Campaign News

Innovative Tennis Complex Will Transform the Student-Athlete Experience

5 minute read

Vassar College will build a $2.5 million tennis center on a site known as Ballintine Field, President Elizabeth Bradley announced. The facility will include eight courts, spectator seating, and other amenities. It is scheduled to be completed by the start of the Fall 2023 tennis season.

Funding for the Richard L. Cretella Tennis Center is being provided by the Richard Cretella Trust, administered by Cretella’s sister, Virginia Mars ’51; an additional donation from Mars; and gifts from two donors for the naming of two of the courts. Vassar parent Mindy Mayer has provided funds for one court in memory of her late son, Eric Smith ’92, who was a member of the Vassar men’s team for four years. A second family has agreed to make an anonymous donation to name a second court.

“These generous gifts will enable the College to achieve a major upgrade in our athletics facilities, a vital component of our Fearlessly Consequential campaign,” President Bradley said. “The Richard L. Cretella Tennis Center will enhance our recruitment of student-athletes by providing a cutting-edge playing venue while also supporting our Physical Education Department in their teaching of skills that lead to a lifetime of health and wellness.”

The complex will include eight courts composed of “post-tension” concrete designed to last a minimum of 20 years, seating for spectators, a scoreboard, video capture capability, and storage for team equipment.

Michelle Walsh, Director of Athletics and Physical Education, said the new complex was certain to enhance Vassar’s already notable achievements in intercollegiate tennis. “The women’s and men’s tennis programs have a rich history of competitive success at Vassar, which has included multiple conference championships, NCAA tournament appearances, and numerous All-Americans. We are very excited about the construction of a new tennis facility that will not only reflect that success, but also serve as a platform for even greater successes in the future.”

Vassar Women’s Tennis Coach Marty Perry, whose 2022 squad won the Liberty League regular season championship, said he and his players were excited to learn about the plans for the new tennis center. “This new tennis facility represents an incredible advancement in the student-athlete experience for our team members,” Perry said. “Our new home for Vassar Tennis will have a lasting, positive impact on both the men’s and women’s tennis programs.”

One of Perry’s players, Macey Dowd ’25, agreed. “Everyone in Vassar’s tennis program is so grateful and happy about this new facility, and I really think that it will motivate us to train and perform at our highest level. Match days will be more exciting, and it’ll have much better viewing for fans. We also think it will strengthen our program by drawing in better recruits.”

Men’s Coach Tina McDermott said she and her players were looking forward to competing in their new surroundings. “We are extremely excited about having a state-of-the-art tennis facility that will transform our student-athletes’ overall experience,” McDermott said. “This amazing facility will enhance our player development within the programs. This is tremendous for our current and prospective student-athletes, and our teams will thrive in this new environment.”

The new location situates Vassar’s outdoor tennis program close to its indoor tennis facility, restrooms, locker rooms, and other amenities essential to supporting varsity and recreational tennis activity. Removal of some of the existing courts at the intersection of Raymond and Collegeview Avenues will make room for the Dede Thompson Bartlett Center for Admission and Career Education that is undergoing review for construction, and will provide open recreational space for intramural and club field sports. An additional practice space to support Ultimate Frisbee practices has also been created at the Vassar Preserve.

Mars said supporting Vassar athletics was especially meaningful to her and others in her family. “I am pleased that the trust I established 22 years ago for my brother will allow Vassar to recognize him and his love for tennis with the Richard L. Cretella Tennis Center,” she said.

“Sports has always been important in our family. My Vassar daughter was on the swim team, and one of my two granddaughters played lacrosse while the other rowed crew, and everyone works out! It is very fitting that these tennis courts be named in memory of my brother, Richard.  Both my brothers patiently taught their ‘baby sister’ how to play, and I played for pleasure for many years. Richard played singles and then as he got older, he played doubles, all on a high level. He would be happy to know that his love of tennis will continue to be perpetuated by having this wonderful tennis center.”

Rex Cretella, one of Richard Cretella’s sons, said his parents had a deep love for the sport and played throughout their lives. “Tennis was a sport that was pursued in a significant way in my family,” he said. “Dad transported me to numerous tournaments starting when I was 10 years old, and I played competitively at Vanderbilt University. He would be overjoyed knowing these funds are being used for this purpose.”

One of Richard Cretella’s daughters, Steffen Eve Cretella, who coached tennis at two secondary schools, said her father had taught her mother to play, and everyone in the family learned to love the game. “Dad continued to play well into his 80s,” she said. “He was an extremely humble person, and I know he would have been honored by this gift to Vassar. Once the courts are built, I will definitely make the trip to the campus to see them.”

Mindy Mayer said her son had been widely recruited by college coaches, including the coach at the United States Military Academy, but he fell in love with Vassar after a family friend suggested he visit the campus during the West Point recruiting trip. “Eric came home from that trip and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to Vassar,’” Mayer said, “and he just loved his entire Vassar experience.”

