Dolores Sarafinski, Ph.D, founder of the Gannon University Writing Center, passes away at 91


At its start, the Writing and Research Center used by Gannon University students today was a classroom with an attached office and dividing windows, now hidden by blinds in the third floor of the Palumbo Academic Center.
These windows are a testament to the design and initiative of Dolores Sarafinski, Ph.D., who died on Aug. 18.
Sarafinski began working at Gannon in 1964 as a Benedictine nun and continued in the tradition of service even after she left the order and retired from Gannon in 1997.
Berwyn Moore, a professor in the English department, said Sarafinski treated the Gannon community as her family because she never married or had children.
“She was a whirlwind of energy,” Moore said.
Sarafinski brought that energy to the English department as she worked to help establish the Writing Center, teach in the Erie Art House and found the “Hooked on Books” program.
The program, which distributes free books to underprivileged children in Erie, was part of Sarafinski’s effort to improve literacy in the community.
Phil Kelly, Ph.D., a professor in the English department, said Sarafinski was able to find ways to get books for free.
“Well, books don’t come cheap—unless, of course, you’re Dolores Sarafinski,” Kelly said.
She made contacts with publishers, donors and local businesses to keep “Hooked on Books” stocked.
One of Sarafinski’s other talents was delegation. Moore said she always had a job for anyone who visited her office.
Kelly said Sarafinski was always able to convince people to help, even as she got older.
“She still had the vision to say ‘Hey, we can do this,’ and before you knew it, you’d be part of ‘We can do this,’” Kelly said.
Kelly said he noticed this especially when he was serving as the dean of what was then the College of Humanities, and Sarafinski wanted funding for a project that would become the Writing Center.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t have any money,’” Kelly said. “I thought, I could tell her no and next week she’ll be back here with a different slant on the same idea.”
Needless to say, Kelly said yes to Sarafinski’s proposal. With the help of Sally LeVan, Ph.D., a professor in the English department, the Writing Center opened to help students edit and revise their papers.
Leigh Tishcler, senior English major, expressed how much she enjoys her job as a tutor at the Writing Center.
“The Writing Center of course gives me an outlet to share the knowledge I gain from my area of study,” Tiscler said. “More than that, it gives me countless opportunities to learn alongside my peers–an opportunity that often comes along more than once a shift.”
During Sarafinski’s last years at Gannon, she was using a walker, but Kelly said she still found ways to bring all her books and notes to the classroom.

“There would always be one of these big, hulking football players with Dolores on her way to class with books and notes in tow,” Kelly said.
Moore said Sarafinski remained kind-hearted into her last days, and always introduced her to people working at Ball Pavilion, the nursing home she stayed in during the last stages of her life.
Since Sarafini’s retirement and recent death, the English department continues in her vision by promoting well-rounded students.
“She was so into such a broad range of things, and we in the English department still try to do that,” Moore said.

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