November 20, 2014
Peggy Fintel Horn ’78 understands first-hand the value of a close-knit campus, where professors not only teach, but also guide students through the process of discovering their talents and passions. She had that kind of experience at Roanoke.
Peggy was a biology major at St. Olaf College when her father, Dr. Norman Fintel, became Roanoke College’s eighth president in 1975. When Peggy spent the summer on Roanoke’s campus with her parents — Dr. Fintel and wife, Jo — she took an economics course taught by Professor Ed Siefried. By the time she completed the course, Peggy had decided to transfer to Roanoke to pursue a major in business and economics.
“I was bitten by the bug — I loved economics,” says Peggy, a managing partner with Morneau Shepell SBC Ltd., a leading provider of technology and outsourcing services for employee benefit plans. “A light bulb went off for me, and that course really gave me direction. Economics combined my love of words with the analytical and numerical abilities that always were easy for me. That course changed my life.”
Horn and her husband, Doug Horn ’78, met at the College and share a deep affection for its role in their lives. They are now volunteers for Roanoke Rising: The Campaign for Roanoke College, serving as regional co-chairs in Atlanta.
“Roanoke is such a warm place, and we believe it’s important to help the College move forward with its mission to continue providing a great educational experience for young people,” says Peggy, who joined the College’s Board of Trustees in 2009. “A campaign is a long process, and it takes a lot of people to make something like that successful. We’re just happy to be a part of it.”
The Horns already have supported a number of campus projects, including the Pirro Patio that will adjoin the new Cregger Center and overlook Kerr Stadium. The patio will be named in memory of former Roanoke head lacrosse coach John Pirro, ’77, who died in 2013 after a long battle with Huntington’s disease. Pirro and Doug, both from Huntington, N.Y., were lacrosse teammates in high school and at Roanoke and remained close friends.
“John was the cornerstone of Roanoke lacrosse,” says Doug, who played on the College’s 1978 national championship lacrosse team. “He’s the person who encouraged me to go to Roanoke, and I’m grateful for that.”
Peggy is honored to share in her father’s impressive legacy at Roanoke. During his presidency, enrollment increased while academic standards improved; financial aid was expanded to include merit-based awards; and the Honors Program was established. Dr. Fintel also helped boost the College’s endowment and oversaw numerous building, expansion and campus beautification projects.
The Horns maintain close ties to the Roanoke Valley, where they still own a house and where Peggy’s parents live. They have three adult children; the youngest, Robert, is a member of Roanoke’s class of 2015.
“We’ve got such a history with and an affection for Roanoke,” says Doug, who serves as president of the SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference. “We have such great memories of the College, and we continue to have really close bonds with our friends 35 years later. We feel that the College does a great job in providing a quality education, and we’re happy to help it continue that excellence.”
—Karen Doss Bowman
This is article is from the Roanoke Magazine, issue two, 2014.
November 2, 2014
As guest speaker at the 46th Annual Associates Evening Oct. 24, Emmy award-winning journalist Byron Pitts delivered a strong and personally candid message about the importance of giving back. He shared one example after another of the life-changing, transformative power of people “stepping out” for those who simply need a helping hand.
Pitts was a college freshman at Ohio Wesleyan University, failing his freshman English class. He was at the point of withdrawing from the university when an English professor – a first-year faculty member – offered to help him.
“She stepped out on nothing and saved my life,” said Pitts. “She had no reason to talk to me, but she did.”
His class grade improved. He stayed at Ohio Wesleyan, graduating in 1982 with a degree in journalism and speech communication. He set his sights on becoming a journalist, with a goal of joining the staff of “60 Minutes.” He rose through the ranks of broadcast news, building from small local markets to larger ones, then eventually becoming chief national correspondent for “The CBS Evening News” and a contributor to “60 Minutes.” Currently, he works as anchor and chief national correspondent at ABC.
Pitts has repaid that English professor’s favor many times over in his adult life. He shared the story of meeting an 11-year-old girl, Pilar, during a visit to a charter school in Baltimore, his hometown. After speaking to a group of students, including Pilar, she approached him and asked: “Mr. Pitts, where do you go, where do you hide, when the world hurts too much?”
It was learned that Pilar’s mother had abandoned her. Pilar was placed in foster care and later sexually abused by an older boy in the foster home. Working with authorities, Pitts was able to help Pilar get out of that situation. Now, she is a high school junior who has never earned less than an A- in her classes.
