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IAFSA builds connections across generations: Ensuring success for alumni and students for 147 years

By Ashley Wall


Walking along Adams Road in Framingham, one might notice number 42 – an inviting house with white and green windows and four pillars surrounded by green grass and blooming flowers.

The Alumni House, home to the Independent Association of Framingham State Alumni (IAFSA), was built by Oscar A. Thayer in 1917. The Association purchased the home in 1971.

IAFSA has been a non-proMt charitable organization since its founding in 1874.

According to Stephen Herring in “An Association of Our Own: A Look Back at 130 Years of Unity and Service,” IAFSA began as The Alumni Association of the Framingham Normal School, which would later be renamed Framingham State College.

At the time of the Association’s creation, reunions – known as conventions – were common. However, alumni wanted to form a “permanent organization” to “ensure a regular renewing of old ties,” said Herring. This led to the formation of an Association committee, led by Ellen Chandler, Class of 1864.

The committee met “to frame a constitution for a new association of Framingham graduates,” according to Herring.

In 1874, the constitution was ready, and the Association was established as a group that strived to unify and strengthen alumni ties.

The Association has been led by a long line of notable presidents since its founding. Some include Annie Johnson – the Association’s first president – Ellen Hyde, Henry Whittemore, and Ruth WakeMeld – inventor of the Toll House Cookie.

The Association, however, hasn’t always been independent from the University.

In 2002, the Framingham State College Board of Trustees voted to create a ‘Framingham State College Alumni Association’ and recognize it as the only authorized alumni group, demanding the “independent Association cease using the name Framingham State College in its name and communications,” Herring wrote.

He added, “The Association refused to comply with that demand, leading to the College’s filing a lawsuit against the Association in December 2002, a lengthy and costly legal battle that lasted until September 2004.”

Following the lawsuit settlement, the Massachusetts Secretary of State accepted the Association’s new name – IAFSA – and the Association worked to mend its relationship with the College.

Herring wrote, “The new role of the Association was formalized with the adoption of a new mission statement on June 19, 2006: ‘A self-governing, non-profit organization established in 1874 by dedicated alumni, the Independent Association of Framingham State Alumni continues its tradition of service by receiving and administering funds that provide scholarship and benevolent assistance, while maintaining Alumni House and collaborating with Framingham State College in pursuit of its mission.’”

Today, the Association continues to engage with alumni, support students, and preserve the Alumni House, according to Executive Director Francesca Cerutti-Harris.

Notably, IAFSA distributes grants and scholarships to help students succeed during their time at Framingham State. The Association also provides financial support to alumni.

According to the Association’s website, there are currently 37 scholarships and awards available.

Association President Mary Kenney Liscombe said the IAFSA works with the Financial Aid office to provide around $70,000 worth of scholarships every year to students.

The scholarships are not part of any financial aid package, said Cerutti-Harris. Students must apply for them via the IAFSA Universal Scholarship Application, which can be found on the Association’s website.

She added the scholarships are provided annually to students with award amounts ranging from $750 to $2,000.

According to Cerutti-Harris, the IAFSA is working to establish a new scholarship which will be awarded to a student from an underrepresented group in the STEM field – science, technology, engineering, and math.

“The idea for this particular scholarship came about this summer. A recent grad emailed me and she had received a scholarship from us in the past and she was super grateful,” said Cerutti-Harris. “She is a new graduate and she didn’t have a big chunk of money, but she wanted to give back. So, I said we will let it grow.”

Cerutti-Harris added the Association will “invite people to donate to this endeavor.”

She said, “Just shortly into the new year, I received a check in the mail and it was from the family of an alum who had passed away and it was very important to their mother that the money be used towards education.

“So, we were able to put the two together and we’re going to have a new scholarship. It’s very exciting for us. We hope to give that scholarship this fall,” Cerutti-Harris added.

In addition to scholarships, the IAFSA also awards the Ellen Hyde interest-free student loan, which was established in 1898.

According to the Association’s website, the loan assists undergraduate and graduate FSU students. The recipients are selected by IAFSA alumni members and the loan is distributed by the Board of Trustees.

Along with student scholarships and loans, the IAFSA also provides interest-free short-term loans to help alumni facing financial difficulties.

“We have been very fortunate that our alumni have a lot of integrity and so they make sure that those loans get paid back,” said Kenney Liscombe. “It may take them a while, but they do. It’s really a good program.”

