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College of Engineering & Science

Sharing their blessings is itself a blessing

June 16, 2015

Suzanne Sloat ’64 was a bit of a late bloomer. A non-traditional student, she attended University of Detroit part time while helping out her father’s business. She started a career as an elementary teacher later in life, after earning a philosophy degree from University of Detroit when she was nearly 40.

Ray Okonski and Suzanne Sloat '64She didn’t meet Ray Okonski, the love of her life, until she was in her 50s and they weren’t married until both were in their 60s.

“I always tell the story that when she proposed, I said, ‘yes, but I have two caveats,’” Okonski joked. “I told her I wouldn’t change my name and that we wouldn’t have any children. She agreed.”

Still Sloat, who taught first and second grades at the Marshall School in Livonia for 25 years, loved children and education and, as she and her husband got older, they decided to put their blessings to work helping others.

“Most of us spend a good portion of our lives accumulating things and we don’t pay a lot of attention to what happens at the end,” said Okonski. “That job ends up with some lawyer and we never see what happens. Distributing those funds now is a real pleasure.”

That’s why, several years ago, he and his wife created the Suzanne Sloat and Ray Okonski Foundation. “We were very lucky,” he said. “We had many blessings, and we didn’t have a family of our own, so what do you do? You help others.”

The foundation has funded an expendable scholarship that awards $2,500 to $5,000 scholarships for four years to students who attended Catholic schools. The donation supports the Catholic Education University Grant, the scholarship partnership between UDM and the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Scholarships are also right in line with Okonski’s interests, as he has served on scholarship committees for several Michigan Polish-American organizations. The foundation is also supporting an ambitious state-of-the-art 3-D printing engineering program at UDM and also with the Farmington Public Schools.

Sloat and Okonski packed a lot of living into their years together, volunteering at various organizations, golfing, and traveling. The couple circumnavigated the world and traveled more than 150,000 miles together.

Sloat died in August 2014, but Okonski said he still talks with her and consults her on important decisions. Their support of UDM and Madonna University, another Catholic institution, is of great importance to both of them.
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