Education Leader Stays Loyal to Alma Mater

Education Leader Stays Loyal to Alma Mater

06/28/2016 

Peter Kachris ’56 wants SUNY Cortland students of limited means to transform their lives through education, just as he did.

Starting in 1989, Kachris, a longtime secondary educational administrator who lives near St. Louis, Mo., made his first gift to The Cortland Fund.

“I just decided that the kids were in college and I was doing well financially and I thought it was something I should do,” said Kachris, currently the proud father of four children and 15 grandchildren.

Kachris has expressed his generosity annually toward his alma mater’s men’s soccer team, athletics, the unrestricted fund and general scholarships. And since 2011, Kachris has transformed his yearly giving into a monthly gift that lends substantial support to the College’s general scholarships.

His spirit of giving embodies the Greek origins of the word philanthropy — a “deep love of humankind.”

Kachris also is a member of the Cortland Loyal Society, which recognizes those consistent donors who provide financial support to the College, at any giving level, for three or more consecutive years and each year thereafter.

“They are an extraordinary group of alumni, parents and friends who support, sustain and enhance the Cortland experience — year in and year out,” said Jennifer Janes, who directs The Cortland Fund, which on June 30 ends its fiscal year. “Each and every gift, regardless of size, truly makes a difference at SUNY Cortland.”

Cortland Loyal Society members receive invitations to special events, she noted.

“An annual investment, large or small, creates a powerful wave of support that will help ensure an outstanding college experience for future generations of students,” Janes explained.

In 2006 Kachris arrived in Okinawa, Japan as a Fulbright Fellow tasked with reviewing the country’s school districts and sharing his decades of American secondary educational leadership know-how.

Although he’s still moving and shaking up Missouri’s educational system despite several attempts to retire, Kachris considers the prestigious assignment paid for by Japan’s government to be a major milestone in his career.

“That was a fate that should not have happened to a New York boy orphaned at 9,” said Kachris, who lives near St. Louis, Mo.

He recounted being shuffled between four foster homes in Red Hook, N.Y., until at age 16 he enrolled at SUNY Cortland.

“The only place I applied to was Cortland,” Kachris said. “Athletics was all I knew and if I hadn’t been accepted, I don’t know what would have become of me.

“Cortland was a rigorous experience,” he said. “For me, Cortland was an opening to the world. Essentially I loved the place because it gave me the opportunity.”

Alongside classes and many hours of work to cover his expenses, he twice presided over the Beta Phi Epsilon fraternity and ran the successful Student Government Association president’s campaign for his close classmate George Jones ’56. Jones later served for many years as a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Peter, Carole and George
Peter Kachris ’56, left, socialized with his former classmate George Jones ’56 and Jones’ wife, Carole, during the Alumni Reunion 2013 Beta Phi Epsilon (1927-1995) fraternity reunion dinner.

As a sophomore Kachris changed course.

“I was very small and after the first year I realized I was not going to do physical education in my career,” Kachris said. “History was my thing.”

Encouraged by the College’s venerated figures Ellis “Doc” Johnson and Ralph Adams Brown, Kachris leveraged his physical education baccalaureate with history courses and seminars. With Johnson’s continued support through the post-graduate years, he obtained a master’s degree in history from University at Albany.

For 26 months, he served the Navy during the precursor to the Vietnam War and visited the Mediterranean and Caribbean regions and toured the coast of Africa from Tangier to Capetown.

Eventually Kachris earned a doctorate in educational administration from Syracuse University as he built a successful career overseeing school districts and special schools in New York state and later for many years in Missouri.

He encouraged his late wife, Mary-Jayne, to finish college and she earned a SUNY Cortland degree in 1973.

After retirement, he was tapped in St. Louis, Mo., for his expertise in fixing that state’s equivalent to New York’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). He later assisted in the orderly shutdown of a private school for the deaf and in recent times has helped oversee a set of newly created charter schools on an interim basis.

As a visitor back to the College for Reunion and special gatherings of Beta Phi Epsilon, Kachris said he reminds College President Erik J. Bitterbaum every time he sees him of the College’s need to support opportunity for poor youth.

“At Cortland I figured out what I wanted to have in life,” Kachris said. “If I can help another student do that, I will. That’s what it’s about for me.”


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