January 23, 2021

John Morello: The End of an Era

When John Morello first set foot on the Mary Washington campus in February 1989, the day was bright and balmy, Ball Circle was abuzz with Frisbees flying, and the campus seemed vibrant.

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs John Morello is retiring after over three decades at UMW.

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs John Morello is retiring after over three decades at UMW.

It felt right.

Tomorrow, when Morello leaves the UMW campus, his 31 years of career accumulations in tow, it will likely be chilly and cloudy, with no students and few employees in sight.

It will feel right.

No – he’s not being driven out by the pandemic or by pending accreditation reaffirmation. Morello, 72, said he has done everything he could do at Mary Washington, and retirement is the next step. “It’s like an aging athlete,” he said. “You know when it’s time to go.”

But during his more than three decades at UMW, Morello has been a high-scorer who adeptly played multiple positions, and his departure will leave quite a void in the University’s strategic operations. He started out as a speech professor in the English department as well as director of the Mary Washington debate team.

With an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and a master’s from Northern Illinois State University, Morello – a native New Yorker who grew up in Virginia – took his first job at James Madison University. While working there and during leave time, he earned a doctorate from Wayne State University. He next landed at Simpson College in Iowa. He held tenured positions at both JMU and Simpson, as well as at Mary Washington.

In 1998, Morello moved into administration with UMW’s Office of Academic Affairs. He eventually became the University’s associate provost, where he’s handled myriad responsibilities, including compiling the course catalog. Previously printed, it’s now completely online. Building out that system was one of many factors that delayed his retirement.

Under ordinary circumstances, the presidential election this fall would have cast Morello in a role he has traditionally played every four years: instructor of a class on communication and the presidential election campaign.

While his areas of academic expertise include presidential political campaign communication strategy and political oratory, Morello said he found the current state of political communication and televised presidential debates too depressing to teach the course one last time.

Morello with Provost Nina Mikhalevsky with a special ukulele given to him by Academic Affairs in honor of his retirement. Commissioned and built by local luthier and UMW adjunct instructor Larry Hinkle, the ukulele was made from materials salvaged from an old piano soundboard as well as wood from a tree grown on Washington Avenue, across from Kenmore Plantation. Learning to play will be another retirement activity.

Morello with Provost Nina Mikhalevsky with a special ukulele given to him by Academic Affairs in honor of his retirement. Commissioned and built by local luthier and UMW adjunct instructor Larry Hinkle, the ukulele was made from materials salvaged from an old piano soundboard as well as wood from a tree grown on Washington Avenue, across from Kenmore Plantation. Learning to play will be another retirement activity.

Many alumni, including current Board of Visitors Rector Heather Crislip, have fond memories of classes he taught. She sang her former professor’s praises at the November Board meeting, noting that Morello is the only person she’s ever met who can recite all the U.S. presidents in order, both forward and backward.

Crislip said the phrase he used to accomplish that feat is one she recites to her own children now: “Train your brain.”

Morello groupies – and by now there are many – nearly universally mention his dry wit and self-depreciating demeanor.

“He comes across as a curmudgeon,” said President Troy Paino, “but he has a humongous heart.” A frequent partner on the golf links, Paino said of Morello: “His work ethic, gift for critical analysis, memory, eye for detail, humor, kindness and commitment to Mary Washington’s students and mission will be impossible to replace.”

No debate about it, the reservoir of Morello’s institutional knowledge will be irreplaceable.

 

Q: What are your retirement plans?
A: Before the pandemic, my wife Tami and I planned to do a lot of traveling. We’re still optimistic. Meanwhile, I have projects around the house. And there’s always golf – the ultimate social-distancing sport.

Q: What will you miss most?
A: Since 1966 (when I entered W&M), my life has revolved around a college campus. I will miss walking on a campus and knowing I am a part of that environment.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A:  I spent a brief and undistinguished time in the Army. I also have a hobby of collecting all of Jimmy Stewart’s movies. I’m about halfway there.

Q: What are your favorite movies?
A:
Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Field of Dreams and most movies with Jimmy Stewart.