Eric, his wife and two children, and his father died in a plane crash in 2007. Following his death, the Vassar tennis team created an annual award to a player who reflects Eric’s spirit and dedication to teamwork. “His teammates all told me that’s the kind of player he was,” she said.

Tim Kane, Vice President for Advancement, said the College was “deeply grateful” to the donors for funding the project. He noted that several courts were still available to be named by future donors.

Campaign News

Vassar Announces Launch of Vassar Veterans Initiative

3 minute read

Army vet Tanya Marie Painter, joined by family, about to receive her diploma from Vassar College President Elizabeth H. Bradley at Commencement in 2019.

April 7, 2022 – Poughkeepsie, NY – Vassar College will launch the Vassar Veterans Initiative (VassarVets) designed to expand its overall student veterans’ outreach and support by establishing an on-campus position dedicated to serving U.S. military veterans, President Elizabeth H. Bradley announced.

In 2012, Vassar became the first institution of higher education in the nation to partner with The Posse Foundation—a nonprofit foundation dedicated to recruiting outstanding young leaders from diverse backgrounds and pairing them with the country’s top colleges—to recruit veterans for enrollment. Through VassarVets, the College will establish a director-level position that will coordinate the recruitment of veterans as well as serve as a resource for veterans during their time at Vassar, enhancing the college experience of Vassar’s veteran student population. The new program will replace Vassar’s relationship with The Posse Foundation.

“Having veterans here at Vassar has benefited all of our students because of the unique experiences and perspectives veterans bring, and their presence is part of what it means to have a truly diverse campus,” Bradley said. “I am thankful to The Posse Foundation for helping us build the capacity to establish the Vassar Veterans Initiative and expand on what our work with The Posse Foundation has already accomplished.”

As part of this initiative, Vassar will extend its need-blind admission policy for first-year applicants to U.S. military service members and veterans applying as transfers. This eliminates consideration of veteran applicants’ ability to pay tuition from admission decisions. The College will also meet 100% of veteran students’ demonstrated need for educational expenses. With Vassar’s financial aid award, scholarship funds will replace expected family contributions and loans toward undergraduate tuition and student fees. In addition, Vassar is a Yellow Ribbon school and does not cap Yellow Ribbon spaces.

U.S. service members and veterans applying to Vassar will be granted application fee waivers and will be guaranteed an admission interview. Vassar is currently test-optional for all students, including veteran applicants, eliminating the need to submit standardized testing for admission to the College. As part of VassarVets, the new director will create a fall visitation program for prospective applicants who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces; offer dedicated college counseling to prospective veteran applicants; develop a pre-orientation program for enrolling veterans; establish partnerships with military-affiliated and veterans’ organizations; facilitate group and individual advising; and develop programming with other campus offices to support student veterans.

“Vassar took the lead 10 years ago in recognizing the power and potential of those who stepped up to serve our country, and I am thrilled that the College is willing to deepen its commitment with a dedicated role not just to build out our recruitment but also to further support student veterans’ success at Vassar and beyond,” said Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services Sonya Smith.

“We are proud to have partnered with Vassar as the first Posse Veterans Program institution. Vassar led the way for selective colleges and universities to think more strategically about including U.S. veterans among the members of their student body. These service members are an important part of the equity and inclusion discussion, and we applaud Vassar for continuing the work,” said Deborah Bial, President/Founder of The Posse Foundation.

The College is in the process of recruiting for the director of the Vassar Veterans Initiative position, who will report to the Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services, and work closely with the Dean of the College and Dean of Faculty staff, Bradley said. The position is expected to be filled by July 1. For more information, visit the Vassar Office of Admission website or call (845) 437-7300.

Vassar College is a coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Contact Larry Hertz, lahertz@vassar.edu, 845-518-3098; 845-437-7938 (Vassar College)

Campaign News

Generation Vassar Volunteers Step Up for the College They Love

5 minute read

Last year, in the midst of a year full of unprecedented challenges, the College launched a challenge of its own—a month-long friendly competition among Vassar alums to see which class, by decade, could achieve the highest participation rates in giving to the Vassar Fund. The challenge, dubbed Generation Vassar, was strikingly successful. Some 3,100 alum donors contributed more than $1.3 million in support of the College’s key priorities. Generation Vassar was a central component of a highly successful year—against the odds—for the Vassar Fund, which saw a leap of 5 percentage points in participation, with upwards of 2,000 more donors contributing than in the previous fiscal year.
Nancy Kwang Johnson ’85

A vital factor in the success of Generation Vassar—and indeed, of Vassar’s annual fundraising each and every year—is an army of unsung heroes, some 350 strong, composed of alums who not only volunteer to help their alma mater, but do so in a most direct way: They ask their classmates to give money to Vassar College. With the annual Generation Vassar challenge set to return next month, a quartet of these intrepid volunteers shared their thoughts about what motivates them to take on an assignment that others shy away from, and how they do it.

