Remembering Francis J. Michelini, Wilkes University’s Second President
The sign in Michelini Hall proclaims “We’re all in this boat together.” It quotes Francis J. Michelini, Wilkes’ second president and the man for whom the residence hall is named. For Michelini – known as “Dr. Mike” – the quote was especially apt. He was the president who helped to ensure Wilkes’ survival in 1972 in the aftermath of the devastating flood that enveloped campus following Hurricane Agnes. When his passing was announced on Sept. 12, 2019, many remembered that he quite literally set out in a boat to help with flood rescue operations.
Michelini was the first Wilkes president to ascend from the academic ranks when he succeeded founding president Eugene Farley in 1970. When he first joined what was then Wilkes College in 1955, he was the third full-time faculty member in the biology department. In 1963, he became Wilkes’ dean of academic affairs, where he left his mark developing programs and majors.
Two years after becoming president, he was the driving force behind what was known as “Operation Snapback” following the Agnes flood. Dr. Mike brought together the campus community to assist in recovery efforts and ensure that campus was ready for classes in fall of 1972.
Speaking at a campus memorial service held in October, Thomas F. Kelly ’69, retired vice president of external affairs at Binghamton University, recalled that many wondered whether Wilkes would survive. “Dr. Mike assured us that we could do it – that saving Wilkes was a noble and worthy task,” Kelly recalls. Kelly also says that Michelini asserted that “good education takes place when you have good faculty and good students interacting.” Those things remained after the flood.
Kelly accompanied Dr. Mike on visits to organizations asked to donate money to Wilkes’ flood recovery efforts. He said they were invariably impressed with him. “They saw a charismatic leader with great energy and a great strategic plan for restoring Wilkes,” Kelly states. “When Wilkes needed a hero, Dr. Michelini was there and Wilkes can be forever grateful.”
He left Wilkes in 1975 to serve as the president of the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities, an organization supported by 80 independent colleges in Pennsylvania created to represent the public policy interests of those institutions and their students.
In November 2015, Wilkes dedicated the residence hall at 80 West River Street in his honor. The Michelini Greenhouse on the roof of the Cohen Science Center also is named in his honor.
Michelini’s undergraduate career at New Jersey’s Seton Hall College was interrupted when he served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Seton Hall, a master’s degree in biology from the University of Delaware, and his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Pennsylvania.
Over the years, he frequently returned to Wilkes from his home in Mechanicsburg, Pa., arriving in his bright red sports car. Recently he participated in regular gatherings with other former Wilkes presidents – Christopher Breiseth, Joseph “Tim” Gilmour and Patrick F. Leahy – to compile an oral history of the institution.
Victor Swinski of Hunlock Creek, Pa., died on April 8, 2019. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Prior to retiring, he was employed as a draftsman for American Car Foundry in Berwick and Milton.
Bernice Perloff Fierman of Kingston, Pa., died on March 20, 2019. She was a life member of Temple Israel and served as president of the temple sisterhood and as regional president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
Arthur Bloom of Groton, Vt., died on Feb. 7, 2019. He served in the U.S. Army for two years as a sergeant.
Patricia (Patty) Boyd Thomas Brady of Hanover, Pa., died on June 5, 2019. She was a teacher at Frederick High School in Frederick, Md., and also taught English literature and honors English at California Area High School in western Pennsylvania. After her retirement, she continued substitute teaching in Hanover and later taught English as a second language to families in the area.
Joseph Donald Stephens of Hobe Sound, Fla., died on May 21, 2019. Stephens was a dentist with practices in Randallstown, Md., and Eldersburg, Md., for 40 years. He was a veteran and served in the U.S. Air Force. Stephens supported the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Maryland and was recognized as the 1965 Jaycee of the year. In 1966, he was honored as the world’s 5960 Junior Chamber International Senator. He was a member of the American Dental Association and professionally honored as a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry. A former president of the Wilkes University Alumni Association, the Dr. Joseph Donald Stephens, DDS Global Scholars Award at Wilkes was established in his honor. His survivors include his daughter, Deborah Stephens Kalaritis ’78, and her husband, Panos Kalatritis ’77, and his son, Joseph Stephens Jr. ’79.
