A retired executive secretary who earned a bachelor's degree at Empire State College's Niagara Frontier Center in her 70s left $400,000 to the institution at her death, college officials announced Wednesday.
The gift, from Virginia Kalis-zewski Weiss, is the largest ever received from a graduate of the college and will complete a $7.5 million fund-raising campaign for the statewide college a year ahead of schedule.
It also will be used to establish a Virginia Weiss Art Gallery at the Niagara Frontier Center in Buffalo's Market Arcade, 617 Main St., and to fund a local scholarship, also in Weiss' name. The gallery will open Friday in conjunction with Curtain Up!
"This is one of those wonderful, unexpected gifts that makes you very humble," Anne R. Bertholf, Niagara Frontier Center dean, said of the Weiss bequest. "It is a very, very generous gift to us."
Weiss, who also left an unprecedented private gift of $400,000 to Hilbert College at her death a year ago, earned a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in European studies from Empire State College in 1988 after receiving an associate's degree in English from Hilbert at age 69.
"When she came to Empire State, she was still hungry for learning," Bertholf recalled.
"She did a very ambitious program, and was very academically focused. She didn't use the extensive business skills she could have brought to a program. She was interested in learning new things."
A native of Buffalo and a 1933 graduate of East High School, Weiss worked for a number of years as an administrative assistant to Robert J. Fierle, founder and former president and chairman of American Precision Industries.
The gallery named for her at Empire State College's Niagara Frontier Center will enable local and student artists to exhibit their work.