20 for 20: Sumner Shapiro

Sumner has been involved with Sponsor-A-Scholar for more than fourteen years. During that time he has served as a board member, and mentored a student. He is also a generous and steadfast donor.

Sumner's wife, Mildred, was a board member until 2005 and she also mentored a student in the early years of Sponsor-A-Scholar's history. Mildred overcame many challenges as a young woman and was the first person in her family to graduate from high school and earn a college degree. After Mildred passed away, Sumner and his children established the Mildred Shapiro Fund in her memory. The fund has helped five students to pursue their dreams of college success.

Sumner and Mildred and their children

Sumner and Mildred and their children

How did you learn about Sponsor-A-Scholar?

I learned about Sponsor-A- Scholar from Bill Barnet who was a personal friend. Bill Barnet founded Sponsor-A-Scholar with Charlie Buchanan in 1996.

When did you become involved with Sponsor-A-Scholar?

Mildred and Sumner

Mildred and Sumner

I can’t recall the exact date, but it was just prior to Bill Corbett coming aboard. Actually it was my wife, Mildred, who, via her contact with Charlie Buchanan became an active board member in 2002 and I became a mentor to join in a worthy effort. I joined the board in 2007.

Why do you choose to support Sponsor-A-Scholar?

I think it was Mark Twain who said “everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Now, everybody talks about the importance of education and the emancipation from poverty and unrealized potential. We didn’t want to just talk about it – – we wanted to do something about it and Sponsor-A-Scholar was a waiting vehicle.

What is the most important piece of advice you would share with our Scholars?

Ronnell Royal, an Albany Scholar sponsored by the Mildred Shapiro Fund, and his mentor, Hyde Clarke

Ronnell Royal, an Albany Scholar sponsored by the Mildred Shapiro Fund, and his mentor, Hyde Clarke

Education is a ladder not only to better jobs but to a more fulfilling life in general by exposure to liberal arts and available inherited wisdom. For most of us, learning can be stressful. Some people are blessed with minds that seem effortlessly to sop up knowledge but for the rest of us it takes hard work. If we stay at it we can acquire the same knowledge as our more talented peers. The vocational aspects are very important because we need to make a living but, beyond that, education provides a key to enjoyable living.

How does supporting Sponsor-A-Scholar make you feel?

I think each of us is responsible to help all of us. I think Sponsor-A-Scholar is a tool for doing so and I am comforted by the belief that I am meeting my responsibilities to my community.

Did you have a mentor in high school/college or as you started your career?

I never had a mentor in high school or college or in starting my career. But I certainly could’ve used one when I was in high school, regularly missing classes and performing very poorly. My attitude and performance changed drastically when I was discharged from the Army in WW II and admitted to college on the G.I. Bill. I had been sent to college for the better part of two terms while in uniform where I was necessarily disciplined and learned that I could learn and I could enjoy it.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in college or high school?

The biggest challenge I had to overcome in high school was that I was from a dysfunctional home and I was totally undisciplined. My biggest challenge in college was to make up for lost time which I’m not sure I ever did.

Did someone help you with this challenge?

I am particularly grateful to a mathematics professor who stimulated my interest in the subject. Thanks to his support, my math skills improved, bringing me to a level where I became a tutor to other students.

What is your wish for our Scholars as they graduate from college and begin their careers?

I hope our Scholars graduate into rewarding and fulfilling lives, and I hope they will inspire others to emulate their achievements.

What would you say to someone who is considering making their first gift to Sponsor-A-Scholar?

I would tell someone who is considering making a first gift to Sponsor-A-Scholar to come into contact with our students and graduates – – –learn from them what a lasting and precious gift they are financing.

Thank you Sumner!