Where does she go now when she wants to retreat from the world, Pitts has asked her? “Her mind, her imagination, ‘where no one can touch me’,” he said she told him.
What Pilar deserves “is an opportunity,” Pitts said to Associates guests. “And when that person in your space asks you that question, tell them ‘Come to me.’”
This is article is from the Roanoke Magazine, issue two, 2014.
July 28, 2014
Some people just have a knack for connecting. Consider Dale and Janet Sarjeant ’74 ’73. They met at Roanoke and became partners for life. They bonded with their Roanoke professors so well that, years later, they established the Wise-Walter English Major Endowed Scholarship to honor English professors Matthew Wise and Robert Walter.
The Sarjeants set down roots in Charlotte, N.C., more than 30 years ago and never left. Today, they’re doing everything possible to encourage younger Roanoke alumni in the Charlotte area to maintain their ties to the College.
In the early 1990s the Sarjeants started the Charlotte Alumni Chapter. They’ve been chapter chairs, but most of all they’ve served as guiding lights, hosting meetings of the chapter steering committee four times a year. To that end, they’ve helped plan events that attract younger graduates.
“We need to find out what they’re looking for to keep them involved,” Dale Sarjeant explains.
In addition to hosting events appealing to all ages, such as Charlotte Panther Tailgate parties, Charlotte Summer Pops gatherings and Charlotte Knight nights, the Chapter has created unusual events springing from what Dale terms the “HOG” (“habit of giving”) philosophy. Football Fantasy get-togethers, for example, feature a 50-50 from which half the proceeds go to the College. The Chapter also sells Roanoke T-shirts and Roanoke cup cozies, which instill spirit and benefit the College.
These creative efforts have paid big dividends. For three straight years, the Roanoke Alumni Chapter has won the annual Henry Hill Alumni Chapter Challenge, awarded to the alumni chapter with the highest giving percentage.
Why do the Sarjeants feel so tied to their alma mater? “We really got to know our professors at Roanoke,” says Janet Sarjeant. “The College enriched our lives in so many ways, and it keeps on giving, so it’s a joy to give back.”
Dale’s enthusiasm for the College was further enhanced when he joined the Board of Trustees in 2009. “It’s enlightening to work alongside such wonderful people of many generations as we wrestle with the future challenges and opportunities facing liberal arts colleges, he says. And it’s fascinating to walk across campus with [President] Mike Maxey and see him interacting with everyone he meets.”
“Mike Maxey has a strong vision for Roanoke,” says Janet, “and we buy into that vision.”
The Sarjeants are very involved in the Roanoke Rising campaign as Charlotte regional chairs, and as donors. Based on their history, it’s a safe bet they’ll be working on behalf of the College for many more years to come.
July 28, 2014
Two Roanoke College Hall of Famers — both businessmen, Board of Trustees members and strong supporters of the College — made the surprise announcement during Alumni Weekend of a joint $5 million gift toward construction of the new Cregger Center.
The gift, from Donald Kerr ’60 and Morris Cregger ’64, will be used specifically for construction of the Cregger Center Field House. The multi-purpose structure — to be named the Kerr-Cregger Field House — will include a 200-meter indoor track and event seating for 3,500.
Kerr and Cregger are close friends and continue to support athletic programs at Roanoke and support the College at other levels. Cregger, Board of Trustees chair, is CEO of Cregger Company Inc., headquartered in Columbia, S.C. He is a charter member of Roanoke College’s Hall of Fame and remains one of Roanoke’s top 20 scorers of all time. He lettered in basketball, soccer, track and tennis.
Kerr, chairman and CEO of Kerr Industries, Inc., was one of the top athletes at Roanoke during his years at the College. A two-sport athlete, he was a member of the men’s track team and was a member of the men’s soccer team from 1956-59, serving as a two-year team captain. He set the Virginia State Tournament scoring record as a senior and led Roanoke to the Virginia State Championship in 1957. Kerr was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
Cregger Center work is officially underway. Utility work began in May, soon after Commencement and after students moved out of Bowman Hall. In June, Bowman will be demolished to further prepare the campus site for Cregger construction.
Construction is expected to be completed in 2016.
July 17, 2014
Construction is in full force at the future site of the new Cregger Center at Roanoke College.
Bowman Hall, a longtime campus residence hall, was demolished in late June to clear a site on High Street for the Cregger Center, a 155,000 square foot athletic and events facility.
