Instant Impact: Murray and Jean Swindell, ’56 ’58, Create $1 Million Scholarship

The gift will support bright students with financial need and aim to enhance Albion’s recognition as a national leader among liberal arts colleges

October 19, 2017

By Chuck Carlson

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Then again most ideas do.

Two people wearing purple shirts smiling at the camera.

Jean and Murray Swindell have lived in the Boston area for many years but have always kept their Michigan roots close. Says Jean: “We want Albion to rank somewhere in the hearts of Easterners as a good liberal arts school.”

As Murray Swindell, ’56, headed to graduate business school at the University of Michigan with his new bride, Jean, ’58, by his side, he made a bold promise to his new father-in-law.

“He promised him that I’d graduate on time from Michigan and that we didn’t need any financial help from him,” Jean recalled with a laugh. “That was one of the dumbest things he ever said.”

But despite living on summer-job earnings and Murray’s part-time job at an Ann Arbor post office, they did indeed make it.

And those memories of early struggles and eventual successes formed the foundation of who the Swindells were and who they are today.

Now the couple, retired and living in Massachusetts, wants to do their part to give back to Albion College, the school that did so much for both of them.

“We came to the conclusion that because of our experiences at Albion and with so many good memories, the education of our first son (Murray Jr.), Jean’s parents, Jean’s brother, it seemed like the right thing to do,” Murray said. “Even though we hadn’t been involved with the College in many years, in our heart, we still talk about Michigan. Albion was where I met Jean, that’s where we got pinned, that’s where we got engaged.”

And now, the Swindells have deepened their connection to Albion even more through their recent $1 million scholarship gift—a gift that carries only the barest of stipulations. The Murray and Jean Penzotti Swindell Student Impact Scholarship should support bright students with financial need; support President Mauri Ditzler’s vision of growth for both the College and the Albion community; and help make Albion College well known nationally as a top-notch liberal arts school.

“Mauri and I were pretty much on the same frequency in terms of our discussion,” said Murray, who grew up in Paw Paw, Mich. “Making Albion vibrant in a rust-belt city is very important. And I’m hoping others will follow in the same way. It’s a chance for kids who are very bright but just don’t have the wealth to go to a fine school. This seemed like the time and it seemed like the place. We made the contribution with a great deal of warmth.”

Jean knows all about the Albion experience.

In 2009, Jean and her two brothers—Stanley and James—and her sister Sally created an endowed scholarship of their own in honor of their parents, Stanley and Louise Penzotti, ’30 ’32, who also met at Albion and were married in 1933. As well, Jean’s grandmother lived on North Ionia Street in Albion her entire life.

“While I was at Albion, I was able to drop in and see my grandmother,” said Jean, who grew up in Three Rivers, Mich. “Albion felt like a second home. I grew up never considering going anywhere else to college. I didn’t look anywhere else. It was ingrained in me that you go to Albion College.”

So it was a tough decision when Murray and Jean married and he headed to Ann Arbor. Despite her parents’ misgivings, she transferred to Michigan, which elicited the promise from her new husband.

“We managed,” she said. “But we were definitely on a shoestring.”

Jean would go on to earn her B.A. in education from Michigan and an M.A. in education from Lesley University. She was a reading specialist at Nashoba Brooks School in Massachusetts.

Murray earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and management and psychology from Albion, and his M.B.A. from Michigan. He went on to work at Carnation Corp. and then became an executive at Polaroid before forming Acuity Management, Inc.

The Swindells’ oldest son, Murray, is a 1980 Albion College graduate, while their other three children earned degrees at small liberal arts schools on the East Coast. Their newly established scholarship is geared toward that fact.

“Murray’s success in business gave us a good life,” Jean said. “The fact that our children all had a good liberal arts education at schools like Albion certainly makes us want to have our scholarship money go to students who don’t have that opportunity financially. We want Albion to rank somewhere in the hearts of Easterners as a good liberal arts school. We know from personal experience that the schools in the Midwest are just as good as the ones where our children attended.”