James F. Okoniewski, a graduate of Fulton’s G. Ray Bodley High School and SUNY Oswego, feels strongly about two things: his love for his hometown of Fulton and the Oswego County area and his belief that mathematics is a key subject for success in life.
He decided to act on those convictions by establishing a scholarship for students from G. Ray Bodley High School to attend SUNY Oswego and study math.
His gift of $50,000 will endow a scholarship for a Bodley graduate with financial need who majors in mathematics or in education with a concentration in math.
The first scholarship will be awarded for the 2013-14 academic year, and it is renewable, provided the recipient meets certain academic standards.
“I’m trying to counteract the feeling out there that the study of mathematics is not that important,” the 1972 SUNY Oswego graduate said. “Math is clearly important in analyzing any situation.”
He pointed out that if people were better able to analyze the risks versus the return on their investments, it would benefit not just individuals, but the economy as a whole.
It’s a strategy he used to build a successful real estate business by analyzing the value of his property investments.
Now he would like to share his success with students from his hometown school, where his cousin Joseph Sczupac was chair of the math department. Francis Godici was a Bodley math teacher who influenced Okoniewski.
Okoniewski’s roots run deep in Fulton, particularly in its Polish community. He was the youngest president of the city’s Polish Home, a post he held in his teens during the 1960s.
“When I was younger I hung around adults more than kids my own age, so that is when I joined the Polish Home,” he explained.
As a SUNY Oswego student, he took his love for his ancestral homeland one step further and studied one summer in Poland at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, thanks to encouragement from professor emeritus Joseph Wiecha to apply and win a Kosciuszko Foundation fellowship.
Okoniewski shared his Polish heritage by starting a Polish language affiliation club at the college, holding a book drive to raise money to buy Polish literature for Penfield Library and bringing the first polka band to SUNY Oswego.
He became a DJ at the student radio station WOCR. WRVO station manager Bill Shigley recognized his talent and invited him to go on air at the public radio affiliate.
His other mentors were in the college’s math department, including professors emeriti Richard Orr and John Daly.
Now the influence comes full circle, as Okoniewski reaches out with this scholarship to help students from Fulton succeed at SUNY Oswego, now and for generations to come.