The new multi-level complex will bring academics, athletics, recreation and community engagement under one roof. It will include a modern performance gymnasium with seating for 2,500, a multi-sport field house with a 200-meter indoor track, conference rooms and administration offices. New event seating space for 3,500, along with other social spaces and dining areas, will allow the College to host major events and bring the entire campus together in ways not currently possible.
Watch the video above to see the beginnings of the Bowman demolition and highlights of a June 26 campus ceremony to bid farewell to the building.
June 24, 2014
- Do this outrageous thing: buy yourself some stationary or just some small note cards with your name on them and establish the habit of sending hand written “thank you” notes to people who do nice things for you.
- When you are established in a job always do all that is expected of you every day, even in small tasks. And then when you have met that standard, do a little more.
- If you decide to change jobs, always use the Tarzan method of making your way through the jungle. Never let go of the vine you have in hand until the next one is firmly in your grasp.
- Vote – never miss casting your vote. Every time the polls open, show up, express yourself. The polling booth is the absolute only place where everyone is truly equal. … Democracy only works with citizen participation. The education you have gained at Roanoke College will sharpen your instincts and analysis of issues and candidates. America needs you to participate.
- When you begin to earn money and feel, finally, totally secure and financially stable, remember how much this has all meant to you – remember how much of who you’ve become began here on this campus with these friends and all this energizing intellectual and social environment. There will be nothing like this again. Remember it and begin early to make financial gifts to the annual fund of Roanoke College, and, when you can, give something significant, unrestricted, to a capital campaign like the one underway right now. And, if possible, remember the college in your will.
Others before you have done all those things. That’s why you found this place so ready for you when you arrived four years ago. Keep that tradition and this wonderful place as thriving in the future as it is today.
Wise words for all Maroons.
January 29, 2014
About 200 Roanoke College alumni, friends and parents enjoyed a festive evening of food, drinks and mingling at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond on Dec. 17. The decorated hotel, where Christmas wreaths dangled from wall sconces and a large Christmas tree rose high in the main lobby, served as a fitting backdrop for the celebratory occasion at which the College discussed its expectations for its $200 million campaign, Roanoke Rising.
“The Richmond region offers the dedication…and the Maroon spirit to drive us forward” to help the College reach its goal, said Elizabeth Rhodes ’78, one of Roanoke’s regional campaign chairs, in front of the crowd gathered in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom.
Of approximately 7,336 Roanoke alumni who live in Virginia, more than 900 live in the Richmond area, Rhodes said.
Stephen Rhodes ’74, another regional campaign chair, told the group that the Richmond area soon will set its own campaign fundraising goal.
Others, including President Michael Maxey, addressed the crowd. Maxey described the campaign as the College’s “booster rocket.”
“Our $200 million goal is ambitious, don’t you think?” he asked alumni and friends. “I know that we will succeed because of the commitment of alumni…Roanoke Rising will take this college to the greatest heights it has ever seen.”
New England alumni gathered at TD Garden in Boston on December 9th, 2013, to kick off the regional Roanoke Rising campaign. The annual alumni event was hosted by campaign chairs, John and Lynn Reichenbach (parents of Emily Reichenbach ’13). The Reichenbachs, along with campaign co-chairman Shaun McConnon ’66, welcomed guests and stressed the importance of the New England region to Roanoke College’s success. Mrs. Reichenbach pointed out to guests, “Your belief in Roanoke has helped us realize our potential… and that is a big part of the reason why you are here now.” She noted that the region’s leadership, dedication and Maroon Spirit would be the catalysts to propel Roanoke forward.
Alumni, parents and friends of Roanoke were excited to reunite on December 16th for the regional Roanoke Rising campaign kickoff and annual chapter reception at The Town Point Club in Norfolk. Campaign Chairs Joe Carpenter ’99 and Helen Whittemore ’80 welcomed guests and thanked the chapter hosts. Made possible by Marilyn Booker, Blake and Jennifer Boykin, Robert and Linda Braaten, and Clark and Bonnie Elverum, the evening’s program reminded guests that they can help the College rise to an even more exciting future. President Michael C. Maxey praised the chapter and its commitment. “That is the Maroon Way,” he said.
January 23, 2014
More than 100 alumni, parents and friends attended the Chapter Reception Kickoff Event for Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Nov. 17 at the historic University Club. Chapter hosts were White ’52 and Rosemarie Rhyne, Kayvon Sarmadi ’11, the Rev. Dr. Theodore F. and Doris Smith Schneider ’56 ’56, and Kevin and Kat Burns Swatt ’02.
