Faculty and Staff

Former Mentor Kurt Feuerherm died Nov. 6, 2019, surrounded by family. He was an artist whose work ranged from paintings and drawings to ceramics and wood assemblages. He had a profound attachment to nature, including land formations, animals, birds, and insects. Feuerherm was a native of Germany, who had lived in the United States since 1925, where he grew up. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in Italy. When he returned to the U.S., he made a decision to enter college as an art student after falling in love with the “smell of oil paints.” After graduating from the University of Buffalo, he earned his master’s degree from Cranbrook Academy of Arts, followed by fellowships to Yale University. His work is in numerous collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, Syracuse Everson Gallery, Henry Gallery, University of Washington, and Rochester Memorial Art Gallery. Feuerherm was a long-time mentor at SUNY Empire State College beginning in the late 1970s. He also taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Memorial Art Gallery.

One of the college’s first administrators, Timothy Lehmann, passed away on Sept. 16, 2019, surrounded by his family. Lehmann had a love of lifelong learning, which led him to SUNY Empire State College in 1973 as one of its earliest administrators, where he served as associate vice president of academic affairs and director of research and evaluation. He was also a mentor. Lehmann retired in 1990.

Russ Siller, who taught for the college for 15 years on Staten Island, died last fall. He had raised a New York City firefighter, Stephen Siller, who famously ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel on 9/11 in full firefighter gear to reach his fellow first responders who mobilized at the Twin Towers and perished among them. To honor Stephen and others who lost their lives on 9/11, Russ Siller, with his surviving brothers and sisters, inaugurated the annual Tunnel to Towers Run. The Siller Foundation is one of the most generous organizations that serves the needs of wounded first responders, military veterans, and their survivors.

Retired Mentor Diana Worby passed away on Nov. 27, 2019. She came to the college in the mid-1970s and served for decades as a mentor in literature and writing in what was then the Lower Hudson Unit, Hudson Valley Center in Nanuet. Warby cared deeply about her students and was always committed to their learning. She was 95 years old.

Alumni and Students

Dylia L. Claydon ‘96, age 92, formerly of Corinth and West Stockholm New York, passed away Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, at Wesley Health Care Center in Saratoga Springs following a long illness. Born on Nov. 9, 1927 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, she was the daughter of the late Christian and Germaine (Sansaricq) Lanoue. She married Rev. David E. Claydon in 1959 in New York City. The couple resided in many locations throughout the United States during David’s military career with the U.S. Navy. Dylia graduated from high school in her native country of Haiti and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from SUNY Empire State College. She was a longtime member of the Order of the Eastern Star, serving as matron. She enjoyed sewing, computers, cooking, reading, and taking care of her family.

Martha J. Connors, a resident of Massena, New York, passed away Feb. 15, 2020 at the University of Vermont Health Network-Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, New York. She was 73. Connors was a graduate of Massena Central High School before going to nursing school in Malone, where she achieved her LPN certification. She continued her education through SUNY Empire State College, becoming a registered nurse. Connors dedicated her life to her nursing career and held positions as an RN for many health facilities and schools. In 1976, she started as the school nurse at the St. Regis Mohawk School in Salmon River, where she worked for more than 25 years. In addition, she was a nursing supervisor at the St. Regis Nursing Home. She also provided private in-home nursing care throughout the community all her life. As her health failed, she was a resident of the Massena Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where she continued to assist other residents. Nursing was truly her passion.

Victoria M. Conte DeFrancisco ‘83, of Jamesville, New York, passed away Feb. 16, 2020, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 86. She graduated from Jamesville High School and worked in the library of Jamesville-DeWitt Elementary School. She then earned a degree in English from SUNY Empire State College and worked as a librarian in the Le Moyne College Library until her retirement.

