Elaine Leshnower '61/'98, a longtime volunteer for the College and Brockport Alumni Association board member, has enjoyed a career in a variety of professions, among them teaching, business and politics.
Leshnower already was a member of the College's planned giving circle, the Gloria Mattera Heritage Society, having made a commitment in the 1980s to leave a portion of her estate to her alma mater. But it was only recently that she earmarked this gift for a specific cause: The Elaine Leshnower Scholarship in Social Equality.
The recipients of the scholarship will demonstrate a concern for social equality through community service, social justice, tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness. Leshnower is starting the scholarship now with cash gifts, and it will become endowed with her planned gift.
"All of us who got our education there, I believe, have an obligation to give back," said Leshnower. "For me, it was among the best years of my life."
Leshnower enrolled at Brockport as a health and physical education major, but in her sophomore year she switched to elementary education. She credits the late Harold Rakov, a professor of political science and an administrator at the College from 1949 to 1984, for helping her make this decision.
Leshnower first met Rakov when she was a student at Bayside High School in Queens, N.Y. Already accepted at Cortland State, Leshnower agreed to go into Manhattan to meet with Rakov, who had traveled downstate to meet with prospective students.
Rakov sold her on Brockport, and the rest is history. Rakov not only became an advisor to Leshnower, but later, in her junior year, she worked for him when he was dean of students.
During her years here, she was a typist, copy editor and managing editor of The Stylus; served on the College Union Board of Managers; and worked at the College Union and as a waitress at the Campus Restaurant on Main Street. She student taught second-grade at the Campus School and fifth grade in Spencerport.
"I was on the receiving end of such great mentoring," she said. Other mentors included Jeanette D'Agostino Banker '53, emeritus professor of elementary education; the late Dr. Harry Emmerson '51, professor emeritus of education; and the late Raye H. Conrad, professor of education and administrator.
"I owe so much to my mentors at Brockport," she said.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1961, Leshnower began her teaching career on Long Island. She became politically active as a volunteer for Robert F. Kennedy's Senate campaign.
In 1969, she was offered the position of administrative director of the liberal New Democratic Coalition. So much had happened politically, including the assassinations of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and she felt drawn to politics.
"I wanted to do something that they believed in," she explained about her decision to leave education and go into politics.
Leshnower's political work has found her volunteering for or working as a political aide and as a campaign coordinator, consultant and manager for state, local and national Democrats. Her first paid campaign work was a statewide attorney general race, and most recently she has helped elect U.S. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter and former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel.
Leshnower's career in New York City included positions with Con Edison, New York City Off-Track Betting and the New York City Mayor's Office of Operations. It was with Xerox Corp. that she relocated in 1981 to the Rochester area with her daughter, Jennifer. After a longtime career with Xerox, she became the director of human resources for The Rochester Group.
Leshnower settled in Brighton, where her daughter was active with gymnastics. Today, Jennifer, 35, lives in Washington, D.C., where she works as a project manager for the national not-for-profit KaBOOM!, whose mission is to create playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities across the country.
Upon her return to upstate New York, Leshnower immediately became active in the Brockport Alumni Association. She has served the organization as its president, secretary and treasurer and is currently serving as vice president for the second time. In addition, she chairs the board's recognition committee, is a member of the Woman's Council Advisory Board and is a past member of the College's Athletic Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
She initiated the campaign for the members of the Class of 1961 to restore one of the rooms in the Alumni House in honor of Estella M. Bassett, class advisor to the Class of '61. And Leshnower personally donated the funds for the lift at Alumni House, making the house accessible to people with disabilities.
In 1996, Leshnower was inducted into the Hall of Heritage, the highest honor bestowed by the alumni group. And in 1998, she received her master's degree in education from Brockport.
It was in honor of her mentors that Leshnower wanted to give back through her cash and planned gifts and inspire her classmates to do the same.
"You have to give people a reason to give and remind them of what they received," she said. "If we don't pay it forward, who should?"
So, in between her volunteerism with the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International and taking care of her three Yorkshire terriers — Harper, 9, Abbey, 8, and Piper, 5 — Leshnower found the time to play yet another instrumental role for Brockport. As the Class of 1961's 50th reunion representative, Leshnower, along with others on the reunion committee, oversaw the fundraising efforts for one of the most successful class reunion gifts in the College's history, which led to her class raising more than enough to endow a scholarship in its name.
For Leshnower, Brockport always remained with her. When she returned to the area, she contacted her former mentor Banker, who promptly invited her to a party.
"Brockport's the only place I've ever been where after 20 years I could come home again," said Leshnower. "You still feel the warmth. There's the nurturing, the caring. It's an incredible environment."
It was, she said, as though she had never left town. And, indeed, Brockport had never left her.
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