WILMINGTON — Since 2005, 99 young men and women have received financial assistance from the St. Patrick’s Day Society to attend Catholic high schools, and the sole fundraiser for the Father James Trainor Memorial Scholarship Fund is an annual luncheon. The current beneficiaries gathered Nov. 18 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront for this year’s event.
The students are graduates of Catholic elementary schools in the city of Wilmington. The next group of recipients will be announced in the spring.
The guest speaker was Joe Purzycki, a former college football coach and business executive. He is also the brother of Mike Purzycki, the mayor of Wilmington. He recalled that education was not foremost in his mind as a youngster and that he had to go to a military prep school in order to attend college. He ended up at the University of Delaware, where he earned both his bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in education administration.
“Education is the greatest weapon we have at our disposal,” he said.
He told the crowd that Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who became president of South Africa, said education could change the world.
“Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that opportunity?” he asked.
“I believe that when we teach young people, we should teach them how to succeed, how to win, if you will. The idea of pursuing excellence to me is noble.”
He also emphasized the need for teaching kindness and humility.
“What would I tell my young self all these decades later? Kindness to others is the greatest expression of the almighty,” he said.
When you meet a stranger, it is difficult to love them, but it’s easy to extend kindess, Purzycki said. And, he added, it costs nothing.
Purzycki was 34 and an assistant to Tubby Raymond at Delaware when he was hired to lead Delaware State in 1981. He became the first white coach at an Historically Black College and University, and several players quit when he got the job. His first two years, the Hornets went a combined 6-16, and critics said his hiring was a social experiment that didn’t work.
But, he said, he had recruited more than 100 young men who had built a program and a community. In his third season, Delaware State went 7-3-1, followed by an 8-2 mark in 1984. He left for James Madison University after that and coached the Dukes until 1990.
After leaving football, Purzycki worked for MBNA, and from 2001-10, he was vice chairman and chief operating officer of Barclayscard US.