GENESEO, N.Y. -- It's a Geneseo love story that started by happenstance and now will continue forever through a substantial annual scholarship.
The late Mary Thomas Fernan was in her second year of teacher training in 1938 at the Geneseo Normal School (now SUNY Geneseo) when one day while walking to class, a cherished charm bracelet on her arm unclasped and fell to the ground. Behind her was Richard Fernan, who called out that she had dropped something. As both reached for the wayward bracelet, they collided and fell head-over-heels into the nearby shrubbery.
"We pulled ourselves up, regained our composure and burst out laughing," Mary wrote in a 2004 Geneseo Scene alumni magazine story about the incident. "Stars seen on impact twinkled in one another's eyes...he walked me home to the Agonian Sorority House."
The chance collision was all it took to spark a lifelong relationship. On Valentine's Day that year, Richard surprised Mary with a gold bracelet and matching necklace. Their life together included military service for Richard, marriage in 1945 and a long and distinguished career for them both in education. The bracelet and necklace were a topic a conversation for the couple every Valentine's Day.
"To this day, the bracelet and necklace remain untarnished, bright and shining, as is our enduring love for one another," Mary wrote in the Scene.
Education was close to the hearts of both Mary and Richard. After Richard graduated, he was director of circulation at the New York State Library in Albany. They both earned a master's degree and went on to pursue doctoral studies at Columbia University. They then taught in New York public schools, primarily on Long Island. Richard became an administrator and founding director of adult education programs. Mary taught special education and primary grades. They enjoyed their retirement in Florida.
Mary died last June; Richard passed away in 2008. Mary's memories of Geneseo and the Genesee Valley, however, were indelible as she made a generous gift to the college from her estate to establish the Richard and Mary Fernan Scholarship Fund, the largest bequest in the college's history. The fund provides for an annual $15,000 scholarship to a deserving student studying education at Geneseo, making it possible for other students to cherish the memories of their alma mater.
As the Fernan's devotion to one another and to their alma mater proves, true love never ends. The college is asking other Geneseo alumni to share how they found their love at Geneseo by submitting their story about their life’s passion, a partner, a self-discovery or something else they found at Geneseo. Entries are eligible for a dinner and night at the historic Big Tree Inn in Geneseo.
Director of Media Relations