Donor Stories

“It Feels Like Home”

Family honors daughter’s legacy through special connection with Allegheny

When Alyson Lawendowski ’93 and her family first drove down North Main Street through Allegheny’s campus, they immediately felt at home.

“It was like the iconic school that everyone would dream about. It was so wonderful, so beautiful,” says Alyson’s mother, Marilyn Lawendowski. “We knew this is where Alyson wanted, and needed, to be.”

Marilyn says that although Alyson had plenty of schools to choose from near her hometown of Charlton, Mass., Alyson had read about Allegheny and “had it in her mind that it was the right one for her.”

“I’ll never forget loading up the van with our five children and driving through the night to Pennsylvania for our first visit,” Marilyn recalls.

While at Allegheny, Alyson majored in psychology and joined a sorority. She also was instrumental in launching Allegheny’s community service effort in the early 1990s, serving as a volunteer in a Meadville elementary school.

Although so many of Alyson’s college experiences were positive, Alyson also faced adversity – she battled cancer three of her four years at Allegheny. She died just one month after graduation.

“The kids in Alyson’s service group gave her strength she didn’t have. They helped her through so much during the difficult times,” Marilyn says. “I truly believe that if Alyson hadn’t been at Allegheny, she would not have gotten through all that she went through. Her goal was to graduate, and there were so many people who helped to make that happen. She was just meant to be there.”

Also key in helping Alyson and her family, Marilyn says, was David Roncolato ’79, Allegheny’s director of civic engagement.

“David opened the door for Alyson to enter the world of community service, and Alyson was a truly special and strong individual to use this community to help her and make her even stronger,” says Alyson’s father, Joe Lawendowski. “David made special trips to visit Alyson when she was in the hospital, and it was part of his magic that made her an even stronger person.”

“David was a miracle to us,” Marilyn adds. “He has been the best friend and support – he still is today. I can remember a time when Alyson had to come home for chemotherapy, and after her treatment, she desperately wanted to go back to school. There was a terrible blizzard, but David found some responsible students to get her back to school. He’s a guardian angel to us.”

When thinking about Alyson, Roncolato recalls many wonderful memories, as well.

“Alyson met my wife, Sarah, at an early fall football game in 1990. Sarah was visibly every bit of nine months pregnant at the time,” Roncolato says. “Alyson told her to have the baby on Sept. 23 so the baby and her, and her twin brother, would all share a birthday. Our youngest son, Jonathan David, was indeed born on her birthday that year.

“Alyson celebrated Jonathan’s first two birthdays with us,” he adds. “I recall her giving him gifts of elephants and Boston Red Sox gear.”

Honoring Alyson’s Legacy

Following Alyson’s death, Marilyn and Joe talked to Roncolato about finding a way to honor their daughter’s legacy. Because of the Lawendowskis’ strong connection with Allegheny, Roncolato suggested creating the Alyson Lawendowski Award for Community Service – an award given annually to a student who has been instrumental in advancing the College’s commitment to service.

Funding for the honorarium comes from the Alyson M. Lawendowski ’93 Community Service Fund, created by Joe and Marilyn. The fund also supports community service projects and activities, alternative spring break trips, and student attendance at service-related conferences. In addition, funds support the treasured sweatshirt that each service leader receives during an annual kickoff event.

“Each year when we give out the service award, I read portions of Alyson’s poem. It is a living part of the ritual of the annual service and leadership banquet, and it always means a lot to the students and especially the award recipients,” Roncolato says. “Alyson was a force launching our service movement and indeed continues to inspire those in the movement today.”

“Allegheny was Alyson’s lifeline, so starting this fund was a perfect way for us to ensure her memory would go on forever at the College,” Marilyn says.

“Funding for the award started small with contributions we received after Alyson’s passing, but they continued to grow over the years,” Joe adds. “After the initial startup, and upon learning more about the community service activities at the College, Marilyn and I made a special effort to continue adding funds each year. We also are fortunate that the company I worked for had a matching funds program, so that really helped, too.”

In addition to making annual contributions to this fund and to the College, the Lawendowskis also have chosen to document Allegheny in their estate plans.

Even though the award has been given for 21 years, Joe and Marilyn remain touched when they receive thank you letters from the recipients.

“The most recent student said she would be teaching in the Bronx. It reminded me of Alyson because she just loved children,” Marilyn says.

“For the award’s 20th anniversary, Alyson’s brother and I went to campus for the ceremony,” Joe adds. “We were unbelievably impressed with the students we met and how far community service has grown in such a short period of time. Alyson would be proud.”

To make a contribution to the Alyson M. Lawendowski ’93 Community Service Fund, go to the Online Giving Form and type “Alyson M. Lawendowski ’93 Community Service Fund” in the “Additional information about my gift” box.

— Heather L. Grubbs


When Alyson Lawendowski left campus for the last time, she left this poem on her bulletin board in the red house, now the Prayer and Meditation Retreat. The poem is read aloud each year when the Alyson Lawendowski Award for Outstanding Community Service is presented. The poem still hangs in the Prayer and Meditation Retreat.

This tree, located between Arter Hall and the Prayer and Meditation Retreat, is dedicated in memory of Alyson Lawendowski.