Regional Campaign Co-Chair C. Steven Harkness ’69, who has been involved in a number of College campaigns, addressed attendees, marveling at the increasing size and scope of what have been very successful, goal-exceeding College campaigns in past years. “I am hopeful we will do the same this time,” he said, referring to Roanoke Rising: The Campaign for Roanoke College.
Harkness shared that a campaign goal will be set very soon for the Washington, D.C. region. Its success will require inspired, engaged support from all members of the College family, he said. “For the College to succeed, we must all be a part of Roanoke Rising,” he said.
Joining Harkness in addressing event attendees was his wife, Campaign Co-Chair and Board of Trustees member Kathryn S. Harkness ’73. She noted that Washington, D.C. is important to Roanoke Rising for several reasons: Of the College’s 17,383 living alumni, more than 1,500 live in the D.C. chapter region; nearly 2,000 Maroon Parents are in the D.C. community; and more than 800 are friends who support Roanoke.
“Based on these statistics, it is clear to us that the Washington, D.C. region offers the leadership, dedication and Maroon Spirit necessary to propel us forward,” Kathryn Harkness said.
News was shared that Tom Coyle’76, who has served as chair of the D.C. chapter since 2006, is moving to Indianapolis to be closer to his daughter. As a result, he will be relinquishing his role as chapter chair.
“He has been a great leader and we will miss him here in D.C.,” Steven Harkness said.
Roanoke College President Michael Maxey thanked attendees for their role in shaping the College’s future.
“Roanoke Rising will take us to new heights,” he said. “I promise great views for all when we reach those new heights.”
Philadelphia-area alumni gathered Nov. 19 at the Merion Cricket Club for the annual alumni reception. The event, which kicked off the regional campaign for Roanoke Rising, was hosted by Board of Trustee member and Philadelphia Regional Campaign Co-chair Morgan Churchman ’65, and his wife, Sonia.
Churchman stressed the importance of the Philadelphia chapter to the campaign, noting that out of 17,383 living alumni, nearly 800 live in the area along with 1,200 parents of current students and an additional 300 supporters. “The participation of alumni, parents and friends will be vital to our success,” he said.
New York area alumni gathered at the New York Athletic Club on Dec. 4 to kick off the Roanoke Rising campaign. The event was hosted by Sandy ’02 and Vanessa ’02 Mulheren, Nancy Mulheren ’72 and Robert ’60 and Mary Wortmann.
Judy Hall ’69, trustee and co-chair of the New York regional campaign committee, welcomed the crowd of almost 200 attendees. “I am glad that each of you has given your time to be with us this evening because this campaign is about participation,” said Hall.
Peter Treiber ’79, co-chair of the New York regional campaign committee, added “I hope each of you will join us in this very exciting journey — one that celebrates tradition, acknowledges advancement and honors the shared values that unite us.”
January 20, 2014
Charlotte, N.C., area Roanoke College alumni gathered Oct. 10 at the Mint Museum Randolph to reconnect and learn about the Roanoke Rising campaign. The crowd dined on traditional Southern fare, such as mini shrimp and grits skillets and small North Carolina barbecue sandwiches.
Dale ‘74 and Janet Sarjeant ’73 and Rick Oglesbee’95 were the event hosts.
During the presentation, Kerry Peterson Nadeau ‘07 announced a goal for the group – raise $25,000 to name the scoreboard inside Roanoke’s planned Cregger Center after the Charlotte chapter. About 1,000 Roanoke alumni live in the Charlotte region.
“We need Charlotte in Roanoke,” Nadeau said.
Baltimore alumni, parents and friends gathered in the Maryland Club to celebrate the kickoff of Roanoke Rising in Baltimore.
Joe Fields ’78 spoke along with Beth ’72 and Terry Purvis ’69. The three serve as the Baltimore co-chairs for Roanoke Rising. The group heard about the priorities of the campaign and viewed the campaign video. Purvis talked about the important connections between Maroons everywhere and especially in Baltimore. There was a clear feeling in the group of a connection between alumni of different class years and ages. Brooke Huff Dowell ’94 used the local term “Small-timore” to describe the many connections that bind Baltimore folks together. Although Baltimore is a big city, “small world” connections are often found in Baltimore and with Roanoke alumni. Dowell sent her best wishes back to campus for Hal Johnston, someone who influenced her during her years at Roanoke.