Nancy Kwang Johnson ’85 says that when she thinks about raising money, “All roads lead back to my grandfather and the jar.” The jar in question was where Ransom Johnson Sr., a sharecropper from Arkansas who moved to Chicago and worked as a Pullman porter and doorman at the Palmer House Hotel (two of the only jobs that an upwardly mobile Black man could secure at the time), kept all his tips.

Jared Chase ’04

Johnson notes that both she and her sister, Monica Johnson Macer ’93, received full academic scholarships to attend Vassar. A similar experience had a powerful impact on Jared Chase ’04. “I was a scholarship student while at Vassar, and I was always very appreciative of that,” he says. “I remember writing the donor while I was a student, saying I would like to pay it forward, and that’s why I do this now. I am especially committed to the financial aid piece. I see the College as a leader, especially in the way they administer financial aid that is need-based, that goes to its core values and funds things like inclusivity on campus that resonate with me.”

For Elias Kim ’16, “I think the best answer about why I do this is that both of my parents are academics. I love colleges, and liberal arts colleges in general. To me they represent the best of our country—people from different backgrounds coming together and learning. I would support that even if I didn’t go to Vassar. Growing up, higher education is always something I have valued, and thought deeply about.” That includes, he says, knowing how liberal arts college, smaller than large universities, can struggle to stay afloat financially.

Elias Kim ’16

Kat Mills Polys ’93 says Vassar “brought me out of my shell.” She describes her childhood as “fun, with supportive family and community, but I was not exploring the edges.” She says the College allowed her to explore her artistic impulse: “There was boundless energy, with new and creative people. There was [then-Vassar President] Frances Fergusson, telling us, ‘Live a life of daring.’ There’s a responsibility to try to live into that I have felt for the rest of my life. For me it’s not so much about giving back, it’s more like ‘Keep it up.’

“When I am talking about Vassar, I feel so energized, I just can’t stop getting excited about it,” Polys adds. “Vassar just gets me juiced, always, always.” She started her volunteering for the College by writing thank-you notes to donors (“I’m good at that. I was raised in the South.”) and somewhere between her 5th and 10th Reunions, “Someone said, ‘Do you want to just start asking?’ and it seemed natural. Talking with my classmates is not like a cold call.”

Kat Mills Polys ’93
Kat Mills Polys ’93

Cold calls—picking up the phone and talking to someone who is a stranger, or nearly so—are dreaded by some, but Chase says, “I almost feel more comfortable reaching out to people I don’t know.”

Kim sees it both ways: “I had so many good friends at VC, it’s an opportunity to get back in touch and convince them we are doing something that needs our support. I enjoy talking to people I know, but it’s also fun to engage people I know less well.

“Thinking of messages somewhere between mass appeals and really intimate appeals is a fun and rewarding process—you get to develop projects, get people interested in direct ways, where they know what their money is being spent on,” he adds. “One of the things we found difficult as a relatively recent graduating class was, how do you convince young people to spend money? When they are working off loans, it might seem a relatively low priority.”

So, Kim and his Class Fund Co-Chair, Emily Omrod ’16, worked with Vassar staff to create “a specific class project we can give people a tangible connection to. We came up with a class fund for low-income students who couldn’t otherwise afford to take low-paying internships. We were able to deploy some of it this past summer, and have circulated a report to our class about some of the students who have benefited.”

Like all of the volunteers interviewed for this article, Kim cites the importance of teamwork with staff from Vassar’s Advancement Office. “We have an incredible team,” Polys says. “They never leave you out on some branch alone.”

When Generation Vassar was first proposed last year, volunteers like Johnson, who cites her work with the campaigns of U.S. Senator Alan Cranston and Hillary Clinton as giving her a strong grounding in fundraising, were ready to go. Indeed, the competitive nature of the challenge appealed to her.

“I knew ’84 would be the class to beat. It was like oppo research,” Johnson says with a laugh. “We went through our lists to make sure each classmate had been touched. … We were behind, but we recruited a ‘dream team’ and had them reach out, each classmate reaching out to their friends. We sent 40 mini teddy bears to classmates only reachable by snail mail; the message was not about giving, but ‘We’re thinking of you during the pandemic, sending you a big bear hug.’ The last week of the challenge, we took the lead, but we wanted to make sure there wasn’t a stone unturned.

“Vassar means the world to me,” says Johnson, who adds that the image of her grandfather “turning that jar upside down, and realizing that every little bit counts, is personally one of the main reasons I give, and ask others to.”

To learn more about Generation Vassar, and to participate, go to www.vassar.edu/genvc.