Burl Updyke of Sweet Valley, Pa., died on Sept. 3, 2019. Updyke was employed as television engineer at WBRE. He then went on to publish a weekly newspaper, “Country Impressions,” in Sweet Valley for 20 years. He founded and built two Christian radio stations, WRGN F.M. in Pennsylvania and a mission outreach, WIVH, F.M. in St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands. He operated both stations 30 years until his retirement.
Anne Markovich Kish of Avoca, Pa., died on June 11, 2019. During World War II, Kish was stationed at the U.S. Marine Corps training facility on Parris Island, S.C., where she was a truck driver. She was an assistant professor of literature and an English scholar at Wilkes College for 20 years. She was active as a volunteer in veterans affairs in the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton areas for many years.
Frank Radaszewski of Wilkes-Barre died on March 21, 2019. Radaszewski was a veteran of the U.S. Army. Before retiring in 1995, he was an executive director of human resources at RCA in Scranton, Pa.
Robert Dymond of Bethel Park, Pa., died on Feb. 21, 2019.
John Finn of Forty Fort, Pa., died in July 2019. Finn earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Bucknell University. He served in the U.S. Army from 1949 to 1952, where he was stationed in Europe. Finn was employed by Martin Aircraft in Baltimore as a design engineer. In 1957, he began working for PennDOT and was part of the team that built the interstate highway system throughout northeastern Pennsylvania. He later was a PennDOT district engineer for a seven-county region. During his tenure as district engineer, he oversaw the construction of the Cross Valley Expressway in Luzerne County. He later established his own engineering consulting practice.
Thomas Myers of Bear Creek Twp., died on March 16, 2019. He served in the U.S. Navy.
Joseph Oliver of York, S.C., died on Aug. 26, 2018. He was a retired teacher from Northern Burlington County Regional High School in New Jersey and also served 12 years on the Willingboro, N.J. board of education, with five years as president.
Bernard Dancheck of Mountain Top, Pa., died on April 2, 2019. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Frank Gazda of Naples, Fla., died on March 6, 2019. A former Wilkes-Barre resident, he was an optometrist in northeast Pennsylvania for 56 years. He was a Korean War veteran serving in the U.S. Air Force. Gazda was the past president of the Northeastern Optometric Society, a member of the Pennsylvania and American Optometric associations, an original staff member at the Low Vision Clinic of Allied Services for the Handicapped and a past president and member of the Plymouth Kiwanis Club.
Edward Mikolaitis of Hanover Green, Pa., died on May 31, 2019. He was an airman in the U.S. Air Force. Before retiring in 1993, he taught English and history and subsequently was an administrator with the Perkiomen Valley School District in Montgomery County, Pa.
William Ackerman of Bear Creek Twp., Pa., died on March 19, 2019. He served with the U.S. Army in Germany as a medic and retired from Wilkes-Barre General Hospital after 34 years.
William Greytock of Wilkes-Barre died on May 8, 2019. Greytock served for two years in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Salem. Until his retirement, he was a bookkeeper for Apex Building Products Co. of Edwardsville, Pa.
Leo T. Morgan Jr., of Pittston, Pa., died on Nov. 24, 2017. He served in the U.S. Navy. Morgan was a certified public accountant and worked at Lavanthol Krekstein. Later he worked for Dupont Anthracite as an accountant and auditor.
Douglas Bennington of Old Tappan, N.J., died on July 6, 2016. Bennington was a social studies supervisor at Bergenfield High School for more than 33 years. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 to 1956 and was a member of the National Railway Historical Society.
Gerald A. Moffatt of Naples, Fla., died on March 24, 2019.
Barbara Soyka of Exeter, Pa., died on March 23, 2019. Soyka was as an English teacher at Coughlin High School for 38 years.