Charlottesville, Va., alumni enjoyed a reception and reunion at The Boar’s Head Inn on Nov. 7. Hosts Barry Meek ’91 and Dr. Munsey Wheby ’51 spoke to chapter members about the importance of supporting Roanoke’s new campaign, Roanoke Rising.
“The next several years of the campaign will give us the opportunity to seize on that legacy and catapult ourselves to the next level,” Meek said.
January 14, 2014
“I bought two coffees – one with milk, one without – and three pastries. What would you like?” asked Shaun McConnon ’66, directing me into the kitchen after a quick tour of his home. Nice touch, I thought to myself, not knowing what to expect next from this immensely successful high-tech security entrepreneur. After settling down in the living room, McConnon, with some prompting, began to tell how a man like him got to be a man like him, despite all odds.
McConnon’s hardscrabble early days did not foretell a successful life. His father was an only child, orphaned at 16. He served as a Tank Commander lieutenant in Patton’s Third Army, 16th Armored Division. He worked in the insurance industry, moving his family around from Brooklyn, N.Y. (where McConnon was born) to Queens to Levittown and, ultimately, to Lynchburg, Va. He was rarely home and, according to McConnon, seldom really present.
McConnon’s mother, whom he describes as “pure Czechoslovakian,” was the daughter of a coal miner and one of 11 siblings. In the late 1920s, her family was evicted from their home in the company-owned coal-mining town of Shoaf in western Pennsylvania, when John L. Lewis called the famous coal miner’s strike.
McConnon’s mother and father met under the large globe in Flushing Meadows at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a romantic touch in a union later sorely tested.
McConnon admits that he was a handful as a boy because his father was seldom around. “They sent me off to a Catholic boarding school, where I benefited as much from the context as the education. They took care of me.”
McConnon moved with his family to Lynchburg, where he attended E.C. Glass High School his last two years before college.
“My academic performance was good, but not great, and I yearned to leave home. It got so bad in the summer of 1961 that I ran away from home for three months, hitchhiking 800 miles back to New York City at age 16 and staying with friends for almost three months. No one called to ask how I was doing. The experience hardened me, put a chip on my shoulder, and told me that I had to survive in the world on my own, by myself. No one was going to be responsible for me but me. At that point I became a man, somewhat flawed, but a man. Or at least I thought so. I only started growing up at Roanoke College three or four years later.”
At E.C. Glass, McConnon softened what he calls his “tough guy New York edge.” He ran track, developed good relationships and stabilized himself. After high school, McConnon headed off to a small college in Missouri (Tarkio College), which folded a few years later. Determined to become a veterinarian, McConnon got good grades at Tarkio and later gained acceptance as a transfer into the Class of 1966 at Roanoke.
McConnon’s Roanoke years were tumultuous yet growth-inducing. He majored in biology, and minored in chemistry; he tutored classmates in math, biology and chemistry. He loved psychology (“Dr. [Karl W.] Beck was phenomenal.”) and history (“Dr. [Harry E.] Poindexter was great.”). And he says that English professor Matthew Wise taught him how to write.
McConnon held down several jobs to pay his college bills, as he had no financial support from family after his second year. “I did a little of everything from selling sandwiches in the dorms to working for a firm that delivered the campus laundry and dry cleaning,” he said. He also ran track – fast. A top sprinter, he ran anchor on Roanoke’s champion 4 x 100 relay team. (Morris Cregger ’64, current chairman of Roanoke’s Board of Trustees, ran on that same relay team.)
McConnon loved his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Order, but turned down leadership roles. “I was feeling sorry for myself. My loans were piling up, and I didn’t want the extra responsibility,” he said.
In addition to his personal trials, McConnon shared the uncertainty of college men around the country during those years. “The Vietnam War was raging, and none of us knew where we would be after graduation.” The military rejected him because of his lifelong problem with asthma.
After graduation, McConnon went to work for Wyeth Labs, a pharmaceutical company out of England. For two and a half years he did pharmaceutical research in teratology and toxicology in Paoli, Pa. “Unfortunately, I was allergic to all their lab animals, and after two years, the company transferred me to sales,” he said.
The pharmaceutical sales job proved frustrating, but then a friend told him of a job that marked a key turning point in his career.
