President's Hall of Fame
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Almitra Clemente Clerkin `81 and Nancy Scalzitti Hilbert `87
Almitra Clemente Clerkin was the second child born to Alexander and Jean (Moskot) Clemente. Almi, and brothers Sal and Paul (’83), grew up with their parents taking them to performing and visual arts events. At eight years old, she debuted as George Washington at the Erie Historical Museum. These experiences were instrumental in carving her path into the world of theatre.
After graduating from St. Peter Cathedral, Almi ‘just knew’ the next step was Villa Maria Academy: “I knew my entire life that Villa was going to be my high school.” Almi was a cheerleader for four years and elected class president both freshmen and senior year. Sport’s Day, Ring Ceremony and Mary’s Day were the most anticipated and favorite days of her Villa career. As a senior, she played Jesus in Godspell and was selected by her classmates as a graduation speaker. One of Almi’s favorite accomplishments was naming the Villa yearbook “Eschaton,” which means “right now, but not yet;” a nod to both extraordinary high school days and excitement and anticipation of what's to come.
Almi attended Gannon University and received her BS in Business Management (1985) and her MA in Health Communications (2017), graduating cum laude and with distinction, respectively. While at Gannon as an undergraduate, she (and future husband Shawn) began directing Villa shows.
In addition to her theatrical roles, Almi was Mercyhurst College's Assistant to the Director of External Affairs; Villa’s Director of Development, production director, and Drama and Dance instructor; and, for the last 25 years, the Erie Playhouse's Youtheatre and Development Director and Executive Director.
In 1982, Almi met Shawn at Gannon through their mutual love of theatre. They wed in June of 1985 and had their son Seamus (’16) in 1998, claiming him as “our best production to date!”
The guidance and love of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and Almi’s family have inspired and influenced her most of all. The SSJs educated her and taught her to “set the bar high when it comes to faith, dedication, and hard work.” Almi’s “parents, brothers, husband, and son,” she said, are “the core of my strength.”
Almi will always have a deep love for Villa. “Villa let me be myself, using my God-given talents to the fullest.” Her support of Villa continues to grow because she believes in a vibrant, caring, and family atmosphere where young women are encouraged to learn and grow. For 40 years, Almi has worked on over 300 productions, with 40 shows at Villa and Prep. She is most proud to have shared the Villa stage with Shawn and Seamus, as well as thousands of talented students, including her dearest, lifelong friends Terri Bohen (’81), Mary Zenner (’81), Linda Bucci (’82), and Peggy Schneider Laughlin (’82).
Aside from her Villa involvement, Almi is active at St. Mary's Episcopal Church as a member of the Altar Guild, a lector, and Eucharistic Minister. She loves to travel, especially to visit the seven International students the Clerkin's hosted for Villa and Prep. Currently, Almi is the Associate Vice President for University Advancement at Gannon and serves on the Board of Directors for Saint Mary’s Home of Erie, Erie Arts and Culture, and Our West Bayfront.
Thank you, Almi, for your commitment to Villa Maria Academy. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
To Nancy Scalzitti Hilbert, a picture means more than a thousand words. Born to Clem and Betty (Brady) Scalzitti, Nancy and siblings, Gary, Gayle (’74) and Pam, attended Our Lady of Peace School. When it was time to decide on a high school, Nancy’s decision was made, and it was not Villa Maria Academy. “It wasn’t until one day I saw the Villa yearbook, and I knew it was where I belonged,” she said.
Nancy loved her time at Villa: “It felt like home—a real sisterhood that I was part of,” she said. She was involved in cheerleading, track, the teenage action club, and ski club. Nancy worked nights and weekends to pay her own way. She made that sacrifice because she wanted to be at Villa more than anything. A few of her favorite things were: Sports day, Ring Ceremony, and of course, Mrs. Walker!
After graduating from Villa in 1987, Nancy went on to receive her Associate Degree in Accounting at Erie Business Center; again, working nights and weekends to pay her own tuition. Then in 1990, Nancy’s sister, Pam, introduced her to John Hilbert. They were married in 1992 and just celebrated over 25 years of marriage. Nancy says, “Our biggest achievement is raising three amazing children together: Johnny (’14), Timothy (’15) and Olivia (’18).”
Nancy made it her job to be very involved wherever her children were. She was the Our Lady Christian’s Room Mother Chair, was the School Board President, and volunteered in countless fundraisers and activities at their school. “I always wanted to do service where my kids could see me,” she said.
When reflecting on her high school days, Nancy states, “Villa established core values and gave me direction for my life as a young woman. The faith based education and the sisterhood built my confidence, integrity, and determination to succeed regardless of the challenges.” In addition to Villa, her parents, most especially her mother, had a strong influence on her life. “She taught me grace, strength, courage, faith, and how to love unconditionally,” Nancy said.
Seeing that Villa yearbook back in 1983, has come full circle for Nancy today. She has donated and volunteered thousands of hours to photograph Prep and Villa Events over the past eight years. The moments she has captured are forever etched into Prep and Villa’s history, ironically using some photos in the yearbooks. Her love and passion for photography has shown in her work and dedication to both Prep and Villa.
Nancy is forever grateful for her decision to attend Villa: “Seeing first hand with me and now my children only confirm the commitment John and I have made to Villa and Prep. Villa truly has a special place in my heart.”
With lifelong best friend and VMA classmate, Lynn (Lazenby) Douds, Nancy has been able to continue her love of photography and became a co-founder of Lifelong Photovation in 2013. Nancy, Lynn, and their core group of Aimee (Ashby) Nuara, Patti Zanco Palotas, Janet (Troncone) Dennen, and Nancy (Scalise) Nuara have created a special bond thanks to their time at Villa.
Thank you, Nancy, for your commitment to Villa Maria Academy. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
A.J. Dregalla Drexler `80 and Donna Conkey Geiger `54
Anne Jane (A.J.) Dregalla Drexler has a unique perspective on what it means to be part of the Prep-Villa “family.” Born to Herman (‘56) and Marilyn (O’Hara) Dregalla (‘55), A.J., along with her siblings Peter, Chris, and Phil (‘84), attended St. Peter Cathedral School where their mother was a teacher.
A.J. vividly remembers the day her acceptance letter came from Villa. “My mom decorated the front door of our house with a ‘You made it!’ sign, so I knew immediately,” she said. During her time at Villa, she served as a class activities representative, never missed a dance, and cheered for every sport and event—the most important, perhaps, being Sports Day!
