SUNY Cortland To Honor ‘Distinguished Alumni’ at Alumni Reunion


The SUNY Cortland Alumni Association will present its highest honor, the Distinguished Alumna/Alumnus Award, to three graduates during the Alumni Reunion Weekend luncheon in Corey Union on Saturday, July 18.

The 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are Rosa LaSorte Rich ’55, who is being honored for her outstanding service in public secondary and higher education, and the late retired Cmdr. John W. Clark ’59, a highly decorated U.S. Navy officer whose 31-year career included combat service during the Vietnam War. The association will bestow its Distinguished Young Alumni Award on Jené Lupoli Luciani ’99, a successful broadcast journalist who chronicles the fashion industry.

Since 1968, 107 SUNY Cortland graduates, including this year’s honorees, have received the Distinguished Alumni Award for their career accomplishments and outstanding service to their community and alma mater. In addition, 18 alumni have been recognized with Distinguished Young Alumni awards and six have been named Honorary Alumni.

Rosa LaSorte Rich ’55

Rosa LaSorte Rich '55A retired health teacher from the Batavia (N.Y.) School District, Rosa LaSorte Rich of Brockport, N.Y., was nominated by Richard Boardman, a 1963 SUNY Brockport graduate who met her in 1959 as one of his class advisors and has since followed with admiration her professional and volunteer career.

“I can’t come up with one special act or accomplishment, because there are many, but the success of each was the result of the accumulation of the smaller, day-to-day positive contributions she makes, which are necessary to make individuals and society better,” Boardman wrote in his nomination letter.

She left SUNY Brockport in 1964 to start the first health and physical education program for women at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, he noted.

LaSorte Rich related about the experience: “The Near East College Association in New York City contacted me and asked if I would take on this position with the understanding that within the first year I would establish a program even though I had no budget, facilities or equipment. Using my organizational skills and creativity, I established a viable program for all freshmen women students that was in place by the end of the first academic year. With patience and understanding, I was able to face the challenges and frustrations that would come with a position in a country with diversified customs and a university with students from 59 different nations and 24 separate religions.”

She spent four years there, instituting the first full year overseas student teaching program with SUNY Brockport for the 1965-66 and 1966-67 academic years.

“For two years, I not only supervised the student teachers, but taught them the physical education activities they would be missing at Brockport,” LaSorte Rich said. “They were thus able to fulfill their requirements for internship and at the same time lighten my teaching overload.”

On June 5, 1967, when the Arab/Israeli conflict that became known as the Six Day War began between Arabs and Israelis, LaSorte Rich was one of seven university faculty members, and the lone woman, who organized the successful evacuation of 5,000 Americans from Lebanon in 24 hours. After the war and while still working for American University, she created the position of dean of women at International College in Beirut and served as acting dean of women from 1967-68.

LaSorte Rich, an assistant professor of health and physical education at Brockport from 1958-64, has remained active with SUNY Brockport alumni and contributed a sizeable gift to the Class of 1963’s endowment scholarship at Brockport. She was honored during the college’s 2006 Homecoming with the Alumni Association’s Citation of Appreciation and during SUNY Brockport’s 1998 Alumni Reunion Weekend with the Outstanding Service Award.

A native of Endicott, N.Y., LaSorte Rich earned her bachelors degree in health, physical education and recreation. She earned a Master of Education from University of Buffalo in 1956. During her long career, she taught health and physical education at University of Buffalo, Troy High School in Ottawa, Canada, and SUNY Brockport and was assistant to the dean of students at St. Francis College in Pennsylvania.

From 1973-89, LaSorte Rich taught health at Batavia Middle School. She also directed the Diners/Fugazy Travel School in New York City and served as a travel agent there in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

As a SUNY Cortland alumna, she helped her class organize to celebrate its 50th reunion in 2005. After she wrote the 2005 book related to her work in Lebanon, Crossing Boundaries: Beirut and Beyond, LaSorte Rich has donated proceeds from Cortland book sales to the Class of 1955 Alumni House Fund.

She is married to George Rich.

Cmdr. John W. Clark ’59

Cmdr. John W. Clark '59U.S. Navy Cmdr. John W. Clark ’59, who died on Sept. 29, 2007, enjoyed a distinguished military career. His 31 years of Naval service included flying aircraft on a number of missions as a reconnaissance attack navigator during the Vietnam War as well as commanding an aircraft carrier. 

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Clark graduated from SUNY Cortland with a degree in physical education and enlisted in the Navy as an aviation fire control technician. He soon joined the Aviation Officers’ Candidate Program.

Clark flew more than 4,700 hours and made more than 350 carrier landings during his Naval career.

The RA5C Vigilante flown by Clark was reputed to be an extremely complex aircraft and very difficult to maintain, noted Donald Traver ’59, who nominated Clark for the Distinguished Alumni Award.     “Many flights of this type of plane had to be cancelled due to mechanical problems and the aircraft had the highest loss rate of any in the Navy during Vietnam, including 18 downed in combat and five due to accidents,” wrote Traver.

“He sure sounds like a warrior and driving a Vigilante around over Vietnam was not for the faint of heart,” observed Adm. Jerry Riendeau ’53, a 1985 SUNY Cortland Distinguished Alumnus who had not known Clark but was consulted by Traver about the military service of this alumnus.