“RCA was starting a computer division, and they were looking for a person with a degree in science who loved puzzles. That was me!” Indeed, it was. In fact, McConnon had been chess champion at the Catholic school he’d attended.
The computer division faced stiff competition from IBM and was later bought by UNIVAC, later renamed UNISYS.
McConnon didn’t get a job with UNISYS, but he was heavily recruited by Honeywell’s newly minted computer division. “My new bosses had been former football stars: West Point’s kickoff returner and Navy’s kicker, two very competitive guys. They liked me, and they taught me everything I needed to know in my early sales career.”
From Honeywell, McConnon went to Data General, a competitor of the multimillion-dollar Digital Equipment. McConnon then went on to Sun Microsystems, where he compiled a superb record as New England regional sales manager. “I hired over 200 sales reps and managers, and we kicked some serious competitive butt as we built one of the largest and most competitive high-tech organizations in the U.S.” He then went on to help establish Sun Microsystem’s presence in Australia.
After returning to the United States, McConnon launched the next phase of his career: starting, building and selling high-tech security companies, which detect and flag abnormal, suspicious or intrusive activity. He’s accomplished this feat not once but three times: Raptor Systems, Okena and Q1 Labs. And he’s in the early stages of his fourth start-up: BitSight Technologies.
Goldman Sachs, McConnon’s banker for Q1 Labs, gave him a plaque indicating that these three companies had sold for over $1 billion combined, earning the investors a small fortune.
But how? How has Shaun McConnon attained such astounding entrepreneurial success in the fiercely competitive high-tech arena?
McConnon offers his own explanation or, more accurately, his business philosophy: 1. hire the best and the brightest people to build your management team; 2. create a culture that taps your employees’ skill sets and helps them thrive; 3. treat people with respect; 4. focus on your competition ruthlessly; 5. raise money when you don’t need it, because having a sufficient supply of cash helps the company weather the storms; and 6. be honest and authentic.
McConnon noted that high attrition is a cancer in any business, especially the high-tech industry. You have to create an environment in which people want to stay with your organization, he said. And that’s precisely what he has done.
Tom Turner, currently a vice president of marketing and business partnerships for IBM’s security division, worked with McConnon on two of his ventures, and he can explain some secrets to his mentor’s success.
“Shaun knows what makes people tick [which is] a tremendous asset in hiring, managing a team and negotiating. He has an uncanny ability to look into the future of the high-tech industry in order to position a company to be successful. And he’s not afraid to fail.” When Turner adds that McConnon is “a bit of an Irish rogue as well as an existential businessman,” one gets the sense that people like working with McConnon, that the bonds extend deeper than a typical business relationship.
John Egan, a lawyer with Goodwin Procter in Boston, speaks from the perspective of having known McConnon for 20 years. His firm helped take some of McConnon’s companies public.
“Shaun is an amazing visionary. Some people can see where the puck is now; he sees where it’s going to be in five years. He sets the vision and gets the buy-in from his people. I’ve seen some great negotiators, and Shaun is the best I’ve ever seen. His people know that they can trust him and that he has their backs. And he’s got a great moral compass; he does what’s right.”
David Fachetti, a venture capitalist with Globalspan Capital Partners, said McConnon “has all the attributes of the classic entrepreneur: great market intuition, incredible resilience and a positive energy. People want to work with him.”
One might think that after creating and selling three companies, McConnon would be content to sail into the sunset or, more likely, down to his second home on Seabrook Island, S.C. One would be wrong. McConnon is currently masterminding another start-up: BitSight Technologies, which, according to its website, “transforms how technology companies manage risk.”
“I’m not sure I’d know how to retire,” he said, laughing, as he talked about his latest venture. He makes reference to the part in the film “Patton” where Gen. George S. Patton is shaking his fist at the sky and yelling, “They can’t have a war without me.” McConnon then admits that he shares Patton’s furious passion, though on a different battleground; he doesn’t think there should be another breakthrough in security technology without him being somewhere on the field, leading the charge.
Passion, to be sure, characterizes other areas of McConnon’s life. He and his wife, Bonnie, are major donors to Rosie’s Place, a home for battered women and their children, and to the Pine Street Inn, a leading provider of housing for the homeless.
The McConnons also founded Home Away Boston in May, 2012.The nonprofit organization provides free, comfortable housing close to Massachusetts General Hospital for Children for families who come from afar for their children’s medical care. Many of these children are cancer patients coming to Boston for six weeks of proton radiation treatments.
