Carolyn Patrick-Wanzo, left, and her husband, Mel Wanzo, created an endowment scholarship at Wayne State University to leave a legacy for students in music and social work.
Photo provided by Carolyn Patrick-Wanzo
President Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to protect the future is to create it.”
Out of her passion and devotion to high school and college students, Detroit philanthropist Carolyn Patrick-Wanzo is working to protect the future of social work and music through the creation of several endowment scholarships at Wayne State University (WSU) with her late husband.
Patrick-Wanzo, 76, became interested in the world of endowment scholarships when she and her husband, Mel Wanzo, a trombone player best known for playing in the Count Basie Orchestra decided to give back to the community.
“He would say, ‘You can give your life to the music and in 10 years nobody would know you existed,’” she said of her jazz musician husband who played the trombone in the big band. “We would talk about, ‘Let’s do something sustainable,’ when we retired.”
That sustainability came in the form of endowment scholarships in the music department at WSU – the first one in 2003.
“We started doing these wonderful fundraisers and we did five very significant ones where Count Basie’s orchestra played with us twice,” Patrick-Wanzo said, adding that Chris Collins, director of jazz studies at WSU, Detroit Jazz Festival artistic director and saxophonist, was very instrumental in the fundraisers.
Collins told the Michigan Chronicle that Patrick-Wanzo’s great work is filling a substantial need in the music world and beyond.
Patrick-Wanzo said that years before the fundraiser, seeds were sown in a collaborative relationship with Collins. Collins told her husband one day that WSU needed a trombone player at the university’s Jazz Lab. That is when Wanzo decided to volunteer his time and come visit the university weekly and mentor students in the trombone section.
“It was right up Mel’s alley,” she said of her husband. “It was a wonderful relationship we had in ‘96 to do something sustainable.”
The fundraisers they held were successful and helped institute the $125,000 Melvin F. Wanzo Trombone Endowed Scholarship Fund.
“We had a big check to give — it kind of got us started,” she said.
In 2005, shortly after the beginnings of the fundraisers, Wanzo died of prostate cancer – that year Patrick-Wanzo also battled breast cancer. Although Wanzo’s physical life came to an end, his legacy remains through the lives of students who receive scholarships at WSU.
“We started these endowments — they were so wonderful because we could see how much the students really needed the money; we got the best feeling for doing something sustainable, forever,” Patrick-Wanzo said, adding that having “wonderful musicians” connected to Wanzo’s name is significant, too. “You just never die.”
Patrick-Wanzo said their scholarships at WSU include:
- Carolyn Purifoy Patrick-Wanzo Endowed Scholarship (School of Social Work)
- The Melvin F. Wanzo Trombone Endowed Scholarship Fund (College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts)
- Purifoy Wanzo CTAA Endowment (College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts)
Patrick-Wanzo, among others, was also very instrumental in influencing the creation of the Rabbi M. Robert Syme and David Syme Music Legacy Endowed Scholarship which funds students seeking scholarships in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts.
Susan Burns, vice president for Development and Alumni Affairs, and president of the WSU Foundation, wrote a statement in the 2019-2020 WSU Endowment Report thanking the donors for their “incredible generosity” to WSU.
“Your giving has made an indelible impact on our students, faculty, research and community,” she wrote, adding that donor support “fueled our mission during the pandemic.”
Patrick-Wanzo said that the same year her husband died, she was interested in creating an endowed scholarship for social work, which was near and dear to her heart.
The Cass Tech graduate and WSU alum (and scholarship recipient) attended WSU’s School of Social Work program and graduated with her bachelor’s and master’s.
“They paid for my entire education,” she said. “I owe Wayne State my life… [my education] prepared me to be able to be a school social worker.”
She added that she and her husband understood the importance of endowments. In addition to working with WSU, she and other Cass Tech alums joined forces and created an endowment scholarship for music program-based high school students to have a direct pipeline to attend WSU. They’ve also teamed up to help Cass Tech students in need with purchases of new musical instruments, robes and more.
“We started again doing endowments — this time for students at Cass Tech,” she said, adding that conversations turned into the scholarship creation and she and fellow friends raised enough money for students most in need.
Danice Chisholm, a fellow Cass Tech alum with a background in social work, is one of Patrick-Wanzo’s collaborative partners who saw needs at the high school and helped ensure funding was directed to the right place — after having one conversation with her determined friend.
“I can’t tell you on how many levels my life has been enriched — it’s a joy to become her partner and her friend,” Chisholm said, adding that they are both concerned about the social work world, and the necessity to keep new students interested in joining this profession.
“They will be the leaders of their generation – whatever field they go in,” Chisholm said, adding that the social work profession has a great impact in today’s world.”
“It was apparent that we needed social workers,” Patrick-Wanzo also said, adding that she has seen how the initial endowment legacy is starting to bear fruit. “Before you know it in almost 20 years you can see what that [scholarship] represents. … All of those endowments there — I was directly responsible for creating them…. it certainly does make you smile.”
She said it takes a village to raise the funds time and time again. Her group of friends dubbed, The Detroit Posse, among others, show up and go above and beyond in helping raise funds to enrich the lives of brilliant students.
“I can’t be any of this or do any of this without the support of some donors,” she said, adding that anyone can help be a part of the legacy and can give anything from $10 to $10,000 or more. “It is our responsibility to make it better for those coming — an opportunity for us to add a little more to that big pot. There is so much need and such a good feeling to be able to do it.”
For more information or to give to WSU visit https://giving.wayne.edu/give/endowed.