By Beth Brosnan
When Frank ’66 and Mary Jo ’66 Spinola returned to UMass Lowell in May to celebrate their 50th reunions—he from Lowell Tech, she from Lowell State—they were immediately struck by the university’s growth, which Franks calls “phenomenal.”
“The campuses have changed so much, and for the better,” adds Mary Jo. “We especially liked University Crossing,” UMass Lowell’s 230,000-square-foot student center.
Mary Jo has reason to be partial to University Crossing. After all, the Lowell native was born on that very spot, back when the site was home to St. Joseph’s Hospital. She grew up a little over a mile away, on the corner of Princeton Boulevard and Wilder Street, and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a teacher. After graduating from Lowell High School, she enrolled at Lowell State and walked a mile up Wilder Street to campus every day to study elementary education.
Frank grew up more than 500 miles away, in Pittsburgh, a smart kid with a head for science and a strong work ethic he inherited from his parents. There wasn’t a lot of money for college, so Frank came north to Lowell Tech, where he could study chemical engineering for less than the cost of in-state tuition at home.
“Not only was the education affordable,” says Frank, “it was eye-opening. Most of the faculty had worked in the engineering field and they took a real hands-on approach to the courses,” he recalls. “I gained a lot of practical knowledge and experience from them.” Frank went on to a highly successful career in the chemical industry, rising from a plant engineer with a Pittsburgh refinery to become the president and CEO of INDSPEC Chemical Company.
Also influential was math professor Bernie Shapiro ’56, who became a lifelong mentor and friend — and an inadvertent matchmaker for the Spinolas. When Frank’s senior-year apartment fell through just weeks before the start of classes, Shapiro suggested he check out a nice place on the corner of Princeton Boulevard and Wilder Street, an upstairs apartment that Mary Jo’s parents were renting out.
“We had literally never crossed paths until then,” say Mary Jo. They began dating that winter, and as Frank puts it, “pretty soon my landlord became my father-in-law.” Next year, the couple, who have two children and three grandchildren, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
One of the lasting lessons both Spinolas took away from their Lowell educations was to seize the day. “I don’t think young people should turn down opportunities,” Franks says, even unlikely ones, “because you can learn from anything, anyplace and anybody. Every experience you have in life can enrich you for the future.”
Creating opportunities for a new generation of UMass Lowell students has been a priority for the Spinolas, who have given well over a half-million dollars to endow a scholarship fund, renovate the Allen House gallery and underwrite awards at the annual DifferenceMaker competitions. Entrepreneurship is a particular interest of Frank’s, who sees great potential for UMass Lowell to help incubate young businesses that could provide a return back to the university.
“We’ve been very fortunate, and we always thought that was due to the type of education we received here,” Frank says. Adds Mary Jo, “We wanted to give back to a place that was responsible for so much of our happiness.”