Avila gala raises funds for scholarships so lives can change

Steer Dinner guests watched as images changed on the digital screens. Honorary chairs Kevin and Susan McGreevy (shown on screen) were introduced by emcee Keith King. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

KANSAS CITY — As about 500 people clapped and cheered, Avila University raised $501, 400 for the university’s scholarship fund at the 36th annual Steer Dinner and auction Feb. 18 at the Sheraton Hotel at the Overland Park Convention Center. Avila President Ron Slepitza said that 98 percent of first year students receive some kind of financial aid and the funds will benefit scholarships and financial aid packages.

The annual Steer Dinner was started in 1977 by Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Olive Louise Dallavis, as a way of raising funds for scholarships for the school and celebrating the donors. Sister Olive Louise, who was then president of Avila, had received “Jimmy C,” the 1977 American Royal Grand Champion steer, as a donation. As the school needed cash, she had the steer processed into steaks and threw a dinner for donors in the school’s cafeteria, an event she named the Steer Dinner in honor of her four-legged gift.

This year, Keith King, consumer reporter at 41Action News served as emcee, and Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Marie Joan Harris, Avila Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said the blessing before the dinner.

Some years ago, a tradition of honoring community leaders who lend their talents and time to promote and benefit the scholarship fund was begun. This year Kevin and Susan McGreevy, honorary chairpersons, were the principal honorees, along with Joe and Sue Fahey and David and Geri Frantze who served as event chairs and co-chairs.

Kevin McGreevy grew up in Paola, Kan., and with his brothers and sisters, attended the Catholic elementary school run by the Ursuline Sisters. His family and teachers instilled in the boy the values of service and aiding the welfare of others through generous financial donations. After he got his first job at the age of 8, McGreevy also developed a tireless work ethic.

He graduated in 1969 from the University of Kansas with a double degree in history and business, and went to work for Travelers Insurance. He eventually became a top producer and then managing partner at Thomas McGee and Sons in Kansas City, a century-old risk management and commercial insurance firm.

McGreevy has advocated for higher education scholarship funding for years and practiced what he preached with major gifts. He told The Catholic Key that some time ago he heard about a talented high school senior whose chances of attending college were slim because of the costs. McGreevy met with the young man, and became convinced that he deserved the opportunity to get a college education. McGreevy said he contacted a friend and colleague, John Colson, and, “I asked him, ‘if I write a check will you write a check?’ John wrote a check and so did I and the boy was able to start at Rockhurst College, now, of course, it’s Rockhurst University. We started with one student, then two the next year, then five. We helped 15 students one year.”

As the number of students grew, so did the number of donors. Eventually the scholarship fund became known as the Rockhurst Angel Assistance Scholarship fund.

“Education changes lives,” McGreevy said. “It changes everything.” Just ask Joyce Nguyen.

One of seven daughters, she had graduated from St. Peter’s School, then jumped around high schools, landing finally at Hogan High School.

“I interviewed with Kevin (McGreevy) for a special work program while I was still in high school,” she recalled, “and thought the interview went OK. Then I sent him a note thanking him for it. I realize now what a huge impression that note must have made, because I was accepted into the program and got a job at Thomas McGee and Sons.”

She worked hard, both in school and at her job, and developed a relationship with the McGreevys. “Anytime I felt overwhelmed or inadequate, Kevin would challenge me to find a solution to my problem.”

Joyce enrolled at Rockhurst University, a recipient of the Angel Assistance Scholarship. She is now the Chair of the English Department at Lincoln College Prep High School.

Several years ago, the scholarship program was moved to Avila University, with a focus on helping nursing students.

“Ron (Slepitza) suggested the name, the Nightingale Scholarship, for the fund,” McGreevy said. The Nightingale Scholarship fund helps cover tuition costs for Avila nursing students.

When the scholarship fund moved to Avila, Joyce Nguyen began suggesting some of her talented Lincoln Prep students to McGreevy as potential Nightingale Scholars.

