An Alumnus' Estate Gift Provides for the Future
When Vytas Pazemenas first came to Penn State as a freshman in 1957, just a few years after his family fled the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, he hoped that a college degree would be a path to a better life in the United States. By the time he returned in 2008 as the featured speaker in the College of Engineering's Gaelen Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, he had parlayed his degree in electrical engineering into an impressive career capped by the founding of his own successful firm.
"He came here as a refugee when he was eleven years old and didn't speak English," says his wife, Catherine O'Donnell Pazemenas. "But he worked very hard." And Penn State offered Vytas an opportunity to forge an exciting future. "He really appreciated the education he got there," Cathy recalls. "He thought it was an all-around great engineering background."
Inspired by the quality of the instruction, facilities, and research efforts he saw during his visits, Vytas hoped to deepen his relationship with Penn State. "Education was very important to his family and to him," Cathy says. "And he thought that any other students would be very, very fortunate to get the same kind of education that he did."
Sadly, Vytas passed away in 2009 after a sudden, brief illness. But in the months before his death, he took steps to ensure that he would have an impact on Penn State students in the future: He and Cathy established a bequest to Penn State's Department of Electrical Engineering through their living trust. Cathy later worked with the Office of Gift Planning to structure a gift that will establish a named department head position, a faculty chair, or other endowment, depending on the department's needs and the funds available when the bequest is ultimately realized.
"Regardless of its final form, the Pazemenas' gift will give the department crucial support to keep our research and teaching moving forward," says College of Engineering Dean David Wormley, who remembers Vytas fondly as a consummate professional with a vibrant intellect.
In a career built upon his technical abilities and entrepreneurial talents—he'd started his first business, repairing televisions, at age fifteen—Vytas held various engineering and leadership positions with established companies, and ultimately founded his own company in Irvine, California. Aubrey Group, named after the hero in Patrick O'Brian's series of nautical novels, is a contract engineering and manufacturing firm specializing in the development of medical devices. In recognition of his professional achievements, Vytas was posthumously honored with the College of Engineering Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award in 2010.
"Vytas loved being an engineer," Cathy recalls, "and he liked interacting with other engineers." That enthusiasm for his field was part of what pleased him so much about reconnecting with Penn State, as he explored the research and teaching in his old department. As Cathy notes, "he found it very exciting what the faculty and students were doing, the course offerings, and their plans for the future." Thanks to his and Cathy's gift, Vytas will leave a lasting mark on the department he loved.