Scholarship Fund gains $50,000 donation

Now defunct Women’s Club gives excess funds as endowment to West Orange Scholarship Fund

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Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Cumming
From left are West Orange High School Principal Hayden Moore, Ella Jane Slivka and Peggy Vassallo of the West Orange Women’s Club, and West Orange Scholarship Fund President Rich Rizzolo.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Scholarship Fund received an extraordinary $50,000 donation from the now-defunct West Orange Women’s Club, which was seeking to give away its remaining assets to worthy causes before closing up shop for good after more than 80 years in the community.

According to WOSF President Rich Rizzolo, the $50,000 contribution will allow the WOWC’s name to live on in the form of an ongoing endowment. The money will be distributed in three yearly $1,000 scholarships until there remains just the $5,000 base amount for an endowment, which he estimated will be reached 15 years from now. When that happens, he said the fund will supplement the endowment with its own monies so that it will continue as a permanent fixture.

Right now though, Rizzolo said the WOSF is extremely excited to be the recipient of such generosity.

“It was totally unexpected and out of the blue when we first heard about it, but we were thrilled,” Rizzolo told the West Orange Chronicle in an April 14 phone interview, adding that typical donations to the fund can span $5 for a tribute card to a few hundred dollars. “We were very grateful.”

This is not the first time that the WOWC has taken action to assist local students. According to a press release issued by the school district, the club has given more than $74,000 worth of academic and community service scholarships to West Orange High School seniors through the years. It has also provided tutoring to township students, created gifts for nursing home residents and veterans and collected books for school libraries in disadvantaged areas, among many other community-minded acts. In addition to the WOSF, the club even gave a few thousand dollars of its remaining assets to the West Orange Public Library.

WOWC President Peggy Vassallo refused to discuss the club’s legacy of giving or its closure since the longtime West Orange chapter of the international General Federation of Women’s Clubs is now closed. But Vassallo did tell the Chronicle that it feels good to know the club’s contribution will help those seeking higher education for years to come. And she encouraged others to donate to the fund as well, pointing out that helping future generations learn should be an important mission for everyone.

“It’s important to the community, it’s important to the state and it’s important to life in general that young people have a chance at education,” Vassallo said in an April 15 phone interview. “Who knows what they might do in the future? You don’t know until they learn.”

As for the eventual recipients of the scholarships, the WOWC president said she only wants them to put the money to good use.

“I hope they use the money wisely and the education wisely to better their lives and the people around them,” Vassallo said.

Rizzolo said all students, regardless of gender, will be eligible for the WOWC scholarships. He said they just have to submit an application that includes their community service history, financial need, academic record, a resume of extracurricular activities and an essay about themselves. Considering that most students will already have this sort of material on hand for college applications, he said the process is a quick and easy way for students to obtain some funding for their education.

Even if they do not receive a WOWC scholarship, Rizzolo said there is a good chance WOHS students will receive one of the fund’s approximately 75 total scholarships, which range from $500 to $2,500. That may not seem like a lot considering the high cost to attend a university, but the WOSF president pointed out that every dollar helps.

“When they get $500, $1,000, $2,500 from us,” Rizzolo said, “it covers some of the things that tuition and the cafeteria plan don’t cover.

“Even if you got the lowest amount scholarship, which generally is about $500, you only spent 15 minutes (applying),” he continued. “If there was $500 lying on the ground, would you stop for 15 minutes and pick it all up? I think you would.”

Since the WOSF awarded its first scholarship in 1925, thousands of West Orange students have indeed taken advantage of the fund’s resources. In fact, Rizzolo said the fund has distributed more than $1.1 million through the years, not even stopping during the Great Depression. That amount includes a record $61,500 in scholarships to 49 students in 2015.

Today, Rizzolo said the fund manages a $700,000 portfolio, but still needs as much money as possible to make sure that it always has enough for the students who apply each year. There are several ways for residents to donate to the fund, such as purchasing tickets to the June 4 Slide the City waterslide — 20 percent of the proceeds from tickets bought using the promo code “WEAREWESTORANGE” will go to the fund — and attending the fundraiser honoring Washington Elementary School Principal Marie DeMaio on May 25. Plus, donations can go directly into the fund at any time or contributions can be used to set up a one-year scholarship or an ongoing endowment with $5,000.

And Rizzolo does hope that West Orange community members support the fund. After all, he said, after investing so much in local students’ education through taxes, residents should want to make sure that money does not go to waste due to high college expenses.

“We’ve already spent a lot of money on them,” Rizzolo said. “A little bit more to give them a head start in their next phase seems like a good deal. It seems like the right thing to do.”

To learn more about the West Orange Scholarship Fund, visit