For how amazing her Villa career was, it was also a time of tragedy. Her mother, diagnosed with cancer years earlier, passed away in July of 1978, after A.J.’s Sophomore year. Unbelievably, her father was then diagnosed with Lymphoma in the fall of her Junior year and died the following April, just days after A.J. had chaired Ring Ceremony.
A.J. says her story of recovering from these tragedies is largely a story of how the Prep and Villa family care for one another. While her parents were ill, a countless number of her mother’s former Villa classmates helped the family and several of the Sisters of St. Joseph even took turns living at their house. After her parents’ deaths, Peggy Weibel (‘53), connected A.J. to another big Prep-Villa family. Janet and Carl Steenberge welcomed A.J. as the youngest of seven into their loving family. Today, thirty-five years later, A.J. counts ten siblings—added to the first three are Steenberge siblings Michael (‘66), Pat (‘69), Gerry (‘71), Tim (‘79), Colleen (Zematis ‘73) and Kathy (Dahlkemper ‘76).
Surrounded by all that love and support, A.J. went on to graduate from Boston College with honors and then married into another large Prep-Villa family. A.J. and Steve (‘74) Drexler were wed in 1984. Steve’s three brothers, Art (‘59), Tom (‘64), and Mike (‘66) and two sisters, Lucille (‘58) and Sr. Mary (‘63) all graduated from Prep and Villa, respectively.
Having begun her career in Erie at Tal, Inc. A.J. is now the CEO and Owner of Campos, a research and strategy firm headquartered in Pittsburgh and her third successful entrepreneurial enterprise. She is a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization and is active in advocating for, and mentoring, other women entrepreneurs. She also serves on the board of the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.
A.J. and Steve have lived in Pittsburgh for the last 26 years. They have five children: Garret, Alexander, Gabriel, Katen, and Madeline, and one grandchild, Jayce. Through the years they have been active in Marriage Encounter, PreCana and taught CCD at the parish level for fourteen years.
In addition to family, A.J. says she also keeps a tight group of Villa friends, feeling always surrounded by the legacy of Prep and Villa—a legacy not just of a quality education, but of people who supported her during the most difficult years of her life.
Thank you, A.J., for your commitment to Villa Maria Academy. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Donna Conkey Geiger was the second child born to Al and Dolores (Erb) Conkey in April 1936. Donna and brother Brub (‘56), had a tight-knit family growing up and enjoyed visits to their grandparents’ house, time at the beach, and taking trips to Cleveland and NYC. After graduating from St. Andrew’s School, Donna knew her next four years were going to be spent at Villa Maria Academy.
Donna said, “attending Villa was a no-brainer and such an easy transition. A lot of my classmates were going there and I never thought otherwise.” At Villa, Donna was involved in National Honors Society, Glee Club, Chorus, operated the AV for every school event and held lead roles in the Operettas. She also worked at Conkey’s Supermarket, the grocery store her parents owned. Donna concluded her time at Villa as a member of the first class to graduate from the “new building.”
Upon graduation in 1954, Donna attended St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing. She completed one year but then moved home after the sudden passing of her father. Her mother eventually remarried and Donna gained a step brother, Marty Wyant, with whom she grew very close.
In the summer of 1957, Donna married her high school sweetheart, Jack Geiger (‘53). Over the next 12 years, their family grew with Lisa (‘76), Mike, Terri (‘78), Doug (‘80), Joey (passed away in ‘74) and Rob (‘88). Donna spent those years raising her children and being in their lives as much as possible. She started the Girl Scouts Program at OLCS and volunteered at every opportunity she could.
In 2011, Donna’s life took an unexpected turn. Jack was diagnosed with Mesothelioma and passed two weeks later. To help her through this difficult time, she turned to the Highmark Caring Place, an organization where she had been a volunteer for years. She was also immeasurably comforted by her Villa sisters and the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
It is the influence of the SSJs that has impacted Donna’s life the most. While at Villa, she saw these women as role models as well as teachers. Looking back, she couldn’t imagine being where she is today without those four years at Villa. “The Sisters helped me keep my faith when I needed guidance the most,” she said.
Villa has and always will play a huge role in Donna’s life. Aside from monetarily giving back, Donna has sent her daughters through Villa and watched her granddaughters graduate from there, as well. She says, “That’s a huge testament of how important Villa is to me.” Donna is an SSJ associate, a founding member of St. Jude the Apostle Parish, serves on the St. Patrick’s Haven Board of Directors and has been a Caring Place volunteer for over 15 years.
After a little serendipity with an old friend at the Philharmonic, Donna and Norman Stark (‘55) rekindled their friendship last January. In November of 2016, they were wed at St. Jude the Apostle Church. She and Norm love to travel with one another and enjoy spending time with their 36 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
Thank you, Donna, for your passion and commitment to Villa Maria Academy. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Marleen R. Scully `54 and Carolyn Schodt Belcaster `55
When you think of Marleen Scully, you think faith and family. Born in 1936 to John Paul Walach and Cecelia Palotas, Marleen grew up with four siblings and valued nothing more than family time. Janet, Ronald, Judith and David John, along with Marleen, cherished all the family traditions and holidays surrounded by loved ones. Her fondest childhood memory involved helping to ready the Church with friends every Saturday morning.
Marleen began her Catholic education at St. Ann’s Elementary School when she was taught by many of the Sisters of Saint Joseph (SSJ). This foundation made for an easy transition to Villa Maria Academy. “It just seemed natural for me to gravitate to a high school with the SSJs,” she says. Marleen also knew going into Villa would provide a solid foundation for her future.
During her time in high school, Marleen truly embraced the Villa culture. She was heavily involved in the Operetta, Glee club and other performances with the theater department. She was the senior class president and served on the Mary’s Day court. Marleen was also a member of the first class, 1954, to graduate from the “new building,” located on West 8th Street. Being involved in such a historic event has left an unbelievable mark on her and many of her classmates.
After graduating from Villa, Marleen attended St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing. There, she completed a three-year diploma program and became an RN. Marleen says, “Nursing was not only a vocation, but a ministry by serving God by serving others.” Marleen would eventually work as a nurse for over 40 years before retiring.
Shortly after graduating from nursing school, Marleen married Thomas Scully in 1958. Together they were blessed with five children: Sean, Brian `78, Sheila Scully Mack `79, Keith `82 and Erin Scully Marshall `84. Marleen is very proud that all of her children have a strong foundation in their faith and are carrying out the Catholic teachings she instilled in them at an early age. She says, “Being a mother has been my greatest joy, my greatest gift and my greatest treasure. My role as a grandmother and great grandmother enhanced this joy. I am so blessed to be surrounded by such love and family.”
