Celebration of Kessler Scholars; $10 million for need-based scholarships at U-M

October 7, 2008
Contact: michigannews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—The first class of Irene and Morris B. Kessler Presidential Scholars will be introduced at a celebration today when the 15 undergraduate students in the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts will meet their benefactors Judy and Fred Wilpon.

The Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation donated $5 million to LSA to establish the Irene and Morris B. Kessler Presidential Scholarship Fund. The gift will be matched by President Mary Sue Coleman’s Donor Challenge to total $10 million for need-based scholarships. It will create the largest scholarship cohort in LSA. Over the years, this group will grow to more than 75 students.

Fred Wilpon is chairman and chief executive officer of the New York Mets, co-founder and chairman of the Board of Sterling Equities, senior partner of SportsNet New York, a regional sports network serving the New York metropolitan region, and co-founder and chairman of the Brooklyn Baseball Co., which owns the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league team.

Wilpon played baseball at U-M until an arm injury cut short his career, but a scholarship grant enabled him to continue attendance. Wilpon and his wife, Judy, of Locust Valley, NY, earned bachelor’s of art degrees from U-M in 1958. The new Kessler Scholars will attend a reception at the LSA Building in their honor followed by a special dinner at the President’s House, hosted by Coleman.

The Irene and Morris B. Kessler Presidential Scholarship Fund is named in honor of the parents of Judy Kessler Wilpon, Mickie Kessler Kivel, and Bonnie Kessler Dropkin. Their father, Dr. Morris Kessler, emigrated to the U.S. from Romania with his family when he was 12 years old.

Although he did not speak a word of English when he arrived in the U.S., he earned his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University at age 19 and went on to earn a degree in dentistry.

While studying to be a dentist, Morris Kessler met Irene Nass, who was planning to become an elementary school teacher. Irene and Morris married after a whirlwind courtship at Wrigley Field and moved to the small town of Sebewaing, Mich., where they started a family and Kessler began his practice.

When the U.S. entered WWII, Kessler joined the Army Air Force. The family moved to Urbana, Illinois, until the war ended. They returned to Michigan where the Kessler girls all eventually graduated from LSA.

“Education has always been very important to my family,” said Judy Wilpon. “My parents didn’t have much money when my sisters and I attended college, so it was a struggle, but they were determined that their daughters receive a good education. It means so much to me to be able to provide scholarship support to students who need it. Fred and I have had such good fortune in our lives. We are delighted to share the opportunity and support we received as students here at Michigan with others who might otherwise be unable to attend this fabulous institution.”

The Wilpons have also donated $5 million to create the University of Michigan Bone & Joint Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation Center, and $4 million for the Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex.

The Wilpon gifts advanced U-M’s $2.5 billion The Michigan Difference campaign, which achieved its goal in June 2007. The campaign continues through Dec. 31, 2008.

The Wilpons’ earlier support includes contributions to LSA, the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellows. Fred Wilpon served on the national committee of the Campaign for Michigan. He is a member of the Athletic Directors Cabinet and represents U-M as a representative on the board of the Big Ten Network.