William Shaner of Dallas, Pa., died on March 6, 2019. Prior to retirement, Shaner worked for Commonwealth Telephone Company. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Telephone Pioneers and was on the board of the Boy Scouts of America.
Richard Shemo of Shavertown, Pa., died on July 29, 2019. Shemo served in the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He later became an insurance adjuster with Aetna Life and Casualty. He later worked at the law firm Hourigan, Kluger and Quinn as a litigation specialist, retiring after 25 years with the firm in 2005.
Mary (Sokash) Challenger of Dillsburg, Pa., died on April 18, 2019. She worked as a senior computer programmer analyst for 26 years at Mechanicsburg Naval Supply Depot.
Lillian (Geida) Dzwilefsky of Yulee, Fla., died on Aug. 23, 2018.
Linda Esopi of Allentown, Pa., died on April 3, 2019. She was a registered nurse in the Allentown School District until her retirement.
Michael Gryszkowiec of Chocowinity, N.C., died on Sept. 29, 2018. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves. Gryszkowiec retired as director of planning with the General Accountability Office in Washington, D.C. after 37 years of service. He later worked part time with FEMA, helping with disaster recovery.
Charles Morgan Sr. of Warminster, Pa., died on March 15, 2019. He was the owner and operator of Penn Locksmith of Warminster for 35 years.
Howard Weinberg of Salisbury, Md., died on April 19, 2019. Weinberg began his career teaching in the Interboro School District in Delaware County, later becoming chair of the business department. He served as president and chief negotiator of the Interboro Education Association.
Frances (Rosato) Liva of Mountain Top, Pa., died on July 11, 2019. Liva worked in recreational services at Retreat State Mental Hospital until its closing. She later was a licensed real estate agent, working for Tom Heart Realty company.
William Tarbart of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., died on Dec. 5, 2016. He was a management consulting professional. In 2011, he was received the Ancestral Colonel Trophy award at Wilkes. He served as the Wilkes Alumni Board president from 2004-2007.
Alvin Ullman of Reading, Pa., died on June 28, 2019. Ullman studied at Dickinson School of Law before serving in the U.S. Army Jewish Chaplaincy at Fort Mead, Md. After his military service, he worked in advertising sales before starting Area Directory Publishers Inc., a suburban telephone directory company.
Anthony Calore of Oak Ridge, N.C., died on Feb. 4, 2019. As a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, Calore was stationed in Biloxi, Miss., Santa Ana, Calif., Korea and Japan. He retired as a logistics manager after 39 years with Standard Brands, now RJR Nabisco.
John J. Fetch III of Blakeslee, Pa., died on Aug. 2, 2019. He was a sales consultant in the construction industry.
Richard Murosky of Redlands, Calif., died on Feb. 2, 2017.
Delphine Opet of Miami, Fla., died on Aug. 18, 2019. She taught English at the Dade County High School for more than 35 years.
Janice Margaret Reindel of Bear Creek Twp., Pa., died on Aug. 14, 2019. Reindel was employed for 30 years at Luzerne County Children and Youth Services. Most recently, she led its independent living unit, receiving a prestigious state-wide award for her service in June 2018.
William Lee of Hanover Twp., Pa., died on March 16, 2019. Lee served in the U.S. Air Force as a jet engine mechanic during the Korean War. Lee and his family were the owners of the Sans Souci Mobile Home Court along with the Sans Souci Amusement Park. Hanover Township’s Lee Park was named after his family.
Robert Schoner of Spring, Texas, died on June 19, 2019. He served in the U.S. Army with the 17th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division. He was employed by Allegheny Airlines and Anthracite Marble and Tile.
John Norce of Hallandale Beach, Fla., died on Aug. 12, 2016.
Rita Loftus of Wilkes-Barre died on May 11, 2019. Loftus taught in the Dodson and Palmer schools in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and also taught math at the district’s Kistler Elementary School.
