A Commitment to Education Helps Prepare Next Generation of Teachers

John and Mary '60 Alden

By Jill Gambon

To this day, Mary (Curtin) Alden ’60 doesn’t know who paid her tuition for her last two years at Lowell State Teachers College. But without that support, Alden, whose father was seriously ill with tuberculosis throughout her college years, would not have been able to continue her education. 

 “I never knew who it was,” says Alden, who finished her degree and achieved her goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. “But I always had wonderful people backing me at school.”

As the years went by, Alden, who retired from teaching when she was raising her three children, never forgot the financial support — and the encouragement she got at Lowell State. In 2004, she and her husband, John, established the Mary Curtin Alden Endowment Fund to provide scholarships to undergraduate education majors. The way they see it, it is simply their turn to help.

“We want to give back,” says Mary. “Somebody stepped up for me.”

“This is the example we want to set,” says John, a retired UPS Inc. executive.

Mary grew up an only child in a close-knit family in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She had attended Catholic schools and when it came time for college, living away from home was not an option. So, she enrolled at Lowell State and carpooled to campus with other students.   

When she arrived on campus, her father’s illness was never far from her mind. But she always felt like there was someone watching out for her. She fondly recalls the warmth and encouragement she received from Mary McGauvran, who was then dean of women and director of admissions at the college, and later vice president of student affairs for the university. 

“The faculty were so approachable,” she says. “They really seemed to care. They knew my father was sick.” 

She got involved in various campus activities, participating in the Women’s Recreational Organization and the Newman Club, and one year was named queen at the campus formal, an annual tradition at the college. 

“I had a lot of fun,” she recalls.

After graduating, she landed her first teaching job in the Haverhill Public Schools. Her classes at Lowell State and her student teaching experience had prepared her to lead a classroom. 

“I felt like I got a great education,” she says.

John, a native of Stoneham, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Boston University, spent his career at UPS, rising to vice chairman and director before retiring in 2000.

The couple met at Salisbury Beach, a popular beach town in the Northeast corner of the state, in 1967 and married a year later. John’s job took them to Connecticut and then Atlanta, where they raised their family. 

Although she left the teaching profession, Mary’s love of education has endured. To date, 19 students have received scholarships from the Alden’s endowment. The couple specified their goal is to support students who are from their hometowns of Haverhill and Stoneham and the surrounding communities. 

They have enjoyed getting notes from some of the scholarship recipients and during a visit to campus a few years ago, former School of Education Dean Anita Greenwood arranged for them to meet some of the students.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” says Mary, when she sees how the scholarships are helping students on their path to becoming teachers.

In their most recent gift to the university, the couple supported the creation of a model classroom at the recently renovated Coburn Hall, the building where Mary attended classes, and which is once again home to the School of Education. Coburn, which is the oldest academic building on campus, underwent a $47 million restoration and expansion project that was completed in 2020. Included in the building upgrades is the Mary Curtin Alden Model Classroom, where aspiring teachers can learn their craft. 

The Aldens now spend their winters in Vero Beach, Florida, and return to the Atlanta area to be near their children and seven grandchildren the rest of the year. Their last visit to campus was during the university’s 125th anniversary celebration.  

Supporting those who want to become teachers is an easy choice for the Aldens. In fact, John considers it a responsibility. 

“You have an obligation to give back as much as you can when you received an education that has allowed you to progress in the world,” he says.

He firmly believes in the power of education to make a difference — not just in the life of an individual, but for all of society.  

“It’s part of what makes a country strong,” he says.  

He emphasizes that supporting education is not solely the domain of philanthropists and encourages others to do what they can.

“It’s not just a matter of giving money. You can be a mentor or get involved with the school’s activities,” he says. “Everyone can give back something to their school.”