“As baby boomers age,” McGreevy said, “they don’t necessarily need attorneys or even insurance people, but we all need nurses and doctors.”

Nguyen said that McGreevy’s work “is so much more than signing checks. Kevin and Susan, who is a wildly successful attorney, opened their home to Angel Scholars, and now Nightingale Scholars, for dinner parties. Susan took me and others shopping for business clothes, for interviews. They serve others this way and it resonates with me. They are great humanitarians and have adopted a large number of Kansas City students.”

Avila president Slepitza credits McGreevy for “creating a program that really makes a difference in the lives of others. Florence Nightingale, for whom the scholarship is named, once said, ‘I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.’” The McGreevys have been distilling their feelings into actions with great results for a long time. “More than 90 students have been helped through the Angel Scholars Program at Rockhurst and now the Nightingale Scholars program at Avila,” Slepitza said.

Joe Fahey is the CEO of J.M. Fahey Construction Company. He and his wife Sue have been close friends of Kevin and Susan McGreevy for 38 years, and have been instrumental in building the Nightingale Scholarship Fund at Avila. He said, “For 99.9 percent of the students involved in the Nightingale program, this is a life changer. And it’s a life-changer not only to them, but also to their families. It’s going to open the world to those who go through the program today, [like it has] opened the world to those who have benefitted from it over the years.”

The Faheys served as Event Chairpersons for the 2012 Steer Dinner, but they have served Avila in many other ways. Joe Fahey currently serves as vice-chair of the university’s Board of Trustees and, as chair of Avila’s Facilities and Planning Committee, he has overseen more campus improvements in the past year than in the preceding half century. The Faheys support a number of Avila programs including campus ministry, performing arts and baseball.

Vice chairpersons David and Geri Frantze were also honored for their work and contributions toward the Nightingale Scholarship Fund.

David Frantze said that part of the mission of Avila University is to target the education of first generation college students which strikes a chord with him as he was part of the first generation in his family to have the chance to attend college. His options were limited, however, due to a lack of financial resources. The opportunity to receive a scholarship and work for part of his tuition through a work-study program clinched his decision to attend Avila. He graduated magna cum laude in 1976 with a bachelor of arts. He is now a partner at Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP law firm, and serves on the Avila Board of Trustees.

His passion for higher education is shared by his wife, Geri, as they both believe that “the greatest gift one generation can pass on to the next is the opportunity that is provided by education.”

Kansas City Mayor Sly James praises Kevin and Susan McGreevy as Avila president Ron Slepitza, emcee Keith King, educator Joyce Nguyen and Nightingale Scholar Vanessa Watson look on. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

Kansas City Mayor Sly James presented the McGreevy’s with a proclamation naming Feb. 18 as Kevin McGreevy Day.

Vanessa Watson will graduate from Avila in May 2013. One of Joyce Nguyen’s students at Lincoln Prep, she has always wanted to be a nurse. Finding the resources to pay tuition was a frightening thought, but then Nguyen contacted Vanessa to let her know she had been recommended as a possible Nightingale Scholar.

“I interviewed with Mr. McGreevy and then wondered and worried. Then in March I found out I’d won the scholarship. It has been a huge blessing and I wouldn’t be going to Avila without it.”

Vanessa said she is extremely grateful to the McGreevys for the scholarship support, and for the experiences she has had through them. “I’ve attended the opera; it was ‘Carmen’ at the Kauffman Center. It was so cool. Mrs. McGreevy has taken some of us out to lunch and we’ve had many conversations about school, ourselves and our futures. She is planning on having a dinner party for us sometime soon.”

Vanessa is “passionate about pediatrics.” She enjoys working with elementary school children, so she believes pediatrics and nursing would be a great combination. While she can’t say for sure what she will be doing in 25 years, she’s pretty sure she’ll be an experienced pediatric R.N., maybe a nursing instructor at one of the local universities. “I do see myself coming to the Steer Dinner and giving back to the scholarship fund,” she said.

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August 24, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph