For alumna, ties to alma mater included a personal connection

The College of Education learned recently that alumna and longtime friend of the college Jean Spagnolo passed away. Her ties to the college go beyond her status as an alumna and her generosity, however. In the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, as Jean Angstadt, she taught English at Westbury High School in New York with Carl Monk — Dean David H. Monk’s father. Here are some reflections from Dean Monk.

I have clear memories of making a telephone call to Jean Spagnolo, one of our graduates from 1953, to thank her for a gift to the college. In looking over Jean’s alumni record, I noticed that she spent time teaching and serving in administrative roles within school districts on Long Island.

As a Long Island native myself, I saw this as a good area of common interest and mentioned it in my call. Jean picked up on the topic nicely and started to reminisce about how this was where she started her career as a high school English teacher.

The conversation proceeded and then moved in a very unexpected direction. It turned out that she started her career in the Westbury School District where my father was also a high school English teacher. She put two and two together and realized that my last name is the same as the last name of the more experienced teacher, Carl Monk, who, as she explained, took her under his wing and was immensely helpful to her. She remembered that Carl had two little kids back then with the stunning realization that I was one of these and that I was now the dean of her alma mater college.

A strong bond developed between Jean and my dad. He was the faculty adviser for the school newspaper and she was the faculty adviser for the yearbook. A parallel closeness developed between Jean and me, and I had the occasion to visit her several times over the ensuing years in her new home in North Carolina. She very graciously prepared a scrapbook for me that contained memorabilia from her days working with my dad in Westbury. Some of the contents of that scrapbook appear on these pages.

Jean pursued a very successful career and went on to serve as the first woman principal of a high school on Long Island. I got to know her after she retired to North Carolina and over the years she made a number of gifts to the college.

She is on my mind these days as we recently received word that she passed away last October. In my conversations and correspondence with her, she assured me that she had included the college in her estate. This was welcome news, of course, but Jean was also always careful to make sure I understood that this would be a modest commitment.

The relevant terms of her estate plans have now become known to us and what Jean did was provide a percentage of her estate to support the L. Jean Spagnolo Scholarship in Education. It appears that this percentage will do marvelous things to support future students in the college. Thanks to Jean’s generosity, roughly $300,000 will be added to the scholarship endowment she created.

What a wonderful legacy from a truly wonderful person. We are very proud of Jean and her accomplishments. Jean never thought of herself as a major donor. She worked hard at salaried jobs for her career. She lived modestly and provided for her retirement.

She cared deeply about the field of education and saw the Penn State College of Education making important contributions to the field as we work to prepare new professionals and to expand the frontiers of knowledge. By setting aside a percentage of her estate she protected herself from running out of money as she grew older, but also provided for what could turn into a very significant gift for the college.

My guess is that Jean would be genuinely surprised at how large her estate gift to the college turned out to be. In making this gift she provides a powerful example for our alumni and friends.

It is truly amazing to see what a percentage estate commitment can turn into and thereby provide recurring support for future students and programs in perpetuity. Thank you, Jean Spagnolo!

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Last Updated May 17, 2017