Remembering a Science Star

Dr. Barbara Palmer Shineman ’65, M ’71, professor emerita of education, sifts through memorabilia of her late husband, Dr. Richard S. Shineman. She finds a card their granddaughter Megan gave Dick for his birthday one year. It reads, “The man who reaches for his star is admired, but the man who helps others reach theirs is loved.”

“It rang a bell,” Barbara says of the card’s effect on her. It perfectly sums up for her the kind of man Dick was.

Now, thanks to her gift of $5 million — the largest cash gift in the more than 150-year history of the college — generations of students in the science and engineering fields will be helped toward their stars in the name of a seminal figure in the history of sciences at Oswego: the first chair of the chemistry department and a man who had already passed on the love of his discipline to thousands of Oswego graduates.

“Barbara and Dick have been longtime generous supporters of our college. They epitomize the loyalty and devotion of the entire SUNY Oswego community.

“But this gift is of another dimension. As the largest philanthropic gift in our college’s history, it will mean many things to our students — from well-equipped science facilities to top-notch faculty,” said Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley in announcing the gift.

“We are tremendously thrilled and grateful. This gift comes at a key time, as we focus more than ever on educating students in the sciences and related disciplines. The work and recognition made possible by this wonderful and welcome act of generosity will put Oswego on the map in these fields,” she added.

In accordance with state education law and State University regulations, President Stanley, the Oswego College Foundation, SUNY Oswego College Council and SUNY board of trustees have approved recognizing this historic $5 million gift by naming Oswego’s new science complex the Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation. It is now under construction and set to open in fall 2013.

The gift will establish an endowment that will support an endowed chair in chemistry and educational and cultural opportunities including science programs and research and initiatives of the faculty of the Shineman Center.

“It is always a point of pride when our campuses are given philanthropic gifts in recognition of the excellent education they provide to students in so many different fields of learning,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “It is also an honor for campuses to be able to name facilities or scholarships after donors who have shown an exemplary dedication to the campus. Congratulations to SUNY Oswego on this much-deserved donation and many thanks to Professor Emerita Dr. Barbara Shineman and the Richard S. Shineman Foundation for their consistent support.”

“Dr. Barbara Shineman is a lifelong true philanthropist. She embodies the very mission of the Oswego College Foundation,” said Bill Spinelli ’84, chair of the Oswego College Foundation board of directors. “Her personal philanthropy includes a leadership role as a charter member of the Sheldon Legacy Society, the college’s planned giving program, as well as establishing student awards and scholarships, supporting The Fund for Oswego and the Emeriti Association, and most generous gifts to college fundraising efforts.”

“Dick would be overwhelmed by this … and very humbled,” Barbara said, “He really had a great deal of respect for the college. When Dick joined the faculty in 1962, he was hired to help reshape the sciences at Oswego, so he would be so very pleased to see this state-of-the-art building, where all the disciplines will be under one roof.”

Proud History at Oswego

Dick Shineman was one of the founders of Oswego’s chemistry program and its first chair, as well as part of a cadre of professors who helped design the science facilities in Snygg Hall. With an undergraduate degree from Cornell University, a master’s from Syracuse and a doctorate from the Ohio State University, he was hired by then-President Foster Brown to get the sciences program under way, and he worked with chairmen in the other science disciplines and math along with colleagues in SUNY Central Administration to design the building.

Dick Shineman took pride in chemistry graduates who went on to do great things. Dr. Corliss Varnum ’79, one of Shineman’s early students, later became his physician and attended him in his final illness.

One of the courses Dick Shineman was proudest of developing was “Chemistry and the Public Concern,” which spoke to environmental issues becoming prominent in the early ’70s. Long after his retirement, as the new century dawned, he was pleased that it was still being offered as a new generation of environmental concerns surfaced.

Barbara Shineman has deep roots at Oswego, too. She is a proud alumna, having graduated as a non-traditional student with an undergraduate degree in childhood education, master’s in reading education and a Certificate of Advanced Study

She joined the college community as a young mother of two, married to Robert Palmer, director of Auxiliary Services at the college, when she decided to take classes at the college in 1958. Palmer died suddenly in 1969. They had been married for 23 years and his death was a shock to the community.

“It changed my life. I decided it was time to go on to grad school. I got my master’s at Oswego and then decided on Penn State for my doctorate,” Barbara recalled.

About this time she met Dick Shineman, when both were serving on a music committee at the Presbyterian Church, where Dick would go on to serve as a deacon and elder. Through many meetings to choose a new hymnal, the two became friends. “We shared similar values,” Barbara said. “I was impressed with his outlook on life, and the fact that he was a good person.”

When it was time for Barbara to leave for Penn State, Dick urged her to follow through on her educational goals. “Dick would call from Oswego – ‘Are you busy this weekend?’ he would ask, and plan a visit,” Barbara relates. “Before summer ended, he proposed.”

Although Dick encouraged her to stay and complete her degree at Penn State, Barbara was able to transfer to Syracuse University, where she would complete her doctorate. The two were married in 1973.

