A $1 million scholarship gift from Murray and Jean Swindell, ’56 ’58, is supporting bright students with financial need as it aims to enhance Albion’s recognition as a national leader among liberal arts colleges.
By Chuck Carlson
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Then again most ideas do.
As Murray Swindell, ’56, headed to graduate business school at the University of Michigan with his new bride, Jean, ’58, by his side, he made a bold promise to his new father-in-law.
“He promised him that I’d graduate on time from Michigan and that we didn’t need any financial help from him,” Jean recalls with a laugh. “That was one of the dumbest things he ever said.”
But despite living on summer-job earnings and Murray’s part-time job at an Ann Arbor post office, they did indeed make it. And those memories of early struggles and eventual successes formed the foundation of who the Swindells were and who they are today.
Now the couple, retired and living in Massachusetts, is doing their part to give back to Albion College, the school that did so much for both of them.
“We came to the conclusion that because of our experiences at Albion and with so many good memories, the education of our first son (Murray Jr.), Jean’s parents, Jean’s brother, it seemed like the right thing to do,” Murray says. “Even though we hadn’t been involved with the College in many years, in our heart, we still talk about Michigan. Albion was where I met Jean, that’s where we got pinned, that’s where we got engaged.”
‘A Great Deal of Warmth’
Six decades later, the Swindells have deepened their connection to Albion even more through their recent $1 million scholarship gift—a gift that carries only the barest of stipulations. The Murray and Jean Penzotti Swindell Student Impact Scholarship was created to support bright students with financial need; support President Mauri Ditzler’s vision of growth for both the College and the Albion community; and help make Albion College well known nationally as a top-notch liberal arts school.
“Mauri and I were pretty much on the same frequency in terms of our discussion,” recounts Murray, who grew up in Paw Paw, Michigan. “Making Albion vibrant in a rust-belt city is very important. And I’m hoping others will follow in the same way. It’s a chance for kids who are very bright but just don’t have the wealth to go to a fine school. This seemed like the time and it seemed like the place. We made the contribution with a great deal of warmth.”
Jean knows all about the Albion experience.
In 2009, she, along with her brothers Stanley and James and her sister Sally, created their own endowed scholarship in honor of their parents, Stanley and Louise Penzotti, ’30 ’32, who also met at Albion and were married in 1933. As well, Jean’s grandmother lived on North Ionia Street in Albion her entire life.
“While I was at Albion, I was able to drop in and see my grandmother,” says Jean, who grew up in Three Rivers, Michigan. “Albion felt like a second home. I grew up never considering going anywhere else to college. I didn’t look anywhere else. It was ingrained in me that you go to Albion College.”
So it was a tough decision when Murray and Jean married and he headed to Ann Arbor. Despite her parents’ misgivings, she transferred to Michigan, which elicited the promise from her new husband.
“We managed,” she says. “But we were definitely on a shoestring.”
“We ate a lot of pasta back then,” Murray adds. “But I still like pasta.”
‘Albion Has Meant So Many Things’
Jean would go on to earn her B.A. in education from Michigan and her M.A. from Lesley University. She was a reading specialist at Nashoba Brooks School in Concord, Massachusetts.
Murray earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and management and psychology from Albion, but he didn’t start out in that direction. He was originally going to pursue medicine until it became obvious, even as a freshman, that he was in the wrong field.
“I took physics, chemistry, and biology and it was a heavy investment because I knew I was in the wrong profession,” he says. “Dr. (Arthur) Chickering told me I should go into business. It was good advice. I think I was on the Dean’s List the rest of the time. I caught on quickly. Business was right for me. And all those people at Albion were so helpful in helping me achieve my goals.”
He also remembers how Walter Sprandel, dean of men at the time, would keep in contact with Murray’s dad, letting him know how his son was doing.
“He wrote my dad a letter when I was a freshman saying that I’d be OK,” Murray says. “That was really well received by my dad. And when I graduated, he wrote my dad another letter that said, ‘I told you it would all work out.’ And it all worked out very well from my point of view. I remember how those moments helped me through my freshman year.”
After graduating from Albion, Murray earned his M.B.A. from Michigan. He went on to work at Carnation Corp., then became an executive at Polaroid Corp., before forming Acuity Management, Inc. “I traveled the world and was feeling good about it,” he says. “Work was fun for me. I always had fun working.”
And they were experiences he knows he may not have attained were it not for the advice and guidance he received as an undergraduate. “Albion has meant so many things to me,” Murray says.
The Swindells’ oldest son, Murray, is a 1980 Albion College graduate, while their other three children earned degrees at small liberal arts schools on the East Coast. Their newly established scholarship is geared toward that fact.
“Murray’s success in business gave us a good life,” Jean says. “The fact that our children all had a good liberal arts education at schools like Albion certainly makes us want to have our scholarship money go to students who don’t have that opportunity financially. We want Albion to rank somewhere in the hearts of Easterners as a good liberal arts school. We know from personal experience that the schools in the Midwest are just as good as the ones where our children attended.”