The influence of Villa, most especially the involvement of the SSJs, has been the most integral part of Marleen’s life. It was at Villa that she grew her faith in the Blessed Mother and developed the skills necessary for her future endeavors.
She says, “The religious and educational foundations were instrumental in the further formation of my moral code and taught me the value of faith and integrity.”
In 2008, Marleen became an SSJ Associate. Since then, she has truly lived the values of the SSJs by being involved in the neighborhood network, little Italy, and the St. Paul’s Soup Kitchen. Marleen’s friendships have grown even stronger through the SSJs, proving her friends from Villa have stood the test of time.
Just as she did as a student, Marleen continues to remain very involved in the Villa community. It is still faith and family that drive Marleen’s daily activities. She has a deep affection for Villa, the SSJs, and, above all else, spending time with her family, including her ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Thank you, Marleen, for your passion and commitment to Villa Maria Academy. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Carolyn Schodt Belcaster was born in Erie, daughter of Arthur and Ida (Hermen) Schodt. With older siblings, Arthur and Susanne and younger siblings, Mary and Rebecca, Carolyn loved growing up in Erie. She spent her time biking, swimming, going to the beach and square dancing on Friday evenings.
In 1951, Carolyn began her journey through the halls of Villa Maria Academy. A majority of her friends from grade school, St. John’s School, were choosing Villa, which helped solidify her decision. One of Carolyn’s favorite memories from Villa includes Home-Economics class with Sr. Rosalie where she learned how to hand sew dish towels for the nuns and make a dress for a fashion show.
At the start of her junior year, Villa was moved to the new building on West 8th street. She will never forget the memories of her and her classmates walking through the beautiful new school. It was here that Carolyn attended a Career Day and found her passion in life to be in the medical field.
After graduating from Villa, Carolyn spent the next few years training at Saint Vincent’s Hospital under Dr. Lectner, Sr. Margurite and Delores Heckman. In 1958, Carolyn moved to Buffalo to work for a Radiologist where she stayed until the brutal cold and snow got the best of her. She picked up and moved to Hawaii with nothing but a good friend and a lot of confidence.
While in Hawaii, she met her soul mate, Bob. They were married in 1962 and moved to Chicago to begin their life together. They had four children: Bradley, Paul, Terice and Steven. Carolyn was fortunate enough to stay home with the kids until they were old enough to go to school. She then spent her time volunteering for multiple organizations including The Children’s Service Board, where she helped raise millions of dollars for programs for the Children’s Hospital.
Family has always been extremely important to Carolyn; her parents and extended family being the biggest influence. Carolyn shared, “We had a lot of relatives whose morals and values matched ours and they always looked out for us.”
Carolyn’s love of family grew with her involvement in the lives of her 11 grandchildren and first great grandchild. She loves to travel with them and has been all around the world to places like London, China, Italy, Greece, New Zealand and many more. In addition to spending quality time with her family, Carolyn is involved in her church, St. Peter’s Church in Florida, and enjoys playing golf and riding bikes in her spare time.
Reflecting on her high school days, Carolyn says “Villa reinforced my moral and religious values and gave me the confidence to be my own person.” She knew she was under good guidance and claims, “I was beyond privileged to have the influence of the Sisters of St. Joseph for 14 years of my education.”
Carolyn continues to support Villa so that today’s young girls can also receive an excellent education and venture into the world with great confidence in all their endeavors.
She set up The Medaille Scholarship in honor of her niece who had many medical issues that prevented her from attending school. Carolyn has given nearly $200,000 to this scholarship for Villa families in need.
Thank you, Carolyn, for your passion and commitment to Villa Maria Academy. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Sr. Margaret Ann Hardner '49 and Peg Sweny Bly '70
Sr. Margaret Ann Hardner was born in Erie and grew up on lower Chestnut Street. She is the middle child, and only daughter of Norbert F. and Margaret M. Steger Hardner. She and her brothers, Norbert and Gerald, attended Saint Patrick Grade School. She characterizes her childhood as happy and typical of the times. Her parents were role models for living their Catholic faith and stressed moral values.
Sr. Margaret Ann developed a lifelong love of swimming, due to the fact that the Chestnut Street pool was just downhill from her childhood home. On days that the pool was not open to girls, she and her friends walked to the Public Dock and took the ferry over to Waterworks Beach to spend the day swimming at Presque Isle. She still swims daily at the Glenwood YMCA, and for many years competed in the Masters Competitive Swimming program.
When it came time to choose a high school, Sr. Margaret Ann decided on Villa for many reasons, but especially because there was an indoor swimming pool! Sr. Margaret Ann was a three-year member of Student Council, serving as President her senior year. She fondly remembers her time as co-captain of the Basketball team, the “Villa Chicks”, as they were known at the time. Sr. Margaret Ann was also selected as a member of the May Court. She enjoyed spending time with her friends and especially loved to go square dancing with her friends and their dates at one of the boys’ barns. Sr. Margaret Ann loved her years at Villa and remains close with many of her classmates today.
Sr. Margaret Ann graduated from Villa in 1949, and at the end of that summer entered the congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Three days later, at the age of 18, she was teaching 52 fourth graders at Blessed Sacrament School. Over the next several years her assignments included Saint John the Baptist in Erie and Saint Francis High
School in Clearfield. She eventually returned to Erie to teach business classes at her alma mater, Villa Maria Academy. In addition to her work as a teacher, Sr. Margaret Ann attended college, and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Education from Villa Maria College in 1961.
After 13 years as an educator, Sr. Margaret Ann was assigned to work in the business office at Saint Vincent Hospital. She remained there for 5 years until she was encouraged by a superior to attend Xavier University to earn her Master’s Degree in Hospital Administration. By 1969, Sr. Margaret Ann returned to Saint Vincent as Assistant Administrator, and was named CEO in 1974…a position she held for 22 years until her retirement in 1996. During her tenure there, Sr. Margaret Ann oversaw the growth in facilities and services provided as Saint Vincent Hospital transitioned to Saint Vincent Health Center. Sr. Margaret Ann continues to serve the Sisters of Saint Joseph as coordinator of their health care benefits and manager of the automobile fleet.
Sr. Margaret Ann has served on numerous boards and committees, and has received many awards including: Gannon University’s Distinguished Pennsylvanian, The Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, Xavier University’s Distinguished Alumni, and The Tocqueville Award for Community Service.