After marriage to Dick, “life again took a great turn,” Barbara said. Especially after retirement, the couple traveled frequently, to places like the Galapagos Islands and to England, to visit Barbara’s daughter, Kathy.

Barbara stayed involved in the life of the college, teaching at the Campus School. “The Campus School experience was the most professionally rewarding, getting to know the students, working with college students, parents and colleagues,” she said. When the Campus School closed, Barbara joined the elementary education department at Oswego, where she taught until her retirement in 1989.

She would direct the Sheldon Institute for Gifted and Talented Students and the Potential Teacher Program, and coordinate Swetman Learning Center advisement while continuing her work as a professor of elementary education in what is now the college’s School of Education.

“The college was a big part of our life together,” Barbara said.

After retirement, they would go on to be involved in the Emeriti Association. Dick was a founding member and served on the original board of directors. Barbara was president for seven years, and led the effort to establish a historical record within all named campus buildings.

“We took a lot of pride in doing things that reflected what the college was doing and what it needed,” she said. “I felt good about that and really enjoyed working on it.”

Professor Emeritus of English John Fisher and his wife, Joanne, are longtime friends of both Shinemans. “When we think of Dick, we remember how much of a giving person he was, and Barbara is the same,” said Joanne. “She really has put her life into the college,” added John, who taught Barbara in a freshman English class and later served on the Emeriti Association with her. “Her actions told what her feelings were.

Speaking of both Shinemans, he said, “They were both very proud of Oswego.”

Barbara served as the Annual Fund volunteer chair, and was the recipient of the Oswego Alumni Association’s Lifetime Award of Merit. During the college’s first capital campaign, “Inspiring Horizons,” Barbara served as a member of the Presidential Campaign Cabinet.

For more than a decade, she served on the Oswego Alumni Association Scholarship Committee.

President Stanley pre­sented Barbara with a Presidential Medal for her lifelong support to SUNY Oswego at the 2007 Commencement Ceremony.

Both Shinemans were community minded. Along with Dick’s devotion to Rotary and its motto of “Service Above Self,” they have volunteered their time to community organizations in Oswego and their winter home in Florida, including the AARP tax adviser program, the local hospital, Hospice, Literacy Volunteers and the Arts Council.

A life of generosity

Philanthropy – especially giving to SUNY Oswego – has been extremely important to the Shinemans, both of whom served on the Oswego College Foundation board of directors.

The couple focused their giving on the college, providing nearly a million dollars in support during Dick Shineman’s lifetime.

“Dick and I always agreed about the tremendous importance of education. We always felt education is an enabler … it enables you to pursue your dreams and gives you the confidence in your ability to achieve success,” Barbara Shineman said. “It follows that the more resources the college has, the better it will enable students to reach for their dreams.”

Dick Shineman insisted on anonymity during his lifetime, although he acknowledged his support of the Freshman Chemistry Scholarship, with four awarded to incoming Oswego students each year. Barbara Shineman has supported Penfield Library, campus beautification projects and the School of Education, among other initiatives.

To this SUNY Oswego couple, nothing was more important than the college that was at the center of their lives — and its students. “The college was a very important part of [Dick’s] life,” said Barbara Shineman. “He had a very strong, committed, loyal feeling about Oswego — where it was going, what it was trying to do.”

Dick’s generous nature developed through his father’s advice and example, Barbara explained.

A spirit of philanthropy permeated their lives together, from their wedding in the Shineman Chapel House on the Hartwick College campus, which was donated by the Shineman family, who helped found the Beechnut Corp. in Canajoharie.

Barbara tells a story that epitomizes Dick’s approach to philanthropy. “Every June, Dick would take all the solicitations he had received from organizations – the Bible Society, chemical societies, etc. — then write a check to each of them,” she said. “It wasn’t millions, but he wanted them to know he supported them.”

She added, “Dick’s philosophy was that money is not something to hold on to. You come into the world with nothing, and go out of it with nothing.

That philosophy found its ultimate expression in the Richard S. Shineman Foundation, which Dick founded just before his death.

“The money that he put into the foundation will benefit people in the community, who might not otherwise have the opportunity,” Barbara explains.

The gift to SUNY Oswego is the first for the foundation, which aims to be a “Catalyst for Change,” funding community programs in Upstate New York and especially Oswego County.

“[Dick] would be pleased that the foundation is doing what it’s doing,” said Barbara. “He would be so happy to see all the sciences under one roof at SUNY Oswego, to bring so many disciplines together in one building. He would be utterly overwhelmed. Nothing would please him more than to see it. He would be very humbled by it.”

She said Dick would be most pleased by what the gift will mean to the college and to future students. “He would be in awe of the kind of development the future students will have because of the new building: how it will help them get into programs and finish their education,” she said.

Through this historic gift to Oswego, the Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation is just one more way, that even though he has passed on, Dick Shineman can help others reach for their own stars.

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