As the Home Away website notes, “Our objective is to remove some of the stress of daily living and so enable the families to focus on their child’s health and healing.” The nonprofit currently offers three one-bedroom units for children (and their families) undergoing treatment. Plans call for expanding to nine residential units and creating a common space to meet the unmet housing and support needs of families coming to Boston for pediatric medical services.
Asked why he feels so strongly about Home Away Boston, McConnon said, “How could I not? I just look at the faces of those kids. They’re smiling, while their parents are crying.”
Bonnie McConnon added, “It’s amazing to see the courage in the faces of the kids with cancer when you know what they’re going through.”
A chat with Kimberly Sheridan, program manager at Home Away Boston, revealed another side of McConnon’s nature. “I worked at a restaurant where Shaun and his wife Bonnie often went, and I got to know them,” she explained. “Last spring he asked if I’d be interested in a new position opening up at Home Away Boston, so I took him up on the offer and started in May. He’s been very successful, but he believes in the people he picks out. He believes in me, and he’s been encouraging me to go to college. Shaun is such a generous man.”
Pat Boring, McConnon’s sister-in-law and friend for 30 years, said she doesn’t know anyone more generous. “He has a great sense of family, and he helps out people in our family without waiting to be asked. He’s also the kind of person who keeps up with his friends. You can’t say that about too many people these days.”
Terry Smith ’66, a longtime friend and a fellow member of Kappa Alpha, said McConnon, “was a brilliant student, so he didn’t have to study much. But he still took full advantage of the activities.” Smith recalled that as a member of the fraternity’s “Ways and Means” committee, McConnon was the guy who made sure that if the beer ran out, more beer magically arrived, quite possibly from another fraternity.
When asked to explain McConnon’s business success, Smith said, “He’s got a magnetic personality. People just like being around him. He’s got that authoritarian air. When he talks, people listen.”
McConnon came to realize, later in life, the tremendous impact Roanoke College made on him beyond the deep ties with his college friends. “I had deluded myself into thinking that I was just a self-made person, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated what Roanoke did for me. I owe a lot to that place.”
Jack Hills, a development professional who is former vice president for Resource Development at Roanoke and a current consultant to the College, was the person who reconnected McConnon with the College. “I knocked on his door in Wayland a little over two years ago. We had an incredible conversation, and he wouldn’t let me leave. He got tears in his eyes when he started talking about what Roanoke College meant to him. He’s remarkable.”
“Shaun has a big vision, but he can also listen. He’s a leader, but he can also follow,” Hills said.
That meeting led to a visit to Roanoke and, in short order, a seat on the College’s Board of Trustees in 2012.
President Michael Maxey said he appreciates the wisdom and insight that McConnon brings to the Board.
“Shaun is a big-picture guy, always thinking about possibilities. He creates a sense of urgency in a good way. He’s persistent, but not stubborn. I’m awed by the vastness of his intellect. He’s a great example of the lifelong value of a liberal arts education.”
McConnon has already had some productive brainstorming sessions with Maxey and other trustees about the challenges and opportunities facing Roanoke College. It’s a safe bet that Roanoke will be an even better place in the future because of his great vision, keen intellect and deep devotion to the College.
After we concluded our conversation, Shaun McConnon showed me around the grounds behind his home. I commented on the beauty of the landscaping, and he noted that he had picked out every plant and bush and tree. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me that he has a natural gift for spotting beauty in plant life as well as talent in people. He also showed me the serene spot he had created in a rise among the trees for his mother, who liked to sit there in her final years.
When asked about his hobbies, McConnon said that he liked to write. And he takes writing seriously. He recently finished a science fiction novel, “Prophecy,” which he’s sent off to a publisher in New York City. He gave me a few chapters to read, which I found highly imaginative and visionary.
During our visit, McConnon had spoken proudly of his two sons, Matt, a successful salesman with IBM and accomplished athlete, and Ian, who has a Ph.D. in French Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and is a classical musician.
As he ushered me through the living room, McConnon pointed to a Steinway grand piano. He said he had given it as a surprise to his son Ian. “I wrapped a ribbon around it, and he burst into tears when he saw it. I really miss listening to him play.”
About the writer: David Treadwell, a Maine writer, specializes in writing for colleges and universities throughout the United States. He has worked on numerous writing projects for Roanoke College over the years and sings the College’s praises to whomever will listen.