Gannon honors accomplished alumni at dinner


Gannon University hosted a distinguished alumni dinner to recognize five different alumni from Gannon and Villa Maria College for their contributions to career and community after graduation.
Gannon President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., said the dinner was a statement to the good people being honored and the good people who came back with them to celebrate.
The alumni honored were Almitra “Almi” Clerkin, class of 1985; John “Jay” Alberstadt, class of 1976; Elisabeth “Betsy” Monsalve, class of 1970; Adam Susmarski, class of 2010; and Sister Mary Miller, class of 1967.
“It is an exciting time to be at Gannon,” Taylor said. He talked about the campus improving and growing while still staying true to its traditions, in examples of renovations to Nash Library and Gannon’s commitment to the city of Erie for Our West Bayfront.
The success of Gannon’s recent fundraising campaign, Vision 2020, was also referred to, and Taylor said how the money can help students is more important than the money raised.
“Our honorees know it’s about other people, [and] we are recognizing your selflessness and love for other people,” Taylor said.
Clerkin, who graduated cum laude in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in business management, was the first alumna honored. She began working as the first full-time youth theatre director at the Erie Playhouse in 1992, and spent many years volunteering at the playhouse.
Clerkin met her husband, the Rev. Shawn Clerkin, at Gannon and is involved in Gannon’s Schuster Theatre as well.
Clerkin said these awards were probably the closest thing she’d ever have to winning a Tony. She acknowledged the other honorees and said the event made her emotional.
“Although I did have a shot of tequila,” Clerkin joked.
She thanked her friends and family for attending the dinner before she addressed the Gannon community.
“You have made me a better person and I just can’t thank you enough,” Clerkin said.
Alberstadt, who received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and graduated magna cum laude in 1976, said his Catholic education in the ‘60s and ’70s was not known for its tolerance and acceptance of original ideas, but that changed when he entered Gannon.
Alberstadt is an attorney at the MacDonald, Illig, Jones and Britton law firm in Erie, where he has worked since 2009. He is also heavily involved in volunteer work for numerous organizations, including Catholic Charities, Erie County Historical Society and L’Arche of Erie.
“[I found] 16 years of Catholic education does not irrefutably damage everyone who endures it,” Alberstadt said.
“My education and growth at Gannon has had everything to do with what I’ve been able to accomplish in my life.”
Monsalve, who graduated from Villa Maria College School of Nursing in 1970, said the nursing school at VMC was built on a vision set on integrating women in mainstream education.
She worked in a variety of settings, including health maintenance, teaching nurses, occupational health for a soda ash and borax refinery and the head of her own occupational and environmental health and safety consulting firm, E.R. Monsalve CIH, Inc.
Monsalve said VMC modeled and taught her and her classmates to be leaders. Working in so many different positions, she said one thing remained true.
“Caring nurses will always be needed to lay on healing hands, to advocate and to take care of us all,” Monsalve said.
Susmarski, who graduated summa cum laude in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in sport and exercise science, received the Young Alumni Award.
A reserve officer in the Navy Medical Corps, Susmarski is now the chief resident of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a medical officer in the Steel City Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.
Susmarski said he joined the Navy in 2010 because of his overarching goals to make an impact in medicine.
“One of the best ways I could do that was service to my country,” Susmarski said. He acknowleged his mentors at Gannon and said his greatest achievements happened only with the help of other people.
“The best achievements I’ve had were ones I’ve helped, not something I’ve done,” Susmarski said.
Miller, who graduated VMC in 1967 with a bachelor’s in elementary education, was presented with the Monsignor Wilfrid Nash Principles of Christian Conduct Award.
Miller joined the Order of St. Benedict in 1987 and has served as director of Emmaus Ministries since 1980. She worked to expand the ministry to include a food pantry, Sister Gus’ Kid’s Café and an urban farm school.
“It’s not always easy, it’s not always pretty,” Miller said. “But we do what Jesus said to do, and we show up every day.”
Miller said the night was beautiful and touching and she felt honored to be there.
“But I’m a little out of my league,” Miller said.
Student representatives at the dinner included brothers of Gannon’s of Pi Kappa Alpha, which Alberstadt and Shawn Clerkin were a member of, and officers of the Student Government Association (SGA).
Josiah Leach, a senior psychology major and vice president of student development and engagement for SGA, said attending events like the distinguished alumni dinner is inspirational.
“Jay’s speech gives me goosebumps, just the way he worded it,” Leach said.
“It gives me assurance of what I’m doing. Committing my life to service might put me in another direction.”
[email protected]