Sr. Margaret Ann loves to travel and has visited all 50 states, 5 continents, and several islands. She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, boated down the Amazon, ridden the canals of Venice and walked along the Great Wall of China. One of her fondest travel memories is of a round trip vacation to Alaska taken by car with her brother Norb. Sr. Margaret Ann travels to Texas annually to spend time with her brother Jerry and his wife Sara, and their children and grandchildren. Recently, Jerry’s entire family travelled to Erie to celebrate Sr. Margaret Ann’s 60th anniversary as a Sister of Saint Joseph.
In 1992, Sr. Margaret Ann combined her life’s work in education, health care, and philanthropy by helping to establish a school and a health care clinic in India. She has made 8 trips there, many with founder Kripa Singh. She works with a board here in Erie that continues to raise funds to support the mission in India.
Sr. Margaret Ann’s service to others, locally and abroad, is a fine example of the moral compass provided first by her parents, then through her education at Villa, and finally with the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
Thank you Sr. Margaret Ann Hardner for your compassion and commitment not only to the Erie community, but on a global scale as well. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Peg Sweny Bly was born in Erie, the oldest daughter of Herb and Audrey Emig Sweny. She and her six siblings grew up in northwest Millcreek. Peg characterizes her childhood as carefree, with many hours spent playing baseball and football with her sister, brothers, and the neighborhood kids. Peg attended Saint Andrew School through 2nd grade, transferred to Our Lady’s Christian School when it opened, and completed her grade school education there. When it came time to select a high school, Villa was a natural fit for Peg. She had many activities and interests throughout her years there, including intramural basketball and volleyball and ski club. Peg sums up her experience at Villa in these words, “Villa was always very welcoming and nurturing. There was something there for everyone. I loved Villa”.
After high school, Peg attended Hiram College in Ohio, graduating with a degree in Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology. Early employment brought her back to Erie and included Penn Advertising, Hoover Universal, and Johnson Controls. While at Johnson Controls, Peg returned to school and completed an accounting major from Mercyhurst College. Peg also met and began dating a coworker, Tom Bly, during this time. They were married in 1985, and Peg left the workforce a short time later to raise their family. Son Ted, a 2005 Prep grad was born in 1987, followed a year later by daughter Danielle, Villa class of 2006. Their family was completed with the birth of son Jonathon in 1990, a Prep grad from the class of 2008.
In 1998, with their children in school, Peg and Tom took a leap of faith and opened Accudyn Products. The family owned business started in a 15,000 square foot building and now fills one with four times that size. Peg credits the success of their business to plenty of hard work and the ability to enjoy the work she and Tom share.
When asked about the biggest influence in her life, Peg easily settles on her mother, Audrey. “My mother was a strong woman with a tight circle of friends. She had a very strong faith, and loved her alma mater, Villa. She encouraged me to take time off from my career to raise my children, telling me, ‘You have to be a strong woman not to work outside the home’.”
Over the years, Peg has been very involved in the Erie community. While her children were young, she spent many hours volunteering at Our Lady’s Christian School with the PTO, co-chairing the parish capital campaign, and serving as a Eucharistic Minister to the homebound. She currently serves on the Grant Review Board for the Erie Community Foundation and the Erie Catholic Preparatory School Board of Directors.
Peg is philanthropic towards Villa, not only because she has the ability to be, but because she wants to ensure that any girl that desires a Catholic secondary education can have one. She believes that Villa is well suited to shelter, nurture, and develop young women at a critical time in their lives. When asked how Villa has influenced her life, Peg quickly says, “Villa enabled me. It was okay for everyone to be different, but we still shared in our Villa experiences such as Mary’s Day, Ring Ceremony, and Graduation. Villa prepared me well academically, but also instilled the sense that a girl could do anything.”
Peg Sweny Bly, thank you for your belief in and support of Villa Maria Academy and the opportunity that it continues to provide for the young women of today. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Dorothy Brei Marsh `50 and Debbie Uht '82
Dorothy Brei Marsh was born in Erie, daughter of John and Anna Brei. Dorothy enjoyed a typical Erie childhood filled with visits to the beach, extended family gatherings and street games with the neighborhood kids. Dorothy, and younger sister, Marilyn, both attended Sacred Heart School. She was involved in Girl Scouts and discovered her love of reading.
In 1946, Dorothy began her journey through the halls of Villa Maria Academy. There, she was involved in the Drama Club and many plays. She enjoyed spending time with her friends Jean (Walker) Domowicz and Jeanne (McDonald) McCormick whom she had known since her days at Sacred Heart. Dorothy recalls Sr. Maura Ann’s English class and Sr. Borgia’s Latin class to be a few of her favorites.
After graduating from Villa, Dorothy continued her education at St. Vincent Hospital’s School of Nursing and received her diploma in 1953. She worked at St. Vincent’s and then moved to New York for a nursing position at Brookhaven National Lab.
While at Brookhaven, she met her husband Dick Marsh. Their family quickly grew, adding Elinore, Charlie, Laura and Phillip. As Dick moved up in business, they lived all over the country and finally settled in Akron, OH, where she and Dick currently reside. Wherever she lived, she was heavily involved in community activities such as Girl Scouting, politics and the Civil Rights Movement.
Dorothy’s love for learning brought her back to the nursing field in the early 70s. She received her BSN from Spalding University and received her MSN from Kent State University in 1985, where she was honored with a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the College of Nursing.
From there, Dorothy’s professional career included administrative nursing positions in private sector hospitals, VA Medical Service and geriatric nursing centers. After the VA, she joined with the Reverend Tim Crouch to start a free medical clinic in the Akron area. She volunteered as the administrative nurse of this clinic for the next 13 years as it grew to serve thousands of the working poor.
Dorothy has never stopped learning and volunteering. She is currently on the Legislative Committee for the Ohio Association of Free Clinics and is still active with the Ohio Nurses Association. She also takes a class in Contemporary Politics at the University of Akron. Of course, she greatly enjoys spending time with her seven grandchildren.
Family has always been extremely important to Dorothy; her parents being the biggest influence in her life. Dorothy always took the role of caring and looking out for others. Her sister, who is 7 years younger, experienced this the most. Dorothy babysat for her as well as cared for her throughout their early years together.
Reflecting on her time in high school, Dorothy says, “Villa instilled confidence and promoted a sort of ‘sisterhood’ with classmates. It taught me to express myself well.” Villa also helped Dorothy to grow and mature more quickly than others. Going into her sophomore year at Villa, Dorothy’s father passed away, so she cleaned classrooms to help pay her tuition. Dorothy’s children were so impressed with their mother’s work ethic, that upon hearing this, they all chipped in to establish the Brei Sisters’ Endowment Scholarship Fund to assist families in need. Dorothy and her family have helped the Brei Sisters’ Endowment grow to over $100,000.