Joseph Blizman of Wilkes-Barre died on June 9, 2019. Blizman was a science teacher at the former Sacred Heart of Jesus Slovak Parochial School in Wilkes-Barre. He later taught at several other parochial schools in the Diocese of Scranton.
Joseph McFadden of Doylestown Pa., died on Aug. 24, 2019.
Katherine (Farrell) Hines of Mountain Top, Pa., died on Aug. 23, 2019. Hines was employed by SmithKline Beecham before joining Sallie Mae in 1990. For the past 19 years, she worked as a job coach with life skills students through Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18.
Janice (Miller) Browning of Peckville, Pa., died on July 24, 2017. She was a registered nurse and a certified pediatric nurse.
Mariclare Stinson of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., died on April 23, 2019.
Niki Corba Wallace of Wilkes-Barre died on Sept. 6, 2019. A wife and mother, she was a talented artist, who also enjoyed playing golf and the outdoors.
Paul “PJ” Crawford of Huntington Mills, Pa., died on March 14, 2019. Crawford served in the U.S. Army for four years during the Gulf War era and earned the rank of sergeant. He was a design engineer for Commonwealth Telephone Company before becoming a police officer for the City of Wilkes-Barre in 2008.
Harry Aultz of Lewistown, Pa., died on Jan. 28, 2019. Aultz was a history teacher at the Mifflin County Junior High School and he was also a junior high and varsity football coach.
Jonathan Miller of Scranton, Pa., died on July 7, 2019. He was a roofer for Garvin Construction, Scranton.
Mary Ann (Koshatzky) Keirans MBA of Mountain Top, Pa., died on Aug. 2, 2019. Until her retirement, Keirans was the administrator for the former Visiting Nurses Association. Prior to that, she worked in New York City as a public health nurse. She was the recipient of the Athena Award for women’s business leadership skills in Luzerne County.
Lisa Marie Kliamovich-Tomchik MS of Hunlock Creek, Pa., died on April 16, 2019. She was employed for several years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in Wilkes-Barre before earning a teaching certificate in elementary education from King’s College and a master’s degree from Wilkes University.
Mahmoud H. Fahmy, of Dallas, Pa., died on Sept. 23, 2019. Fahmy taught at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pa., and Wilkes University, where he had an accomplished 30-year career as an academic and administrator. He was professor emeritus of education at Wilkes.
He completed his undergraduate education at Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt. He left his birth country of Egypt to come to America in 1958 to study at Columbia University in New York City, where he earned his master’s degree in education and history. He earned a doctorate at Syracuse University. He quickly became a naturalized U.S. citizen and his favorite saying was, “I am an American by choice.”
Fahmy devoted time volunteering on various boards and community organizations in Luzerne County. He was often called upon by the community for his expertise and knowledge of global affairs and Middle East politics, providing media commentary and lectures. He strongly believed in interfaith cooperation, and led one of the first interfaith delegations to Egypt and Israel after the Camp David Accords were signed in 1978. He and his wife Iran traveled extensively, visiting more than 50 countries.
His survivors include his wife of 60 years, Irandukht Vahidi Fahmy and children, Roya Fahmy ’83 of Scranton, Pa., Raef Fahmy ’84 of Newburyport, Mass., and Randa Fahmy ‘86 of Washington, D.C.
Friends of Wilkes
Stanley Davies of Mechanicsburg, Pa., died on Aug. 5, 2019. He was a U.S. Navy veteran and later served multiple roles at Royer Industries in Kingston, including machine assembly, design, general manager and president. His wife, Pattie S. Davies, is a Wilkes trustee emeritus.
Arthur L. Piccone of Wilkes-Barre died Aug. 4, 2019. An accomplished lawyer in Luzerne County, Pa., he was the first assistant district attorney and special counsel to the Department of Labor. He was a workers’ compensation judge and also served as solicitor for the Borough of Forty Fort, Luzerne Borough and Luzerne Borough Sewer Authority. He was president of the Luzerne County Bar Association and president of the County Conference of Bar Leaders. He served as the 100th president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, as well as president of the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation.