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Alumnus Honors a Determined and Gifted Classmate

By Mark Tarnacki

As Mike O'Brien '71 remembers it, alphabetical order in classes, housing or campus activities frequently placed him in a good position to observe and admire his determined and gifted classmate, Jim O'Connor '71.

Jim thrived academically and socially at Saint Michael's while living with cerebral palsy during an era when special accommodations were largely unheard of. His strength of character and uncomplaining positive attitude left a lasting impression on Mike and many other classmates, including Jerry Flanagan '71, now the College's vice president for enrollment.

That gang, including Jim, gathered several years ago for their annual tradition of attending a Purple Knights basketball game together. "Some of us got to thinking about and discussing what an inspiration Jim has been for all of us, and how we should do something to recognize that," Mike says. It was Andy "Mac" McElroy '71 who suggested that a scholarship in Jim's name would be just the right way to honor their courageous and inspirational classmate and friend.

That discussion launched a fundraising effort for the Jim O'Connor '71 Scholarship, which will "provide support for students with physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities from the first year through graduation." The first student to receive this scholarship is Randy Forant '12 of Morrisville, Vt., who is a senior business major this year.

In recent years, Mike says, his appreciation for Jim has been steadily growing. "I don't think we realized it until we got older what strength Jimmy had," Mike says. "O'Connor had a long and successful career until his recent retirement as a counselor and advocate for those with disabilities for the state of New York. Many of us went to his retirement party," Mike says. That recognition prompted Mike to make a generous life insurance beneficiary gift to the College that will ensure the long-term vigor of the Jim O'Connor '71 Scholarship, which is good news for future students with similar challenges as those faced by Jim and Randy.

Mike's gift through his life insurance policy also stipulates significant support for the athletic program at the College, which seems fitting, given his background and interests. Sports have been a big part of Mike's life since his days as Alumnus Honors a Determined and Gifted Classmate a student athlete, broadcaster and sports statistician, and later as a very successful Little League/Babe Ruth coach and prep basketball tournament organizer. Mike says Ed Markey, the College's former athletic director and baseball coach, was an important mentor and remains a close friend today.

Another factor that has reinforced Mike's connection to the College is that he is also a Saint Michael's parent: Mike's son, Matthew, who likewise played on the baseball team, graduated in the Class of 2008. Mike says he's deeply impressed with the leadership of the College in recent years. "The College is forever changing. One of the reasons I wanted to support it was that I enjoyed it so much as a student, and then my son enjoyed it so much too." Jim O'Connor's children, David '06 and Corinne '04, are also alumni.

In his professional life, Mike is president of Corporate Design Insurance Agency in Salem, MA specializing in municipal, school and sports insurance. He's been in the insurance business for over 37 years and also is still broadcasting local high school football, and was director of the North Shore Hoop Invitational high school basketball tournament for 14 years, raising over $100,000 in scholarship money.

Saint Michael's continues to have a special meaning for Mike. "I still attend three or four basketball games a year with Jerry and my classmates, and I have been participating in the Green Mountain Scholarship Golf Tournament each year since 1989," Mike says. "I just enjoy seeing friends and classmates who believe in the school like I do."

And as for his life insurance gift, Mike says, "A gift like this is a low-cost way to provide a big benefit to the school. With money the way it is now, every school struggles, so everything helps." A gift of life insurance can allow you to make a sizable gift in support of Saint Michael's without diminishing assets designated for family and loved ones. Learn more about this and other ways to give at or contact us at 802-654-2646.

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