Adella E. Cook ‘73, the first woman to serve as Town of Evans supervisor, died Jan. 1, 2020, in the VNA Hospice House, Vero Beach, Florida, after a short period of declining health. She was 99. The mother of seven children, she earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Empire State College in 1969 and a master’s degree in economics in 1972 from the University at Buffalo. An entrepreneur, she delivered The Buffalo Evening News in the 1940s and, with her husband, owned and operated the Bennett Shore Refreshment Stand and Cabins at Angola on the Lake in the 1940s. After leasing the business to another operator for several years, they took up operations again in the 1960s. Cook later became certified as a property assessor and served for eight years as Town of Evans assessor. She served three two-year terms as supervisor in the early and mid 1980s. During her tenure, she established the Evans National Business and Professional Women’s Week and the Angola-Lakeshore Alumni Weekend. She worked for improvements to Sturgeon Point Marina, oversaw the arrival of cable television, inaugurated town-wide garbage pickup, and was instrumental in the purchase of a building for a senior citizens’ center. A tireless volunteer, she served or held offices on numerous boards and committees, including the Lake Shore Hospital Auxiliary, Steepleview Housing, Friendship House of Lackawanna, and Community Concern of Western New York. She was also a certified master gardener and a licensed pilot. In 1983, she was named Woman of the Year and Public Servant of the Year by the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen and Citizen of the Year by the Evans-Brant Chamber of Commerce in 1991. She was inducted onto the Lake Shore High School Wall of Fame in 2009. At age 72, she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Sri Lanka, where she assisted artisans in marketing their products. When she returned, she moved to Florida and continued to spend summers with family in Western New York and Pennsylvania.

Marta Anna Hemming ‘93 of Greenport, New York, passed away Feb. 7, 2020, at age 90. She married her husband, J.F. Kerry Hemming, in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1958. She graduated from SUNY Empire State College with a degree in social work and was employed by Family Services Association in Hempstead. She was named Polish/American Citizen of the Year and was the 1948 Polish Women’s Downhill Skiing Champion. Her family said she held a deep love for the nation and people of Poland and her grandchildren.

John Joseph Larish ‘80 of West Henrietta, New York, passed away on March 24, 2020, at age 91. He is survived by his devoted wife of 58 years, Rose Ellen, and their children. Larish served as an officer in the Army during the Korean War and was proud to have been part of the effort to rebuild South Korea. He was active in the St. Anne’s Church community, serving as a lector, and was a member of the Knights of Columbus for more than 60 years. He spent much of his career at Kodak as part of the marketing education team. His territory included the Middle East, Africa, and Japan. After retiring from Kodak, he started his own company, Jonrel Imaging Consultants, writing articles for popular and technical publications and speaking around the world. He also appeared frequently on WXXI-AM radio, reporting on business and technology. Larish earned a Bachelor of Science degree at SUNY Empire State College in 1980. He had a passion for sharing his knowledge and experiences. He published more than 50 books, the last of which chronicled his fight against cancer. He was also a passionate collector of crèches, presenting a yearly display at Sacred Heart Cathedral, and ultimately donating much of his collection to the University of Dayton. In his later years, he played St. Nicholas at Christmas and visited with countless children, encouraging them to, “Do something special for someone each Christmas.”

Abby Marie Smithers, age 24, of Ogdensburg and Richmondville, passed away on May 9 at Claxton Hepburn Medical Center surrounded by her family. Smithers was born on Feb. 5, 1996, in Ogdensburg, a daughter of Scott and Kathleen (McCarney) Smithers. She attended Grant C. Madill Elementary School and graduated from Ogdensburg Free Academy in 2014 with honors, where she was a member of the National Honor Society and Key Club. She later continued her education at SUNY Oswego and SUNY Canton and had been finishing her degree in psychology through SUNY Empire State College in Saratoga Springs. She held a 4.0 GPA. During her working career, she was employed at Gran-View, Busy Corner Café, and the Schoharie Child Development Council Head Start Program. She loved her job and felt that she found her true calling in life working with children. She especially loved that her son could go to work with her every day. Smithers loved spending time with her family, friends, and especially with her son, Brennan. She will always be remembered for her gentle spirit, beautiful smile, and being the greatest mother to her son.

Jim Spalo ’19, a member of the Machinists Union, passed away Sept. 24, 2019, at age 59. A U.S. Air Force veteran and recording secretary for IAM Local 478 in Northlake, Illinois, he was a heralded advocate for labor education. He took many classes at the William W. Winpisinger Education and Technology Center and was working toward his master’s at SUNY Empire when he was diagnosed with cancer. Spalo was a HAZMAT trainer for the Union Pacific Railroad, where he was a machinist. In recognition of the classes he had completed, Spalo was awarded an advanced certificate in work and public policy by the School for Graduate Studies of SUNY Empire State College.

