Two alumni lifetime commitment to the university

By Shaun Chornobroff

A love that blossomed at Rider’s campus more than eight decades earlier has paid the school back and then some. James H. McGordy ‘39 and Elsie Varga ‘39 saw their romance bloom on the streets of Lawrenceville, and, more than 80 years after receiving their diplomas, the couple has given the university a $2.35 million gift through a trust, according to a Feb. 13 press release. 

The couple were routine donors to Rider’s annual fund, and its latest donation is the 19th gift of more than $1 million since Rider’s Transforming Students – Transforming Lives campaign was started nearly five years ago. The fundraising crusade began in July 2017 and was publicly revealed on Oct. 29 during Homecoming Weekend, where Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo said the university raised more than $76 million of its $80 million goal. 

Rider’s Director of Communications Rachel Stengel said, “The success of the campaign is due to several factors, including the University’s mission and the direct way that Transforming Students – Transforming Lives supports that mission. … The plan resonates with donors, the majority of whom were Rider students themselves and felt their own lives had been transformed thanks to their Rider experience.”

McGordy and Varga eventually married and stayed together until October 2005, when Varga died, followed by her husband in August 2020. The couple’s only child died in August 2022. As a result, the remainder of the couple’s trust was split between Rider and Rutgers University, where both earned postgraduate degrees. 

The gift will endow a scholarship toward commuter students within the College of Education and Human Services (CEHS), as well as partially endow a $2,000 annual scholarship for incoming undergraduate education majors starting in fall 2023. The scholarship is part of an effort to increase the amount of qualified teachers as Rider tries to combat a national educator shortage, according to the university press release announcing the scholarship.  

“Rider has a demonstrated track record of nurturing outstanding teachers,” said Jason Barr, dean of Rider’s College of Education and Human Services in the press release. “This scholarship is designed to help students who are passionate and dedicated to the field of education. As future educators, they will have an incredible impact on generations of students during this challenging time for the profession.”

The release states that 100% of 2021 graduates from the education department are employed full-time or are continuing their education. 

“They give us a lot of work in the field that makes it really easy to know what you’re doing when you have to interact with students,” said sophomore elementary education major Rowan Mickley. 

Varga was involved in Rider’s education department during her time at the school, earning a Bachelor’s of science of education. She last worked for Ramapo Indian Hills Regional High School, according to the press release.  

Her husband received a Bachelor of Accounts and was a member of the Accountants Club while at Rider. He went on to be the chief financial officer of Ingredient Technology Corp., eventually became one of the original partners of Ernst and Young, which is one of the big four accounting firms, according to the release. 

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