UMass Hall of Famer Paul ‘Lefty’ Wennik ’62 was a left-handed pitcher, whose outstanding 1.59 three-year career Earned Run Average (ERA) remains the best and lowest in UMass Baseball history. In the years following his graduation, Paul also has quietly been working on one of the longest official records of giving to the university. One of UMass Amherst's staunchest supporters, Wennik returned to campus to give a talk to Minutemen Football players last year.
While Wennik was ultimately highly successful at UMass, he did not have an easy time. He struggled with undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, worked three jobs, played ball, and sang with his band for fun on the side. He vividly remembers the dean of students at the time, Dr. William Field, who helped him along, recommended tutoring, and made sure he succeeded academically.
“I worked my way through. I was on my own. I am so grateful for UMass sticking with me," Wennik said. "When I look and I see what they did for me, it was easy for me to stay connected, do whatever I could to help financially, and serve the university, the Alumni Association, admissions, athletics, and any other UMass initiative.”
While raising three children, and managing a successful record company, PolyGram, his commitment to philanthropy never wavered. “Philanthropy has always been an important part of my life. My father taught me at a young age the importance of expressing gratitude through giving back. It was the greatest gift he could have given me.”
Starting in 1975, Wennik and other UMass alumni gathered in Waltham, Massachusetts, to make calls raising money on behalf of the university’s Annual Fund. Due to his unwavering support of UMass, in 1991, Wennik was asked to be the chairman of the Annual Fund and in that role he worked with student callers to fundraise for the university. In that capacity, he traveled, spoke publicly, and wrote to thousands of alumni on behalf of the university.
Wennik notes the enjoyment that came from working with the wonderful student volunteer telethon fundraisers: “It was gratifying to see people I knew at the university who came from very modest backgrounds being so grateful and giving back to the place that has given them their education.” In addition, he was an alumni admissions counselor for 14 years and served as a UMass Ambassador to The State House in Boston soliciting support from legislators for UMass. After being such an integral part of helping UMass build its culture of philanthropy, he was asked by the university to serve on the Chancellor Search Committee. Wennik fondly remembers the excitement and honor of helping UMass select David Scott as its new chancellor in 1993.
Through the years, Wennik has shown his dedication and passion for bettering UMass through philanthropy and has high hopes for the future of giving. He stresses the importance of gratitude among graduating seniors and would like to see a program implemented for incoming freshmen, which teaches them the impact that giving from alumni has on the students of UMass. “I always wanted to have a program for our graduating seniors or incoming freshmen on how to switch hats from students to alumni, and to show the importance of expressing gratitude to the university. There is a need for the constant ongoing education of our undergraduates to the importance of philanthropy and the role that it plays in their everyday lives.” Wennik’s gratitude to the university has motivated him to encourage other people to think about making a gift regularly to support qualified low income in-state students, so that they may a chance to get the world-class education UMass Amherst offers.
Wennik now resides in Swampscott, Massachusetts, where he continues to do all he can to help young people through philanthropy. He is currently on the Board of Directors of Beyond Soccer, a Lawrence-based nonprofit that helps underserved youths with athletic, academic, and nutrition training.