The Association also collects donations for the Rams Resource Center (RRC), Framingham State’s on-campus food pantry.

“We have a board member who works with the Rams food pantry. We collect food at the Alumni House and we bring that over [to the RRC] when we get a significant amount in,” said Kenney Liscombe.

A hidden gem inside the Alumni House is the fashion and art supply center, a place where students can take donated supplies. The center was founded by former Executive Director Debbie Cleveland.

“We get fabric and notions and paint supplies and framing supplies. So, we try to be a place where students can stop in first, before they have to go oj campus and spend money,” said Cerutti-Harris.

She joked about the center’s large button supply, saying, “I hope a student never buys a button because we have so many buttons – it’s ridiculous.”

Kenney Liscombe said the Association is “very fortunate” to have alumni who belong to “organizations that are fabric oriented or sewing oriented” as they are always willing to donate supplies for students.

She said students come to the Alumni House as well to ask for specific supplies they need, and the Association does its best to accommodate their requests.

Kenney Liscombe added, “We give away sewing machines every year, too.”

On having the means to provide students with these items, Kenney Liscombe said, “We are delighted to be able to do that.”

Due to COVID-19, students who are in need of supplies are asked to call the Alumni House to set up a reservation. The IAFSA is currently allowing only one student to come in per hour on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons

The Alumni House also serves as a meeting place for community members.

Inside its wallpapered walls are a vintage 1970’s kitchen – always stocked with snacks, coffee, and tea – a formal dining room, a sunroom, a conference room, and a cozy living room set with a fireplace.

The historic home, adorned with original woodwork, can be rented out for functions for up to 60 guests. Additionally, the home is used for University and Alumni events.

Former IAFSA Intern Aemilia Desy noted how welcoming the Alumni House is, saying, “It’s like my home away from home.”

“As a student, if you ever need anything, you can go there [to the Alumni House]. If you can’t afford art supplies or if you run out of thread or need to borrow a sewing machine, sometimes we have those,” Desy said. “We have a whole pantry [of supplies] that students come and take from if they need paint brushes, canvases, or notebooks. We have books that you can reference as well – a lot of fashion books.”

She added, “Basically, if you need anything, go there and they will help you.”

Another hidden gem of the Alumni House is the Garden on the Hill which was completed by the Class of 1964 with “significant donations” from the classes of 1986 and 1976, according to the Association’s website.

The seating area of the garden was dedicated to Patrick Mageary, Class of 1986.

“The Class of 1964 got together and they wanted to kind of make a little zen garden that people could go to sit down, have benches, and make it really pretty,” said Kenney Liscombe. “I’ve had lunch out there with other alumni and by myself, and it is just very peaceful and quiet. It’s very lovely.”

She said, “They [The Class of 1964] raised the funds for it. They did a lot of work. They actually hired another alum who’s a landscape person to come and do the work.

“It’s just a fabulous little place to retreat to if you ever want a quiet study place,” Kenney Liscombe


One way the Association has stayed connected to its alumni is through a pen pal group.

“There are people who write to older alumni,” said Kenney Liscombe.

Every December, alumni get together and “just fill the house all day long writing Christmas cards for people who are the classes that graduated 50 years ago or more,” said Kenney Liscombe.

Cerutti-Harris said this past year, they sent out 2,900 cards.

She said, “In the past [before COVID-19], we had a party. Alum would come back from multiple

generations. They would sit at tables, we would set up all over downstairs, and have snacks and goodies and hand address these cards.

“It was absolutely amazing. We put on holiday music, people talk, and it was just so cool,” Cerutti-Harris added.

Due to COVID-19, Cerutti-Harris said, “We had them [alumni] sign up and we put together these packets of cards, stamps, pens, and lists, and they came and picked them up.

“So, over 40 people took packets home of at least 30 cards. So, that was kind of cool,” she added.

The Association also publishes their newsletter the Echo.

Kenney Liscombe said, “It’s filled with all of the information about things that we’re doing and stories of our alumni. ... It’s a nice way for people to connect with each other.”

Looking toward the future, the IAFSA will continue to engage, support, and preserve, just as it has for the last 147 years.

“We want alumni to stay connected to their school. It was easier in the past because the classes of students were smaller and they were very close-knit. So, it was a different college experience,” said Cerutti-Harris.

She added, “We try to find ways to engage alumni and keep them interested. Because it [FSU] is such a historic school – they have this kind of shared history that brings them [alumni] together.”



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