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Scholarship donor Mario Mesi
His greatest reward is to meet the students he has helped

Mario Mesi quietly goes about the work of changing lives through the scholarship support he provides each year to Western students, and his commitment grows stronger each time he meets the young men and women who have received his help to complete their studies.

“I get very emotional, because they are all so grateful in accepting the awards,” Mesi recalled from his recent encounters with recipients at the annual scholar-donor receptions hosted by the WCSU Office of Institutional Advancement. “It makes these scholarships all the more worthwhile.”

A retired educator, Mesi has sought to support student achievement and preparation for careers in the performing arts and health care professions as a donor to WCSU scholarship programs in the university’s music and nursing departments. His donations finance the annual awards of the Schoolmasters Scholarships to undergraduate majors in music or music education, and the New Beginnings Scholarships to students in the bachelor’s and master’s programs of the WCSU nursing department. Most recently, Mesi established the Sabbaday Student Scholarship and Sabbaday Leadership Award to promote gender expression and service to the LGBT community.

Mesi’s legacy of outreach in support of music education took root when he became a member of the Connecticut Choral Society’s Scholarship Committee. The program provided music scholarships to assist area high school students interested in pursuing music studies in college. When the committee later began to explore options to transfer the fund to a college with a strong undergraduate music program, Mesi recalled that “serendipity” brought the committee to WCSU to meet with Michael Driscoll, then WCSU director of development in the Office of Institutional Advancement. “At our initial meeting with him, it was never a question of money — he just invited us in for a very open and friendly talk,” Mesi said.

The trust that began with that conversation set the foundation for establishment in 2005 of the Schoolmasters Special Scholarship program, providing need-based grants to recognize WCSU music and music education students who show exemplary academic achievement and uncommon voice or instrumental talent. The program was founded in memory of Joel Kannengeiser, a member of the Connecticut Choral Society.  

“It has been the story of my life that I’ve found myself in the right place, and it has continued that way with the validation I always get from the people at WestConn,” he said. “I love Western — they have a strong, dedicated and caring staff who challenge their students to achieve.”

Mesi has relied upon music educators on the scholarship selection committee at Western to review and audition applicants, and he expressed great satisfaction with the extraordinary students who have been chosen to receive the Schoolmasters award. As Mesi has grown more familiar with Western’s music program through the student recipients of the Schoolmasters scholarships, he also has gained a deeper appreciation of the quality of WCSU performances in diverse genres from opera and classical music to jazz.

“They show no fear of overreaching, they really stretch their students to achieve,” he remarked. “They’re willing to take on a new challenge, whether it’s Menotti or Puccini or a new and daring project like ‘Carmen.’”          

Mesi initiated a new direction in scholarship giving in 2007 when he established the New Beginnings Nursing Scholarship, dedicated to support undergraduate nursing students with demonstrated financial need who have followed a nontraditional path to pursue college studies in adult life. Two years later, he introduced the New Beginnings Nursing Masters Scholarship to enable recipients of the undergraduate scholarship to apply for continued assistance when they stay on to seek a master’s nursing degree at WCSU.

The New Beginnings Scholarship programs provide a fitting testament in honor of his late sister, Millicent Ratta, and her daughter, Janice Ratta Bynes. Millicent married after graduating from high school and devoted herself to raising her children before entering college in midlife to pursue a degree in nursing. She began part-time nursing studies while working at a New York hospital, and soon bonded with her classmates. “They taught Millie study skills,” he said, “and she taught them life skills.” She earned her cap and pin at age 45. Mesi’s niece Janice also pursued a career in nursing, and he recalled her with fondness: “I called her ‘Miss Clickety-Clack’ — very small, very efficient, she could handle anything!”

Mesi sees the reflection of his sister’s life experience in the New Beginnings scholars he meets at donor-recipient receptions. “Many of these men and women are heads of their households, some are single parents, and all of them have life skills,” he said. “They know what it’s like to be out there in the workplace, and some hold two jobs to pay for their studies.”

Mesi began his professional career in the advertising field, but changing times in the ad industry and an unfulfilled desire to teach led him to embark on a second career in education. He taught in the Weston, Conn., school district before entering a very active retirement that has afforded new opportunities for engagement with Western.

As a scholarship donor, “I like my affiliation with the university because it’s like an extended family,” he observed. “They’re very supportive: When they say, ‘Don’t worry,’ I don’t, and it gets taken care of.”

The scholarship funds that Mesi has established continue to grow both through his own generous contributions and through the support of many other regular donors to the funds. Mesi said that he takes greatest pleasure in knowing that his commitment to Western has made a difference in the lives of the students who have benefited from these programs.

“My greatest reward is meeting the scholarship recipients,” he remarked. “I always manage to get more out of it than they realize, because it is such a positive experience. You reach a point in your life when you should reach out and help the next generation, do all that you can. It’s payback for all that has been given to you.”

Contact us

Office of Institutional Advancement
181 White Street, Danbury, Conn.
(203) 837-8419
vontrappj@wcsu.edu