In December of 1963, Don and Nina Zatkiewicz welcomed their youngest child into the world. Debbie was the baby of the family and the only girl. Along with older brothers John and David, Debbie grew up in little Italy in Erie. Everything Debbie ever needed was right there. She claims, “Life was simple. We grew up surrounded by unconditional love.”
Even though her brothers John ‘76 and David ‘78, both attended Cathedral Prep, Villa was never an automatic choice for Debbie. Debbie’s neighbor, a Villa grad, introduced her to the Villa tradition. After attending St. Paul’s, Villa felt just like home for Debbie. She says, “I never felt out of place and my expectations were always met.” Debbie was involved in Volleyball, Cheerleading, Teenage Action Club but most importantly, she was a Sports Day Cheerleader all four years.
After graduating from Villa in 1982, Debbie began her college career at Gannon University majoring in Biology. One year later, she changed directions and applied to the St. Vincent’s School of Nursing. Her years at Villa prepared her for the intensity of nursing school. Debbie graduated in 1986 and was ready to begin her career as a Critical Care Nurse.
The night of her St. Vincent’s graduation, Debbie made one of the most important decisions of her life. Her high school sweetheart, Jerry Uht, asked for her hand in marriage, and in September of 1987, they were married. They then moved to Virginia where she continued nursing at Alexandria Hospital; there they had their first child, Gerard. The family returned to Erie in 1990 and Debbie returned to St. Vincent.
While working as an R.N., there were more additions to Debbie and Jerry’s family: Lauren, Christine and Thomas. Debbie took time off from her career and began to focus on being a mother. Debbie was extremely involved in her children’s lives, but still found time to volunteer at St. Paul’s Free Clinic. All four children attended St. Luke School, where Debbie was heavily involved as a volunteer, parent and coach.
In March of 2008, Debbie and her family encountered the most challenging experience they ever thought possible – Jerry passed away of cancer and left Debbie and the children with a future waiting to be written. This life-changing event made Debbie stronger and fearless, saying, “I certainly did not understand it, but accepted that this was a part of God’s plan.” She has been able to hold Jerry close to her, knowing that he is part of the fabric of her being.
Another part of God’s plan was for Debbie to step in to lead the team at Professional Communications Messaging Services, Inc., the company they owned and Jerry had grown. This was a whole new world for Debbie, but her mantra of “There’s nowhere to go but up!” became a reality. Now, seven years later, and as the President of PCMSI, the company has enjoyed tremendous prosperity.
Debbie cherishes many friendships from Villa including classmates Gina (Fanzini) Allison, Elena Salvia, and Patty (Felix) Hoffman. Villa helped mold Debbie into a strong and successful woman, saying, “Everything in my life has been influenced by my upbringing, my time at Villa, and all the blessings God has given to me.” She is also grateful to share her love of Villa with her daughters, Lauren, `09 and Christine `13, while Gerard `08 and Thomas `18 follow their father’s footsteps at Prep.
Faith, family and friends are the most important aspects in Debbie’s life. She looks forward to her future with a strong and inspiring heart, claiming, “God is so good. I feel and rely on His constant guidance.”
Sister Mary Drexler '63 and Adrianna Hagerty
The fourth of seven children, Mary Drexler was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. She lived on West 21st Street with her parents, Arthur and Clara Pluskota Drexler, her sister Lucille, and their five brothers: Arthur, Charles, Thomas, Michael, and Stephen.
The Catholic faith was an integral part of the Drexler's family life. They attended Mass at Sacred Heart Church and Mary and her siblings attended the parish grade school. Continuing the commitment to a Catholic education was a must, so it was a natural fit for her to move on to Villa Maria Academy for high school. Mary was a member of the Forensics club and the Mission club, and worked after school cleaning classrooms to help pay for her tuition.
The Sisters of St. Joseph were great role models for Mary and influenced her decision to become a teacher and join the religious life. In the fall of 1963 after her graduation from Villa, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph. Many of the teachers she had throughout her school career influenced that decision including grade school teachers, Sisters Teresa Marie and Mary Rita, high school teachers Sisters Josette Marie, Mary Mark Doubet, Virginia Ann, and Brenda Marie.
Although Sister Mary has had many previous assignments, her heart beats “Villa" and it has for the past 23 years. She returned to her alma mater as a Theology teacher in 1981. Two years later she became the assistant principal and served in that capacity for 10 years. She left Villa in 1993 for a year of study and came back part time as a Theology teacher and taught for another three years. In 2006 she was named principal of Villa Maria Academy.
Sister Mary describes her time at Villa as a “Journey of Blessings." Her ministry of outreach to young people is one of amazement. Sister Mary says, “These young women share with others their generosity, their thoughtfulness, their genuine concern. They are still teenagers and they struggle with balancing homework, outside activities, and commitment to family, but they have wonderful hearts that are open, creative, and inspiring. They have moments of struggle with boyfriends, classmates, and moodiness but that pales in comparison to their laughter, delight, and wonder. Each day my eyes are opened and I see Jesus in the young women who walk these halls. “
In her spare time, Sister Mary enjoys spending time with her siblings and their families. With such a large extended family, there is never a shortage of reasons to get together. Vacations, picnics, holidays, and birthdays provide plenty of opportunities to celebrate. Sr. Mary can always be found amongst the children, and one of her favorite holiday traditions is making gingerbread houses with her great nieces and nephews.
2013 was a significant year for Sr. Mary. Not only did she celebrate her 50th Golden Jubilee, but she also established The Sr. Mary Drexler, SSJ Endowment Fund for young women of VMA. Although 50 years may seem like an eternity to some, Sister Mary feels like she has just begun. She says, “Because my journey as a Sister of St. Joseph has always involved young people, I often feel that it has not been 50 years. I work with an incredible group of teachers and staff. Their energy and enthusiasm are contagious." Sister Mary continues to support Villa and Prep because she believes in the mission of the school. She sees how the lives of the students are transformed.
Adrianna Hagerty was born in London, England the middle child of Adrian & Frances Plumb Comper. The Comper family moved to the United States when Adrianna was very young and made their home in Erie. She and her sisters Penelope and Ellen attended Villa Maria Elementary School and continued their education at the Kenwood Academy of the Sacred Heart in Albany, New York.
After completing her studies in history and music at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Adrianna returned to Erie and worked at the Times News under Betty Peebles. While at the paper, she was introduced to Jerry Hagerty, an investigative reporter. Adrianna and Jerry began their journey together when they married at St. Peter's Cathedral in 1955.
Their family grew quickly with the addition of five sons over the next several years. Never daunted by the thought of travelling with her crew, Adrianna and Jerry would load the boys into the family vehicle and set off on vacations around the states. Favorite spots included Washington, DC, Niagara Falls, and Charlottesville, Virginia where her sister's family lived.
The Catholic faith, and in particular Catholic education, was the nucleus of the Hagerty family and with Adrianna at the helm, the boys were sent off to St. Peter's for grade school. All five are graduates of Cathedral Prep: Mike, class of 74, Chris, class of 75, Adrian, class of 77, Sean, class of 79, and Boo, class of 80.
Adrianna's commitment to Villa Maria Academy began in 1968 when she accepted a part time position as a Social Studies teacher. It seemed appropriate that while raising five boys, she expand her horizons by teaching all girls! What started as a job to help the family afford tuition became a labor of love that spanned 27 years. Adrianna influenced thousands of young women in the classroom in subject areas such as Western Civilization and psychology. She was also the faculty advisor to the yearbook staff and spent countless hours helping her students prepare it for print. Even after she retired she would frequently return to substitute teach whenever Villa was in need. She also enjoyed reliving the Villa experience through her granddaughters Meghan, class of 2008 and Kirsten, class of 2010.
Although retired, Adrianna was never one to slow down. She tended to her family, spent time with friends, and travelled in the states and abroad with Jerry. Adrianna loved the water, and beach vacations at the Outer Banks with her children and grandchildren were a definite favorite. Even as her health declined, Adrianna pushed herself to live each day to the fullest.
Adrianna truly exemplified the Villa mission of Faith, Family, Excellence, and Tradition. Her deep rooted Faith in God guided all of her actions in every step of her journey, her sense of Family as a mother and a teacher was the very essence of her life, she accepted nothing but Excellence from her students, and how she loved being part of all of Villa's wonderful Traditions. Villa was always on her mind and in her heart…even in the final stages of her life.
The memory of Adrianna lives on within the Villa family. In December of 2011, as a Christmas gift from her family, The Adrianna Hagerty Scholarship Fund was created. This fund makes it possible for young women in need to attend her beloved VMA. It is a fitting tribute for a woman who dedicated so many years of her life to the school she loved so very much.
We are thankful for Adrianna's passion and commitment to Villa Maria Academy. Congratulations to the Hagerty family on Adrianna's induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President's Hall of Fame.
Sue Pompeani Palka '73 and Jerome C. Wegley
Sue Pompeani Palka was born in Erie, the daughter of Hugh and Virginia Stephens Pompeani. Sue has many wonderful memories of her childhood, especially experiencing the variety of season-driven activities that growing up in Northwest Pennsylvania offered. Summers were spent bike riding and swimming at the family cottage on Avonia Road, fall brought weekends of camping at CookForest, and winter was filled with cold evenings on the slopes skiing. Although some of this time was spent with friends, much of it was and still is spent with her parents, brothers Rick and Phil, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. To say they were a close-knit group is an understatement!
In fact, Sue’s cousin and neighborhood friends were influential in her decision to attend Villa. Even before she became a student, she knew of Sports Day and the other Villa traditions through them. Sue has many treasured memories of her time at Villa. From writing articles for the Villa Notes, to travelling to France with her French 4 class, she recalls the numerous opportunities that she had while at Villa. Topping everything though was the honor of being selected by her classmates as a Mary’s Day attendant.
Upon graduation, Sue enrolled at Edinboro University where she graduated with a degree in Elementary Education. While teaching in the Erie area, she met and married her husband, Joe Palka. Sue and Joe were very active at the Erie Playhouse, a connection which led to the opportunity to do some local television commercials and to audition for a spot as a weekend weather reporter. Before the audition results were announced, a career move for Joe relocated them to Nebraska, and a later move took them to Richmond, Virginia. During that span Sue continued to build her resume in front of the camera until she was hired for the weekend weather in Richmond. In 1985, another move took the family into the D.C. area where Sue landed a job with WTTG FOX 5 reporting the weekend weather. By 1987 she was promoted to the main weeknight weather forecaster, and continues in that position to this day. Working in Washington DC has provided an opportunity to cover Presidential Inaugurations and even shake a few Presidential hands. Sue is a six time Emmy winner and is certified by the National Weather Association.
Sue was able to balance her demanding career with her family life, and she and Joe are the parents of two daughters. Liz is also in the news business and works as a reporter for WAVY, the NBC affiliate in Virginia Beach. Nora, a recent graduate of Catholic University, has been actively using her degree in Music Theatre in her work as an actress.
Sue returns to Erie often to visit family, and she has never missed a class reunion. She is particularly delighted that Villa has returned to its roots as a single sex school. Sue explains, “I am grateful that circumstances have allowed the girls of my beloved hometown to have the same opportunity I did.”
In reflecting on how her Villa experience influenced her life, Sue says, “Attending Villa was one of the top five best decisions in my life. Not only did I receive an outstanding education, but Villa helped shape and strengthen my values. In turn, I have set higher standards for myself. In my career, I strive to always produce more than is expected of me. I make it my business to know every person that I work with, and not only their name, but something about them. In my community, I volunteer my time with charitable organizations to help ensure the success of their events. I have had the opportunity to emcee events for the Catholic Business Network, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and The Humane Society of Montgomery County. The greatest gift I received from Villa is the confidence and strength to believe in myself, and to give back with gratitude for all that I have been given.
Thank you Sue, for your commitment to Villa Maria Academy, and for your contributions to your community and your profession. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Jerry Wegley was born in Erie, the middle child of Claude and Linda Faivre Wegley. Jerry grew up in the Lawrence Park area, and he and his brothers DJ and Pete attended schools in the Iroquois School District through twelfth grade. Jerry was an avid athlete and participated in many sports throughout the years, including wrestling, swimming, baseball, golf, and football.
Jerry started his college career at Allegheny College, but transferred to Gannon University after his freshman year. While there, he met his wife, Villa graduate, Maureen Campbell . In 1990 he entered the work force as a certified public accountant with Ernst & Young. He and Maureen married in 1993, and three years and two children later, he left the world of accounting and headed to the University of Pittsburgh to study law. After completing those studies, he returned to Erie and accepted a job with the law firm of Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett P.C. In addition to his practice of law, Jerry serves on their board of directors as the treasurer of the firm.
Jerry and Maureen are the parents of six children: Katherine, Villa Class of 2012; John, Prep Class of 2013; William, Prep Class of 2016; Matthew, Prep Class of 2018; Hugh, Prep Class of 2022; and Luke, Prep Class of 2029. Although he leads an active professional life, he is never too busy to have a few laughs with his kids, help them bake a batch of cookies, play dress-up, or frolic in the snow. He has also embraced the fatherly duty of coaching, and one summer was coach to four of his children’s baseball teams.
Jerry’s parents have inspired him to be the man he is through their devotion to their family and friends. He explains, “My parents were very involved in our lives. As a family we travelled and camped extensively until sports took over. Not only were my mom and dad busy raising us, but they brought my mother’s parents into our home so that they could care for my ailing grandmother. They also moved to Meadville to care for my grandfather when his health failed. My mom and dad have put their own lives on hold to provide care and companionship to others. They have inspired me to be a compassionate person.”
Jerry also looks to his own family for inspiration. Maureen recently took a break from her part-time nursing career to stay at home with their children. Jerry says, “Maureen is the rock of our family. In addition to the daily tasks of managing our household, she also feeds our children’s spiritual growth by making sure we attend Sunday mass, pray the rosary, and monitoring what the kids are exposed to in the media. She is a constant example of doing the right thing for the right reason. She makes me want to be a better person. Maureen is the best example I know of the Villa motto, ‘Faith Family Excellence and Tradition’.”
Jerry himself became a part of the Villa family when his oldest daughter, Katherine, was in sixth grade at St. Peter’s Cathedral School. He joined the Villa board in 2005, hoping to learn more about the school where his daughter would eventually enroll. Jerry was instrumental in working with the Sisters of Saint Joseph to return Villa to its roots as an all girl school, with its rich traditions and excellent college preparatory programming. He continues with his commitment to Villa Maria Academy by continuing to serve on the now combined Villa and Prep board of directors.
Thank you Jerry, for your commitment to Villa Maria Academy and the Erie community. Congratulations on your induction into the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame.
Marlene D. Mosco '64 and Aniko Solymosi Walker
Marlene DiTullio Mosco was born in Erie, daughter of John and Emma Ferretti DiTullio. She and her brother John grew up in a loving, Italian-American family with her grandparents, aunt, and uncle. Marlene remembers a modest upbringing that was very typical for the time. She attended grade school at Holy Rosary before entering Villa Maria Academy in the fall of 1960.
During her high school years, Marlene was part of a close knit group that remain friends today, including Jeanne Keim Phillips, Gretchen Hinz Brugger, Jane Carney, Mary Fran Pirrello, and Mary Eckert. The “girls” still meet frequently for dinner, club, and some are even active on community boards together. Marlene cherished her time at Villa and has fond memories of her years there. One of her early mentors in high school was her teacher, Mrs. Carolyn Jaeger, who spurred an interest in English and writing. Marlene enrolled at Mercyhurst College to pursue this passion and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and English.
Within a week of graduation, Marlene accepted a position at Marine Bank, as their training director, which launched a long career in banking. Her experience grew over the years as she served as the director of training, marketing, and public relations, as well as the senior vice president and director of marketing, and senior vice president and manager of retail banking. Marlene is currently the Regional President of PNC Bank, Northwest Pennsylvania, a position she has held for the past 14 years.
Marlene attributes her success to her supportive family and friends. She has been married for 35 years to Homer Mosco, owner of Miller Travel Services. Their daughter Emily is a graduate of Penn State, Dickinson School of Law and is an attorney with the Vendetti & Vendetti firm, an adjunct professor at Mercyhurst University, and a part-time Public Defender.
As a child, Marlene’s mother Emma encouraged involvement in the community and it was expected that her children would give back when they became adults. Marlene inherited her values and has been involved in a wide range of community efforts and has spearheaded several major projects in the Erie region.
Marlene currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Mercyhurst University, and was formerly the Chair of the Erie County Convention Center Authority. In addition, she has served on the boards of the Neighborhood Art House, the Warner Theatre Preservation Trust, the Boys and Girls Club of Erie, the Erie Sight Center, UPMC Hamot, Saint Vincent Health Foundation, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and was past president of the Junior League of Erie. She will serve as the 2013-2014 Chairperson of the United Way of Erie County Campaign.
In 2009, Marlene was awarded the prestigious United Way Tocqueville Award for her long-time commitment to the community. She has also received the Mary Selden Award from the Boys and Girls Club of Erie, the Guiseppe Mazzini Award, and the Mercyhurst Distinguished Alumni Award. She was named to Pennsylvania’s Honor Roll of Distinguished Women and Pennsylvania’s Top 50 Women in Business. Additionally, Marlene was honored by her alma mater in 2004, when she received the Villa Maria Academy Community Treasure Award.
In reflecting on her lifetime of commitment to the Erie community, Marlene recognizes that her mother planted the seeds of giving back at a young age. She says, “My mother was very inspiring. As a young child I watched her scavenge around the house for trinkets and even items of clothing to bring to her needy students at Joanna Connell where she worked as a teacher’s aide and taught the blind. When Mom retired she volunteered at the Dr. Gertrude Barber Center for fifty years. My mother taught me the importance of being a good neighbor.”
A good neighbor indeed. Marlene Mosco, lifelong friend, successful businesswoman, community volunteer. An exemplary role model for today’s young women.
Aniko Walker was born in Tata, Hungary the oldest child of Tibor and Maria Czeder Solymosi. She emigrated to the United States with her family in 1956 to avoid possible retribution that was a result of her father’s courageous actions as a Freedom Fighter in the Hungarian Revolution. Aniko still clearly recalls escaping across the border under cover of darkness as she, her parents, and 18 month old brother Tibor, crawled through a field to freedom. After their arrival in Erie, Aniko was enrolled as a second grader at Mount Calvary School where the Sisters of Mercy took her under their wing. A quick study, she was one of two immigrant students in her class able to surpass the language barrier and move up to third grade the following year. Her youngest sister Kathy was the only member of the Solymosi family born in the United States.
Aniko remembers that her family shared many good times in their new country. They often visited the beaches of Presque Isle, or drove to Niagara Falls or Cook’s Forrest for entertainment. As time passed and her dad became a successful businessman, they purchased a boat and took trips to Mentor or up the Welland Canal to Toronto.
Aniko was a member of the first graduating class at Iroquois High School. She graduated from Mercyhurst College with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. In 1972, she married her husband, James Walker, at Christ the King Chapel on the Mercyhurst campus. The following year she joined the faculty of Cathedral Prep as a member of the English Department. She was also the advisor for the Drama Club and the cheerleaders. One of her favorite memories of her time at Prep was when she uncovered a prank that her students were planning for her. She played along with the prank and ended up surprising the students instead.
