceremony was held downtown at the then Vista Hotel. "I was very proud to share my Robert Morris story with my NCJW colleagues," she says.
Garfinkel's husband Alan, who was in private practice downtown, served as legal counsel for Robert Morris, which gave her the opportunity to get to know the university's upper administration. "We became great friends with President and Mrs. Edward A. Nicholson," she says. "We travelled the world together, went to board retreats, etc. As a result I was able to come to love Robert Morris even more by learning all the fine work it was doing." She has also gotten to know President Greg Dell'Omo and his wife, Polly, and appreciates what they have done for the university. "RMU's growth and success have been strong under his leadership."
Looking back over her career, Garfinkel says her success had a lot to do with serendipity. "I've had three of the best jobs anyone could ever ask for," she says. "It was like I had this little RMU angel hanging over me."
Today she and her husband are enjoying life in Shadyside, occasionally traveling across country to visit their five young grandchildren. Her son, Marc, is transplant surgeon and chief of surgery in Springfield, Ill., and her younger son, Asher, teaches film and writing at UCLA and online, and is the executive director of the Los Angeles Arthritis Foundation.
Garfinkel has been supporting RMU financially through annual gifts since 1994, and has been a member of the university's President's Council for the past five years. She is also a past member of the School of Education and Social Sciences' Board of Visitors.
She says she chooses to give back because Robert Morris gave so much to her and continues to do so for others today. "Plain and simple, RMU was and is a university that provides a quality education in a variety of disciplines with a focus on future employment for its graduates. It is a place that enables you to get a job. And that's something worth supporting."
Diana Repack liked Robert Morris University so much that, not only did she get her bachelor's degree in business information systems from here, but she also came back for her master's (MBA '00) and her doctorate (information systems and communication, D.Sc. '06).
She also married one of the professors.
"I got three degrees and a husband from RMU," says Diana, who now lives in Moon Township and works from home as senior systems analyst for WellPoint.
In May 2012, Diana decided to give back to Robert Morris since it has been such an integral part of her life. "I just decided it was time to give back," she says, adding that she plans on establishing a scholarship in order to help future students. "I was fortunate that my parents paid for my tuition. A lot of people don't have that, and today the cost of education is getting so high. I thought this was the best way to thank RMU for all it gave to me."
Diana first started out at Penn State–Beaver before moving on to IUP and finally RMU. "I got extremely homesick and wanted to be closer to home," she says. "Plus, I liked the small classes here, and all the professors knew your name. You hear it all the time, but it's true: at RMU they really know you and care about you."
After transferring to Robert Morris in 1983, Diana chose the business information systems program because she wanted to get into software development. Following graduation, she held a couple of short-term positions before landing a job as a programmer at RPS (now FedEx). From there she went on to work for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and then TechRx, a small pharmacy technology company in Moon Township.
It was during this time when Diana first met Bill Repack, assistant professor of management at RMU. The two of them were attending a conference at the university when she noticed an airplane pin on his lapel. Diana was in flight training at the time and approached Bill to find out if he was a pilot, which he was. That started a conversation. "The next day he ended up asking me out," she says. "The rest, as they say, is history."
Not long after they got together, Bill suggested that Diana come back to school for her master's, which she received in 2000. She followed it up with her doctorate in 2006, once again thanks to her husband's urging. "He knew I liked to learn and that I loved being a student," says Diana. "Bill was very influential in me coming back to RMU."
RMU and airplanes aren't the only things that Diana and Bill have in common, either. A couple years ago they both earned their black belts together in Tang Soo Do (Korean karate). Diana is now a second degree black belt and is currently working towards her third degree.
Overall, Diana believes that RMU is important for the Pittsburgh region at large. "The fact that it's out here in Moon makes it very accessible," she says. "I love this campus.
"Whenever I go to the grocery store across from campus, I can hear the music from the stadium, and it makes me smile. I love living in a college town!"
When Tom Shook ’50 was growing up in Munhall, his father worked as a conductor on the Union Railroad, a U.S. Steel-owned switching road that moved product from the mills out to the larger railroads.
When he graduated from high school in June 1942, Tom accepted a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad as a rate and billing clerk. That September he enrolled in the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy – the original name of Robert Morris – taking classes during the day and working for the railroad at night.
In February 1943, at age 18, at the height of World War II, Tom enlisted in the Army. He served in both the European and Pacific theatres as a member of the 97th Division’s Heavy Mortar Squads. He was discharged in February of 1946.
Tom reenrolled in the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy that September, his tuition being funded through the G.I. Bill for WWII Veterans. Then, after completing one year of day school, he and a couple friends decided to start job-hunting in order to beat-out those in the four-year colleges.
“We used the phone book to locate companies,” he says. “I applied to Ernst & Ernst (today Ernst & Young) and was hired to start employment in October 1947. Meanwhile I took classes in the evening, when time would permit, which wasn’t much.”
He graduated with the Class of 1950 and several years later was given RMU’s prestigious Heritage Award.
Throughout his career, Tom never forgot the Robert Morris education that helped him get his first job. While he was employed at Consol Energy for 34 years, he established a Robert Morris College scholarship program. In addition, he has contributed to many RMU capital funding programs over the years.
In his estate plan, Tom included a bequest to RMU to establish a scholarship through the school of business.
“I want to help students who may not have the opportunity as I did,” he says, “and perhaps change the life of someone who’s not otherwise able to enjoy the benefits of higher education.”
Tom says he is most proud of how RMU has attracted highest caliber of leadership and instructors over the years, which has enabled it to attract high quality students. He says the university provides an important, high-quality alternative to major universities in the Eastern U.S. and elsewhere.
“RMU has an attractive campus, top educators, and state of the art facilities,” he says. “Seeing is believing.”
Tom and Pam Keeler
When Tom Keeler M’88 found Robert Morris’s M.B.A. program, he knew it was a perfect fit for him.
“I liked the overall exposure to marketing that it offered, as well as its strong focus on business and management fundamentals. It made sense for me and what I where I wanted to go in my career.”
Today Tom and his wife, Pam, are preparing for their retirement years. When they started thinking about what they wanted their legacy to be, they decided that wanted to do something that would have a positive impact.
“I’ve always enjoyed my relationship with Robert Morris,” he says. “Pam and I still come back regularly for athletic and other events. We thought our gift could best benefit students at a place like RMU, which provides students with a good practical education that gives them an opportunity to get a good job and make a real contribution. Not all universities can say that.”
Tom says that he appreciates how RMU has always been able to recognize what its niche is and focus on what it does best.
“President Dell’Omo and the rest of the leadership have been able to use the available resources to best support RMU’s mission of ‘changing lives.’ RMU is building and growing where others have been forced to cut back.”
Tom feels RMU is important to region because it not only provides a quality education for its students, but it also gives employers a resource for talented employees that can help them grow their businesses.
“It’s really a win-win for the entire region.”