Clark received more than 12 medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented to him as a Presidential Citation for his heroism over Vietnam in 1972. He was also honored with an Air Medal and Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V,” Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Navy Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Ribbon and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Later at sea, Clark became an air boss on the U.S.S. Forrestal and U.S.S. Independence aircraft carriers. During launches and recoveries of aircraft, the air boss controls the entire flight deck, makes instantaneous decisions and is responsible for the safety of every pilot and sailor on board, explained Traver.

Clark’s final assignment was to command the aircraft carrier U.S. Independence from Philadelphia around Cape Horn to San Diego. He retired from military service in 1991.

“I am not only humbled by his accomplishments but have become even more aware of what Cortland did for us all,” said Traver in the letter nominating his former classmate for the award. “John Clark is an exceptional role model who demonstrated the scope of the leadership skills Cortland developed in us and the unexpected outcomes of our academic preparation.”

“Clark was truly a great example of ordinary people in ordinary situations doing extraordinary things,” wrote John P. Griffin ’59 in support of the nomination. “We feel that he is a great credit to his alma mater,” added his wife, Barbara Koppisch Griffin ’60.

“John Clark is a true American hero,” wrote Class of 1959 President Ronald Black ’59. “His service to his country more than qualifies him for the Distinguished Alumni Award.”

After retiring from the Navy, Clark dedicated more than 10 years to his second career at BEI/Kimco Magnetics.

In San Diego, Calif., he was a very active member of the Knights of Columbus in the San Rafael Parish and served as Grand Knight for Council No. 9710.

Clark is survived by his three children, Malia, Laurie and Joe, and seven grandchildren.

Jené Lupoli Luciani ’99

Jené Lupoli Luciani '99Jené Lupoli Luciani ’99 was not afraid to leave behind a successful television producing career of hard news stories in New York City to find personal fulfillment and national success covering the fashion industry.

“I tired of the day-to-day news with fires and police activity and tragedies and yearned for something positive,” said the Hudson, N.Y., native who had earned her broadcast communication experience covering such events as the 2000 Presidential Elections and the immediate aftermath of 9/11 for NBC Newschannel 13 in Albany, N.Y.

After six years in broadcast journalism, mostly behind the camera rather than in front of it, she joined the multi-media marketing company of fellow SUNY Cortland graduate Melissa Browne ’99, and gained access to the firm’s clients, some of the biggest corporations and fashion designers in the world.

“I learned a different side of the business, dealing with the media as a publicist and not as a journalist,” Lupoli Luciani said. She maintained her journalistic ties by freelance writing, launching her own fashion column for The Wag in 2005.

“The column became my baby, my pride and joy and everything just mushroomed from there,” she said. The magazine named Lupoli Luciani its fashion and beauty editor. She moved in front of the camera to offer fashion advice during local television station broadcasts.

Since 2006, Lupoli Luciani has become a nationally known television commentator covering the New York fashion scene and lifestyle and beauty topics, appearing on FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC and NEWS 12 affiliates, as well as national outlets like Better TV, The Daily Buzz, Style Network’s “Look for Less” and The Discovery Channel’s “Go Ahead, Make My Dinner.” She is a New York contributing editor to and her first book, The Bra Book: The Fashion Formula to Finding the Perfect Bra, is scheduled for a Dec. 1 release in bookstores nationwide by BenBella Books and lingerie and department stores by Bra Company Fashion Forms. She has served as a guest speaker at SUNY’s Fashion Institute of Technology and Westchester Community College’s Fashion Forum. In April 2008, she delivered the keynote address at SUNY Cortland’s Student Leadership Banquet.

“I had the great honor of meeting her at the banquet and decided to nominate her for Distinguished Young Alumna based on what she said about her experiences and memories about Cortland and those after she had graduated from Cortland,” wrote Gordon C. Valentine ’68, past president of the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association and a SUNY Cortland lecturer in history. “She has used the education that she acquired at Cortland to create a remarkable, rewarding and successful career representing the very best of Cortland.”

“Despite the light-heartedness of her subject matter, Jené is a committed journalist,” wrote Catherine Censor, editor-in-chief of The Westchester Wag. “She has interviewed Bette Midler, Michael Kors, Ashlee Simpson, Glenn Close, Vivica A. Fox, Sigourney Weaver, Ellen Pompeo, Joan Jett, Vanessa Williams, Cindy Crawford and Molly Sims, to name just a few famous subjects. Due to her expertise, she has become a sought-after guest speaker. I believe she is a credit to SUNY Cortland or any other institution of higher learning, for that matter.”

A 1995 graduate of Hudson (N.Y.) High School, Lupoli Luciani wrote a fashion column for her high school newspaper. Before earning a bachelor of arts in communication studies at SUNY Cortland, she helped her mother run a trendy denim boutique, trained and worked as a model and danced and sang professionally. She credits some of her post-collegiate success to the personal atmosphere of the SUNY Cortland campus and a faculty who sought to nurture minds. She recalls how as graduation approached and she worried about finding employment in her field, Distinguished Service Professor Samuel Kelley, communication studies, directed her to the internship at the NBC affiliate she would later join and work at for almost four years.

“I don’t believe I could have achieved any of this if my time at Cortland hadn’t taught me that I can be whoever I want to be, and the sky’s the limit,” Lupoli Luciani said.

Lupoli Luciani and her husband, Bill, live in White Plains, N.Y.

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