Aniko left Prep in 1977 to stay home with her son Jason. Daughter Kristen, a 1999 Villa graduate, followed three years later. Aniko is also grandmother to her first grandchild, Amelia Maria.
Aniko returned to teaching in 1982, this time as a member of the English Department at Villa Maria Academy. Previously the chairman of that department, she developed and teaches a course in leadership. Aniko has also served as the Faculty Advisor to the Student Council for many years. In addition to watching her students achieve their goals, Aniko has experienced many memorable moments while at Villa, including: recognition of the 2008 Student Council by their national association as a Gold Council of Excellence, being named Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils Advisor of the Year in 1999 and 2011, receiving the “Candle of Knowledge” award twice and the Walmart/Sam’s Club Teacher of the Year award in 2007. Aniko was recently named Region II Advisor of the Year by the National Association of Student Councils. In June she will attend a conference where the national winner will be announced from the group of eight regional finalists.
When asked who the most influential people in her life were, Aniko identifies a small group of people. First and foremost, her mother and father, who not only taught her the importance of a strong work ethic, but the value of family and a happy home life. Not surprisingly, two others are former teachers. Jan Ianello, her eighth grade English teacher and Mother Eustace Taylor, a college English professor were both very influential in guiding her to a career in education. Last but not least, husband Jim and children Jason and Kristin have provided constant support and unconditional love.
Aniko is a strong supporter of Villa Maria Academy, not only for her work inside the classroom, but for guidance with extracurricular activities and service projects. She can also frequently be found on the sidelines cheering her students on, or at fundraisers and other events that support the Villa community.
Most of all, Aniko has provided her students with a role model to look up to, much as she looked to her own teachers that helped to mold her life.
Tina Donikowski ‘77
Tina Cicchetti Donikowski was born in Erie and grew up on Erie’s eastside in the Lakeside subdivision. The middle daughter of Thomas Cicchetti and Edith Chimenti Cicchetti, Tina characterizes her 1960’s and 70’s upbringing as “typical Catholic, middle class and very neighborhood centric”. Life revolved around the Church, family (a big Italian family!), school, and after-school activities. Tina and her two sisters walked to Mount Calvary School, came home for lunch, played with their friends, and rode their bikes in the neighborhood. Her decision to attend Villa Maria Academy, however, took Tina out of that neighborhood and put her on a bus for a 40 minute ride (one way) across town.
At Villa, Tina found much more than just challenging academics. She was Freshman Class President, in the school play, on the Forensics team, a member of the National Honor Society and the Future Business Leaders of America. Her Villa memories include trips to see Shakespeare plays, “Sweet 16” parties, and football games.
Balancing demanding classes, extracurricular activities, and a part time job, Tina looks back on those days and realizes that the foundation of her career was formed in high school. Leadership, time management, constant learning, desire to excel, hard work, and relationship building … these were skills she learned at Villa then translated to the workplace.
Tina developed lifelong friendships at Villa. During Freshman year, she met two of her closest friends, Robyn Suleski Formica and Ann Eisert Carmichael, and they remain close today. There is a strong core group of 1977 Villa grads who get together several times a year. This group also plans reunions every five years, and Tina has been involved in planning almost every one. During the reunion weekends, Tina feels like she’s back in high school, laughing and having great fun reminiscing with her Villa friends. Tina’s sisters, Geri and Ann, also attended Villa, graduating in 1976 and 1980 respectively.
Shortly after graduating from Villa in 1977, Tina started working at GE Transportation as a stenographer. Upon advice from a valued mentor, Tina enrolled at Gannon University and started working on a degree, part-time during the evenings. Tina worked hard for 6 ½ years, and graduated from Gannon in 1985 with a B.S. degree in Industrial Management from the School of Engineering. In the early 80’s, her sister, Ann, introduced her to a co-worker, Michael Donikowski, a Prep Class of ’75 graduate. Tina and Mike married a few years later on October 4, 1985. They have two sons, Joseph, currently attending Gannon University, and Thomas, a member of the Cathedral Prep Class of 2011.
Tina has worked for GE exclusively for almost 33 years, progressing through a variety of positions since her stenographer days. Upon receipt of her degree, Tina completed GE’s two-year Manufacturing Management Trainee program, then went on to roles in Quality, Sourcing, Marketing and Sales. She was promoted to her current role, Vice President, Propulsion Systems, in November of 2009. How ironic that Tina would lead the GE business that represents the same products her family posed next to when she was 8 years old!
When asked how she manages to balance a challenging career with raising a family, Tina disagrees with her contemporaries. “Balance? There is no balance! Some days the scales are tipped toward home and some days the job takes priority. The key is to make sure you make decisions consistent with your values.” Tina credits her husband, Mike, as her biggest supporter, citing his decision to retire as her career progressed.
Even with a demanding work schedule, the Donikowski’s share some of the same values and traditions of the young Cicchetti family. Family time is still of utmost importance. Many extended family gatherings take place at Tina and Mike’s home, and all of them involve food…and lots of it! The Donikowski’s also enjoy travel. They spent years on the road with Joe’s hockey team and have had the opportunity to attend five Olympic Games! Another travel highlight for Tina was a 50th birthday trip to Italy with her son, Thomas, her sister, Ann, and niece, Emily. The foursome even managed to visit Preturo, the birthplace of their paternal grandparents.
When Tina was asked whom she considers the biggest inspiration in her life, she unequivocally responded, “My Mother”. Tina has enjoyed associations with some of the greatest leaders in the world, such as Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt, yet her mother holds the single greatest influence in her life. Tina says of her mother, “She taught us best through her example. She was devoted to God and her family and was the hardest working person I’ve ever met. My mother never felt entitled to anything, so therefore, everything she received was a blessing. She exemplified a “can do” attitude, humility, tenacity, creativity and was always doing something for someone in need. My mother taught us that we could do anything we set our minds to. She was a tough, “no nonsense”, loving, nurturing parent … an outstanding role model.”
Today, Tina continues to be philanthropic towards Villa because she believes that any student willing to work hard should be given the chance to have a great educational experience. It was a financial stretch for Tina’s parents to send her and her sisters to Villa. Tina helped to pay her tuition the last 2 years by working after school and weekends at McDonald’s. Tina hopes that through her contributions, a Villa education can become a reality for deserving students.
Thank you, Tina Cicchetti Donikowski, and congratulations on your induction to the prestigious Villa Maria Academy President’s Hall of Fame!