Norwood Students Benefit from Scholarship Established by UMass Amherst Alumnus and Business Leader

John F.  O’Connell Jr. and Donna O’Connell
John F. O’Connell, Jr. and Donna O’Connell

AMHERST, Mass. – Norwood native John F. O’Connell, Jr. and his wife, Donna, have announced a $2 million bequest that will provide permanent scholarships for students from Norwood High School who attend UMass Amherst. The gift creates the John F. and Margaret P. O’Connell Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is named in honor of John O’Connell, Jr.’s parents. The gift is part of the $300 million UMass Rising fundraising campaign.

John O’Connell, Jr. is the retired president of a Dallas-based firm, the Freeman Companies. Freeman is the world’s largest producer of expositions, trade shows, conventions, and a variety of corporate events. The O’Connells are long-time and generous supporters of UMass Amherst, and they have been providing annual scholarship support to students from Norwood High School for years.

The bequest, made in 2013, is among the top five largest bequests of the campaign, and is being officially announced as the UMass campaign focuses in its concluding stage on securing additional scholarship gifts. Eight students have benefited from the John F. and Margaret P. O’Connell Memorial Scholarship Fund since 2013. Two UMass Amherst freshmen Shakirah Ssebyala and John Lyons Riley have been selected as this year’s recipients of the John F. and Margaret P. O’Connell Memorial Scholarships. Riley is a finance major at the Isenberg School of Management, and Ssebyala is a premedical studies major. They will receive their awards in the spring of 2016.

Recipients are selected for this scholarship each spring by Norwood High School and awards are based on students’ academic achievements and dedication to attending UMass Amherst.

John O’Connell, Jr. received two degrees from UMass Amherst: a bachelor of science in chemistry in 1970 and a master of business administration in 1972. The first in his family to attend college and himself the recipient of a scholarship, John O’Connell, Jr. believes his education prepared him for his successful business career. The O’Connells now reside in Hawaii.

“I have done very well in life, and I just wanted to leave behind opportunities, especially for first-generation college-bound students from Norwood,” John O’Connell said.