Frank Tommasini ‘01, a resident of Malverne, New York, passed away April 14, 2020. He was 99 years old. For nearly 70 years, he ran family businesses in Williston Park, Garden City, and Riverhead, Long Island, that combined remodeling kitchens and bathrooms with retail sales of appliances and cabinets. He was born in Valle dell’Angelo, a rural village in southern Italy, and, just before turning eight, emigrated with his family to Greenwich Village, New York. Tommasini attended public schools in New York, served briefly in the Army Signal Corps and, in 1942, married Margaret Shannon. In later years, he worked as a representative for Luxor Cabinets. Having been unable to complete a college education in his youth, he later took courses and received a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Empire State College, graduating at the age of 80.

Robert “Bob” Watson ‘99, a two-time All-Star as a player who later became the first black general manager to win a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1996, died of kidney disease. He was 74. Watson graduated from the Long Island Center with a B.S. He had been living in Houston, Texas. Watson, nicknamed "The Bull,'' made the All-Star team in 1973 and '75, hit over .300 four times, and drove in at least 100 runs twice while hitting in the middle of the Astros' lineup. He also holds the distinction of reportedly scoring the one-millionth run in major league history, accomplishing the feat on May 4, 1975, against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

"Bob Watson was a highly accomplished figure in our National Pastime and a deeply respected colleague for those of us at Major League Baseball," said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. "He was an All-Star during his 19-year Major League career and a groundbreaking executive in the front office. Bob rose up to become general manager of the Astros in 1993 and made history as the first African American GM of a World Series Champion with the 1996 Yankees. He then oversaw all on-field Operations for the commissioner's office and played a pivotal role in USA Baseball's success internationally, including its Olympic Gold Medal in the 2000 Sydney Games."

Watson also became a big hit off the field for his cameo, along with several Astros teammates, in the 1977 comedy film "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training." In a key scene, Watson delivered the memorable line: "Hey, c'mon, let the kids play!"

Richard E. “Dick” Zarajczyk ’85, ’07, passed away peacefully on Feb. 29, 2020, at The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing Facility in Batavia, New York. He was 80 years old. Zarajczyk grew up in Barker, New York, and graduated from Barker Central School in 1959. He continued his education and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SUNY Empire State College. He earned his private pilot’s license, became a certified SCUBA diver and went on to work in the real estate field. He became a successful real estate broker and owned his own real estate appraisal business, Upstate Management & Appraisals. He enjoyed traveling and was especially fond of Florida.

Orfina Cugini Zdarsky ’87, a Buffalo native and retired kindergarten teacher at S.S. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Williamsville, New York, died Sept. 15, 2019, following a short illness. She was 101. She graduated in 1983 from Empire State College at age 65 with a degree in teaching and taught for more than 25 years at S.S. Peter and Paul, where she was known for the production of an annual Christmas pageant featuring her kindergarten pupils. She retired from teaching in 1990. After that, she continued working full time as a telemarketer for an insurance company and a hearing aid company. She officially retired at age 87. Zdarsky was a member of the Freedoms Foundation, a national nonprofit educational and civic organization, and a recipient of the Freedoms Foundation Award. In addition, she enjoyed playing piano and cooking Italian and Czechoslovakian food. Zdarsky was a regular visitor to senior citizens’ centers in Cheektowaga and an original Beechnut Girl, a legion of young women around the country selected to promote Beechnut gum. Her husband of 45 years, Eugene Zdarsky, died in 1986.

Friends/Community Partners

Scott Salinardi, an advocate for those with special needs, passed away April 23, 2020, in Staten Island, New York. He was 45 years old. Salinardi was associate executive director and director of programs for Lifestyles for the Disabled. He was devoted to Staten Island’s special needs community. He was at the forefront of the creation of new and innovative Lifestyles programs, including Wagner College, St. John’s University, and SUNY Empire State College partnerships, as well as the Greenbelt Recreation Center “Universal” membership initiative. He was active in Staten Island’s sports community, as well as a Special Olympics volunteer for more than 20 years.