Carlow University’s Class of 1966 graduated in a time of tumultuous social upheaval. Vietnam. Civil Rights. Busloads of students traveling south to march from Selma to Montgomery. This year, as the Class of 1966 celebrated the 50th anniversary of their graduation, they sought to do something different for their alma mater. To create a class legacy.

Members of the Class of 1966 present their Legacy Endowment during Homecoming Weekend.What they chose to support couldn’t be more fitting. Inspired by a $10,000 galvanizing gift from classmate Norma Jean LeClair, the class raised a total of $73,156. Their legacy? The Class of 1966 Legacy Endowment for the Social Justice Institutes.

The newly created Social Justice Institutes of Carlow University include The Grace Ann Geibel Institute for Social Justice, the Women of Spirit® Institute, the Center for Youth Media Advocacy, and the Center for Community Engaged Learning. 

Guided by the mission, history, and traditions of Carlow and the Sisters of Mercy, the Institutes aim to facilitate systemic change by informing practice and educating for social justice. Programs will support faculty research, providing opportunities and securing partnerships for community-based learning, and serving as a conduit for community engagement. LeClair is thrilled to support the new Institutes.

“Social justice issues are just as relevant today as they were in the 1960s,” she says, “especially issues pertaining to women and race. There is still so much work to be done.” 

LeClair knew she wanted to give back for her 50th anniversary. The seed gift for the Legacy Endowment was part of a larger $50,000 gift she and her husband, Robert LeClair, gave to the institution earlier this year. 

But what stands out most is the enthusiasm of all of her classmates and the support of the university. Together with classmates Kathleen Pollock Panepinto and Jane Macel Fiore, LeClair spearheaded the class giving initiative, and she hopes the entire process will serve as a model for future class giving.

“Our class reunion committee began Skyping and emailing and trying to figure out what we wanted to do,” recalls LeClair. “We decided if this was going to be a class legacy, then we needed to pick something the class as a whole could get behind.”

Anita Dacal ’69, Carlow’s executive director for university advancement, knew many of the 1966 graduates from their Mount Mercy years together. “They were the movers and shakers on campus,” she says. Dacal created a list of ideas for LeClair—and she and her classmates instantly zeroed in on social justice.

“Social justice was so important to us when we were there,” says LeClair. “As a class in the 1960s, you can’t get more involved than we were then. Because we picked an issue that was important to our class, that really encouraged people to give.”

And give they did. They reached the $25,000 needed to endow a fund at Carlow—which included additional support from the Capozzi Kirr Challenge Grant. They also dramatically increased their support for the 2016 Carlow Fund. LeClair is thrilled that she and her classmates could come together to make such a difference in the lives of others. Because for LeClair, education has been life-changing.

Norma Jean LeClair ‘66 and her husband, Robert LeClairWhen you ask what drives her, she’ll point to those Mercy values—and the education she received as an undergraduate. The scholarship that brought this small town girl from Donora, Pa., to Pittsburgh made a world of difference.

“I would not have been able to go if I hadn’t received a scholarship,” recalls LeClair, who now lives in Philadelphia. “I’ve always had a mind to repay that gift, in some way.”

And so she has—quite generously. She created a scholarship fund in 2013 in honor of her parents—to which she added $10,000 this year. The Angelo Grazzini and Helen Stimak Grazzini Scholarship is earmarked for students from the Mon Valley area. And the $30,000 Norma Jean Grazzini LeClair Challenge Grant doubled new gifts and increased gifts overall to the Carlow Fund.

LeClair reflects on a favorite Benjamin Franklin quote—one her husband memorized as a freshman at Penn—in considering where to share one’s time, talents, and treasures.

“If a man empties his purse into his head,” quotes LeClair, “no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” 

By Alison Juram D'Addieco