Q: What’s your favorite motto?
A: A lot of people know that I’m a fan of quoting lyrics from songs or passages from old movies. But what motivates me most is a golf-related quote: “One shot at a time.” You need to try to focus on the next shot (or task) rather than obsessing about the mistake you may have just made.

When the Pandemic Struck, UMW Persevered

UMW sophomore Andrew Newman poses on a Campus Walk bench. The University community pulled together this fall to follow MMDC (monitor, mask, distance and clean) guidelines and minimize the number of COVID-19 cases on campus. Increased pandemic-related measures will be employed this spring.

UMW sophomore Andrew Newman poses on a Campus Walk bench. The University community pulled together this fall to follow MMDC (monitor, mask, distance and clean) guidelines and minimize the number of COVID-19 cases on campus. Increased pandemic-related measures will be employed this spring.

Eager to begin her college career at Mary Washington, Sarah Bazemore moved into Willard Hall in September, stocking her room with masks and sanitizer.

Little did she know that she would end her first semester living in Marshall Hall under quarantine. Bazemore and two of her friends were among several dozen students who were either exposed to or came down with COVID-19 in fall 2020.

Even so, she rated the entire semester an A+. “I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be on campus this fall, and I’m beyond impressed with the way UMW handled COVID-19,” she said. “Even when we entered quarantine, there was a plan. At no time was I unable to get the support I needed or an answer to my questions.”

Only 40 students utilized the more than 100 designated quarantine/isolation rooms on campus. That, added Bazemore, “says a lot about the student body and our administration. We followed MMDC (monitor, mask, distance and clean) and did all we could to keep COVID-19 away from UMW.”

Plenty of planning and extreme vigilance paid off. While the pandemic rages across the globe, the University ended up with fewer than 50 COVID cases since the end of August.

“I’m filled with pride by the way the Mary Washington community has thus far risen to this challenge,” said President Troy Paino. “We have proven something to ourselves: We can adapt, innovate and persevere.” Read more.

When the Pandemic Struck, UMW Persevered

Eager to begin her college career at Mary Washington, Sarah Bazemore moved into Willard Hall in September, stocking her room with masks and sanitizer. Little did she know that she would end her first semester living in Marshall Hall under quarantine. Bazemore and two of her friends were among several dozen students who were either […]

Endowment Endeavors to Enhance Student Experiences

UMW theatre students on a pre-pandemic trip to New York City and Broadway. The Beyond the Classroom Endowment will ensure Mary Washington students continue to experience extraordinary learning opportunities like this one.

UMW theatre students on a pre-pandemic trip to New York City and Broadway. The Beyond the Classroom Endowment will ensure Mary Washington students continue to experience extraordinary learning opportunities like this one.

The UMW historic preservation students were on a mission. As part of a 2019 study abroad trip to Paris, they were determined to find the grave of James Monroe’s daughter, Eliza, and make sure it was in good shape.

Success. After clearing away some plant growth, the students were able to report that Eliza Monroe Hay’s grave marker was intact. This trip benefitted not only the students but also the University’s James Monroe Museum.

Similarly, geography students brought prestige to UMW when they won the World Geography Bowl last year at the Southeastern Division of the American Association of Geographers competition in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Study abroad, domestic trips for research, unpaid internships – all of these beyond-the-classroom opportunities, some of which are unique to Mary Washington – greatly enhance students’ education. But they often come with a price tag.

During the 2019-20 academic year, more than 250 UMW students applied for grants to support supplies and travel related to internships and undergraduate research projects. Sadly, their requests exceeded available funds by close to $100,000.

The coronavirus pandemic abruptly halted student travel, while also tightening all university budgets. Even so, said College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Dean Keith Mellinger, “students needed money for lab equipment and studio projects, books and subscriptions, and some were also still looking for funding for day-travel to places like Washington, D.C., to visit museums or archives.” Read more.

Endowment Endeavors to Enhance Student Experiences

The UMW historic preservation students were on a mission. As part of a 2019 study abroad trip to Paris, they were determined to find the grave of James Monroe’s daughter, Eliza, and make sure it was in good shape. Success. After clearing away some plant growth, the students were able to report that Eliza Monroe […]

Forum Reveals Reality of Racial Issues at UMW

Mary Washington’s U.S. Race & Reality Forum, an eight-week, one-credit forum, covered topics like common myths about race, privilege and fragility, Confederate monuments and identity, and policing and incarceration.

