CRANFORD, NJ -- She graduated nearly 70 years ago, and never forgot Union County College.

On Dec. 8, Helen Chaney called the Union County College Foundation to pledge $500,000 to support student scholarships. She says, “Union was a springboard for me in higher education. The College gave me my start, so I see this gift as my way of helping students financially so that they can afford not only to attend college but also succeed in getting a college degree.”

A 1948 graduate, Mrs. Chaney is providing support for a number of different scholarships and student-success programs. These include three endowed scholarships that will generate $5,000 per year, forever. The donation will also address the College’s “Close the Gap” program to help improve the graduation rates of African-American students. Another scholarship will support students studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines.

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Along with support of the College’s general-scholarship fund, Mrs. Chaney’s gift will set aside $25,000 for the College’s “Operation Graduation.” Launched in 2013, this program has nearly tripled the graduation rates of Union’s students, and the overall total of graduates setting an all-time record of 1,505 in 2015.

Appropriate to the student-success focus of the gift, the College will name its new student center in Helen Chaney’s honor. This Center comprises the first floor of the Cranford Campus’s Student Services Building, a new facility that is scheduled to open in the summer.

The Helen E. Chaney Student Center will serve as the focal point for all student services, including admissions and registration, advising, student accounts, financial aid, and academic records. Union County College President Margaret McMenamin says, “The Center will become the Cranford Campus’s gateway and ‘one-stop’ service center for all new and returning students. We will be honored to have Helen Chaney’s name on that gateway.”

After graduating from Union with an associate in English, Mrs. Chaney would leave the comfort of Cranford by continuing her education at Indiana University. A primary reason for leaving New Jersey was the lack of opportunity for women in higher education. “This was right after the end of WWII and in New Jersey -- other than Union College -- there really were not many universities that were co-ed.”

At Indiana University, she earned a bachelor’s degree and also met her future husband. After raising a family of three in Ohio, she moved to North Carolina, which she now calls her permanent residence.

According to Union County College Foundation Executive Director Doug Rouse, Mrs. Chaney’s gift is one of the largest in Union County College’s 83-year history. Last fall, Betty and Fred Kopf of Westfield also made a $500,000 gift to the College to thank Union for the education their son received back in the 1980s. The Kopfs created an endowed scholarship that will provide permanent funding support for up to nine full- and part-time students annually, in perpetuity.