Oswego couple give back to SUNY and central New York

Jan 5, 2013

SUNY Oswego recently announced that it has received the largest donation in its 150-year history. But perhaps more remarkable than the $5 million gift is the couple who it is from, and the lasting legacy to the university and the community they are creating.

Barbara Shineman was a professor of education at SUNY Oswego, and her late husband, Dick Shineman, was the founding chairman of the chemistry department. It is in his honor, that the donation goes towards the university's science program and that a new building on campus will be named the Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation.

Barbara Shineman said it just felt like the right thing to do to give back to university she and her husband were a part of for decades.

"I have always felt that this is my school, and I think Dick also felt that this was his school," she said.  I guess it just seemed like a very natural thing."

Richard Shineman
Credit Shineman Foundation

Barbara says her husband Dick was humble and if he were alive, he would not have agreed to have a building named after him. But she says he would be pleased that the money is going to enhance the study of sciences at SUNY Oswego.

"He would have thought of a lot of other people who were deserving," Shineman said. "He didn't feel like he needed to have his name on anything."

SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley says the Shineman Building, which is currently under construction and is scheduled to be opened later in 2013 has been designed to be green and environmentally sustainable.

"We have more than 300 geothermal wells that are built under the parking lot. So geothermal power will heat and cool the building in a very sustainable way," said Stanley. The university will apply for a prestigious Leeds certification of environmental development for the building.

The Shineman gift will also create an endowed chair in chemistry at the university.

"We will be able to determine particular a discipline within chemistry, that will be supported by this gift," said Stanley. "Generally endowed chairs last forever and ever and they help establish a particular hallmark for a program and this will do that for chemistry.  Hopefully we will bring in a recognized and renowned scholar, someone who has established a research basis and can bring it to Oswego to help our students go forward."

Stanley says she hopes that will help attract other scientific research to SUNY Oswego as well, creating a broader lasting impact.  The university president also hopes this will help grow a new tradition of private donations to this public university. In a time when state funding is perpetually stretched, Stanley says the university really needs to look beyond taxpayer dollars to create a margin of excellence for its students.

"You know, we have to look elsewhere. And for people who are associated with our institution and certainly Barbara Shineman  and Dick Shineman were so we deeply connected with our institution: they loved us and we loved them," said Stanley. "So we have to take that margin of excellence from those people who are willing to give that kind of support. Those who are closest to us, and certainly Barbara and Dick Shineman are closest to us. So in many ways it just establishes us , we can celebrate just the wonderful work that this will help us do and it will take us into the future."

Barbara Shineman
Credit Shineman Foundation

But the Shinemans' love for Oswego goes beyond SUNY. The historic gift comes in part from Barbara Shineman and in part from a new foundation created at the bequest of Dick Shineman, who passed away in 2010, meant to help improve the quality of life in a central New York -- but particularly in Oswego.

Lauren Pistell, the executive director for the foundation, says that later in 2013, the foundation will begin taking applications for grants from non-profits in a five-county region -- including Oswego, Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga or Oneida Counties.  

"His direction was to use the funds to improve the life of the community," said Pistell. "He outlined a variety of areas -- education, health, human services, arts and culture. And in all of these you can really see he touched on during his life. Really the work of the foundation will be to continue the work he did during his life."

Until now, many people didn't know how generous Dick Shineman was in life and death -- but the building and the foundation that bear his name will ensure that students and central New Yorkers do. As for Barbara Shineman, she just wants everyone to know how much her husband cared about education, SUNY Oswego and the surrounding community.

"I really just want to convey a picture of Dick that reflects his qualities and his ethics -- his real deep feeling for the college, education. for the community, and people," said Shineman. "I just am so pleased that this building is named -- will be -- named for him. I could almost hear him saying 'you shouldn't have done that,' but I'm just tickled about it."