Wading in the Wetlands
Larry Albanese ’76 shares what inspired him and his wife, Gabriella Albanese ’77, to begin not only an Environmental Sciences Scholarship, but what Larry calls a “slush fund” to support key expenses involved with student research in the wetlands. He also reflects on how small, approachable monthly giving has been a game-changer for their family’s ability to make an impact.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your connection to SUNY Brockport.
Well, I came up here in 1974 as a junior transfer student. My first two years [of college] were at Dutchess Community College down in Poughkeepsie, and I wanted to get away from Poughkeepsie…always loved this part of the State. Once I set foot on campus, I said, one way or another, this is where I want to be.
I met my wife about ten or eleven days in, and I graduated from here, then worked a bunch of places [in Rochester], including Kodak…Being a history buff, a lot of interesting things happened in Central New York and Western New York, so I have always felt a close connection up here. I got to Brockport and fell in love with the Village and the College, and now have managed to stay here.
Q: How does campus feel in comparison to when you were a student here, now that you are back?
It’s in some ways, very much the same. You know, the main section of the campus where we all went for class, and the dorms, it all seems very much how it did. Of course, the trees are more mature, and the plantings are more mature, and all of that. And when we graduated, the new library was complete, and the administration building was just underway…It has been fun to watch it grow.
Q: Do you recall your very first gift to SUNY Brockport?
We started giving a small amount to the Alumni Association, and we didn’t have an awful lot of
money so we gave ten bucks a month, and did that for a long time. We’re both graduates, I
graduated in `76, my wife graduated in `77. There was some kind of fundraising thing, and we
said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’ And that kind of loafed along…fast forward to a couple of years ago
— our kids have been long out of the house, our kids are middle-aged — so we just really
decided that we wanted to support a few things that were important to us in a more substantial
manner. We kind of have a means now. I mean, I can’t bequeath hundreds of thousands of
dollars, but you know, through monthly giving we can move the needle a bit.
Then Donnie Walters [an Engagement Officer in SUNY Brockport’s Division of Advancement]
reached out, and we were really interested in starting a scholarship fund [The Lawrence C. and
Gabriella S. Albanese Wetlands Conservation Research Scholarship Fund], and so that is what
we did. Hopefully we will be able to make that grow over time, too. But I have been involved with
wetlands conservation through Ducks Unlimited now for thirty some odd years, and knew that
Brockport had an environmental sciences program. I wanted to do something to really support a
young man or a young woman who wanted to get involved with it, because our future depends
on it. It comes right off our credit card every month, and no fuss, no muss…It’s kind of funny
that a few thousand dollars seem to have made a difference.
Q: What inspired your passion for the wetlands?
I have always loved the outdoors, even when I was a kid. My grandparents had a farm, and
we spent every waking moment possible out there…I was a Boy Scout, and we did a lot of
outdoor camping…We always tried to do a couple of things a year that would clean up a stream
bed, or clean up deadfall, or make, fix, or repair something through the Boy Scouts. And later
on, we would just do it for the sake of doing it.
When we moved out to the farm [in Albion] back in `86, a neighbor of ours invited us to a Ducks
Unlimited dinner, which is a fundraising dinner [for Ducks Unlimited]….and it’s just an
international organization that now has twelve or fourteen million acres of wetlands under
supervision. This is something that I want to be involved with. Since 1989 I’ve been involved
with the [Ducks Unlimited] committee.
Q: What inspired your decision to create both the Lawrence C. and Gabriella S. Albanese
Wetlands Conservation Research Scholarship Fund and the Albanese Wetlands
Conservation Student Research Support Fund?
[Laughs] It sounds so pretentious. It should just be the Larry and Gabe Scholarship and
Research Funds. That’s more ‘us’ than the “Lawrence C. and Gabriella S. Albanese…[laughs].
The time was right. And the fact that global climate change is getting worse, and it’s getting
worse faster now than any of us thought it was going to. We’ve got to a point of kind of a thermal
run-way, and the runway is pretty short. We are not rich people, but I thought it was appropriate
and necessary to do the little bit that we could to help mitigate what’s going on now. And
wetlands do support every aspect of life, so with a college that we both really enjoyed, and
wanting to support people in our community and our area that were going to do things to impact
the quality of life in our area, we just thought it was a nice thing to start to do, and a good thing.
One is a small scholarship to help a graduate or undergraduate who is going to be working in
the environmental sciences field, and the other is, I hate to say a slush fund, but a fund to help
with [student research], whether it be supplies, or a symposium, or a trip that needed to be
made…it’s broadly written so that the head of the department can use the fund at their
discretion…and Donnie says, that is something that’s unique, nobody else has done that. So if
they need a certain chemical to do soil testing or batteries, that is what that is there for. Or if you
got to send a student to Albany for a one-day symposium…but you need two-hundred bucks for
the symposium…that’s what it’s there for. I couldn’t put my hands on two-hundred bucks when I
was a college kid.
Q: Would you mind telling me a little bit about the fund more specifically, and the impact
you hope it will have on others both short and long-term?
There are plenty of scholarships out there for the young man or young woman who is the
valedictorian, or who has gotten straight A’s, and has parents that are making six and
seven-figure salaries, you know? And that’s great. But we were looking for the kid who maybe
grew up on a farm, or a young woman who wanted to get out there and work in the woods and
the wilderness, but maybe is only a C-student because she has to work while she’s in school.
We were looking for somebody who didn’t have the economic resources that some of his or her
peers might have. You take the kid that grew up in Cobleskill, whose parents are working at kind
of crumby jobs and scraping together every dime they can to get that young man or that young
woman into a program at a good SUNY college, those are the kind of people we wanted to help.
Hopefully, along with impacting an individual undergrad or grad student on a yearly basis here,
[funding the Research Fund through monthly giving] will be something you folks can use as a
template to show to other people who are willing to give. [Monthly giving] comes off your credit
card once a month, and you never think of it, never see it, never have to lick a stamp or write
out a check.
Q: What are you most passionate about in regard to SUNY Brockport?
We had some really great times here. Met some great people. We look back at our years in
Brockport, we even lived in Brockport for a couple years after [graduating]. It’s just a place I fell
in love with, and always hoped that we would be able at some point to give back, contribute to.
And now, in a small way, we are able to. We are never going to be the one at the top who is able
to contribute 250,000 dollars to some grand, huge-scheme project, but if we can help a young
man or young woman get more involved in the things they are passionate about, then it doesn’t
get too much better than that.
Q: Why does giving back to your alma mater matter to you?
You give to things that are important to you. We’ve always held Brockport in a nice glowy
spot in our hearts [laughs]. We had a lot of good times here. Learned how to learn.
That’s kind of what I equate my education at Brockport to. I had some awesome professors
here, that either remained professors or went on to do really cool and great things in the
industry and government and banking and everything, but it was the exposure to all of those
different people and the ability to learn [that I gained the most from].