Mary Washington’s U.S. Race & Reality Forum, an eight-week, one-credit forum, covered topics like common myths about race, privilege and fragility, Confederate monuments and identity, and policing and incarceration.

Do you have to be a person of color to be offended by a racial epithet?

No, according to Alexandra Polymeropoulos, a junior at the University of Mary Washington. During a lively discussion Wednesday evening in a session of UMW’s U.S. Race & Reality Forum, Polymeropoulos said she is riled every time she hears such language. And, she added, being white makes it hard to convince peers of how much it bothers her.

You have to build up “a wall of steel,” offered classmate Andrew Schneidawind, one of more than 150 Mary Washington students who enrolled in the course.

Candor, frustration, hopefulness, ardor – all were on display during a Zoom session of this specially designed eight-week, one-credit race forum, which was sparked by the murder in late May of George Floyd.

The sessions featured UMW faculty and staff, as well as speakers from outside the university. “We wanted to offer some conventional academic knowledge, but also make it possible for students to hear directly from individuals involved in making change,” said one of the co-facilitators, Associate Professor of Anthropology Jason James. Read more.

Forum Reveals Reality of Racial Issues at UMW

Do you have to be a person of color to be offended by a racial epithet? No, according to Alexandra Polymeropoulos, a junior at the University of Mary Washington. During a lively discussion Wednesday evening in a session of Mary Washington’s U.S. Race & Reality Forum, Polymeropoulos said she is riled every time she hears […]

Hillel Center to Serve as a Nest for Eagles

UMW hosted a socially distanced soft opening yesterday for the Maxine and Carl D. Silver Hillel Center. President Troy Paino described it as an “intellectual, social and cultural hub” for students and the broader Jewish community. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

UMW hosted a socially distanced soft opening yesterday for the Maxine and Carl D. Silver Hillel Center. President Troy Paino described it as an “intellectual, social and cultural hub” for students and the broader Jewish community. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Growing up, Fredericksburg native Larry Silver spent many hours hanging out on what were then open fields of the nearby Mary Washington College.

How fitting that decades later, the real estate investor has established a place at Mary Washington for students to hang out. Silver, based now in Boca Raton, Florida, was on hand yesterday for a “socially distanced soft opening” of the Maxine and Carl D. Silver Hillel Center at University of Mary Washington.

“My parents loved Fredericksburg and they loved the university,” Larry Silver said during a small ceremony in front of the Center, at the corner of College Avenue and Payne Street. “This is a great way to honor them.” Read more.

Hillel Center to Serve as a Nest for Eagles

Growing up, Fredericksburg native Larry Silver spent many hours hanging out on what were then open fields of the nearby Mary Washington College. How fitting that decades later, the real estate investor has established a place at Mary Washington for students to hang out. Silver, based now in Boca Raton, Florida, was on hand yesterday […]

Phi Beta Kappa Inducts Stars at Academics and Adaptability

Senior Nichole Boigegrain is one of 34 UMW students elected to Phi Beta Kappa, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic societies. Here, she stands with the PBK marker on Campus Walk. UMW’s Kappa of Virginia chapter celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Senior Nichole Boigegrain is one of 34 UMW students elected to Phi Beta Kappa, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic societies. Here, she stands with the PBK marker on Campus Walk. UMW’s Kappa of Virginia chapter celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

The University of Mary Washington inducted 34 students earlier this year into Phi Beta Kappa, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor societies.

Founded in 1776 – the same year as the signing of the Declaration of Independence – the organization is dedicated to championing a liberal arts and sciences education. In the midst of the American Revolution, Phi Beta Kappa’s founders recognized that institutions needed to be “a grounding force and elevating influence in turbulent times,” according to its website – a principle the society upholds today.

Notable members include presidents and Supreme Court justices, activists W.E.B. DuBois and Helen Keller, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and bestselling author Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Nichole Boigegrain joined the ranks of that elite group of scholars, including those who have been initiated into UMW’s Kappa of Virginia chapter over the last half century, since its founding in 1970. But she had to navigate through some 21st-century problems along the way. Read more.