As a Stevens student, Ken DeGraw ’57 longed to dive into the everyday activities and fun of campus life. But commuting six days a week from Rockland County, N.Y., and working to put himself through school, he found it impossible.
So he’s been making up for it ever since. Ken has spent almost 50 years being involved with Stevens and with the Stevens Alumni Association (SAA), from writing class logs for The Stevens Indicator to planning class reunions to serving as the SAA president.
In recent years, he’s worked as the Stevens Alumni Association’s clubs director, increasing the number of clubs as well as building a strong community online through the Stevens LinkedIn® group. And he’s continued his volunteer efforts faithfully, as he and the Class of 1957 Reunion Committee gear up for their 55th reunion in 2012.
He has to pause when he contemplates 50 years. “How did I get so old so fast?” he asks dryly, with a slight smile. “I wanted to be part of Stevens and since I couldn’t do it as a student…” he continues, in his quiet, unassuming way. “I think of it as giving back.” For giving back to Stevens and its alumni in so many ways, Ken has been chosen to receive the Stevens Alumni Award for 2011. He received the prestigious award during Alumni Weekend. The SAA gives the award annually in recognition of outstanding loyalty and devotion to Stevens.
Ken, of Montvale, N.J., has served as the SAA’s clubs director since 2002, scheduling and guiding club meetings across the country and seeking out areas for new clubs. When he first became clubs director, Ken was charged with “resuscitating” the alumni clubs, he says, during a recent interview at the Alumni Office. He’s more than succeeded, as the SAA now offers 30 alumni clubs, many social, but some professional and supportive of alumni seeking employment. One example is Ken’s establishing and maintaining of the SAA’s LinkedIn group.
The group now has more than 3,000 members. The SAA’s LinkedIn group has grown strongly in recent years, and Ken attributes a large part of this to a struggling economy and alumni seeking jobs. Ken has also been a faithful member of the Reunion Committee for the Class of 1957—one of the most active and tight-knit reunion groups in recent years. “We’re back at it for our 55th,” Ken says, as the group, which has established both an endowed scholarship and annual scholarship, helped fund other projects and seeks to present a class gift in honor of its upcoming 55th reunion.
This is a group that has enjoyed luncheons together in their mission to help Stevens students and to re-connect with each other. Of all his Stevens’ activities, Ken has enjoyed being a part of the reunion committee the most, he says. “The most fun thing has been the Reunion Committee because I hardly knew these guys when I was here,” he says.Ken was the first in his family to attend college and received some scholarship help early on from Stevens. But living on campus proved to be too expensive so, after his first semester, he started the two-hour, round-trip daily commute to Stevens, carpooling with Jack Gallagher ’57, Dave Caulfield ’57 and other classmates.
When he wasn’t attending classes, commuting or studying, he was working, in the Chemistry Department and in a hardware store back near his home in Blauvelt, N.Y. In the summers, he worked with the Roads Department in Orangetown, N.Y., where his father also worked.
Ken did manage to work on The Link and the TranSIT surveying camp magazine and join Theta Xi fraternity. He also joined the Air Force ROTC on campus.After graduating from Stevens, Ken served in the Air Force for two and a half years in Amarillo, Texas. When he moved back to New Jersey, he immediately returned to Stevens and began volunteering. He wrote class logs for The Indicator for 10 years, served on and chaired various SAA committees and worked with the Stevens Telethon. Ken also served as an SAA officer and was elected SAA president from 1987 to 1988. He received the Harold R. Fee ’20 Alumni Achievement Award in 1977.
Joe Weber ’64, chairman of the SAA Awards Committee, recalls that his committee, which nominated Ken for the Alumni Award, was at first considering several alumni for the award until they had that “light bulb” moment.“Then someone said, ‘What about Ken?’ And it was like an unanimous Eureka! Of course, the ‘King of Clubs,’ he's always there,” Weber said. “From that point on, it was no contest. It was Ken above all others—unanimous.”
Ken, who is a Licensed Professional Engineer, has had a long and varied career. He worked as a project engineer and in marketing and new product development, and enjoyed a long career with American Standard, Inc. He was an independent manufacturer’s representative before joining Stevens as the SAA’s clubs director; his favorite job was with Curtiss Wright, where he built flight simulators. Along the way, he earned an M.B.A. from Rutgers University in 1967.
He and his wife, Helen, will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary this September. They have a son, Kenneth Jr., two daughters, Kathryn and Karen, and eight grandchildren, including triplet grandsons who keep their grandparents busy.
Helen also has deep ties to Stevens, having worked during Ken’s senior year as a secretary for retired Stevens physics professor George Yevick. She still keeps in touch with Stevens friends from that time. Ken praised his wife for being so supportive of his many volunteer hours at Stevens throughout the years.
These days, Ken is thinking about how his class can further help students—and leave a legacy—through scholarships. And he’s trying to reach more alumni in need.
“We always said that we give lifelong assistance,” he says of the SAA. “I wish we could do more.” Ken encourages alumni to get more involved with alumni clubs and LinkedIn. “I think that it makes them feel more like part of the family,” he says. “They got help when they needed it.”