It was a simple twist of fate that brought Ellen Smith to Nichols College.
"I wanted a small business school, so Nichols was definitely in the running," Ellen says, then admits, "But I had my heart set on going to Bryant." Because Bryant College was unable to offer the Agawam, Mass., native on-campus housing, she took a "leap of faith" and a chance on Nichols.
"It turned out unbelievably great for me," she declares. "No regrets."
Dave's path was a bit more preordained. Growing up in Shrewsbury, Mass., he was familiar with the college from contacts and neighbors who preceded him, including a fellow baseball player from his high school. "I wanted to play baseball in college at the D3 level, go away but not too far, and pursue business, and I didn't want a school of 10,000 or 20,000 students," he recounts. "Nichols fit the bill."
The couple met through mutual friends, but classes, campus jobs, sports and clubs kept them otherwise busy: Dave '86, with baseball and work in the cafeteria, and Ellen '87, as co-editor of the yearbook and a library employee. They remember taking a theater class together, which paired them on the stage crew for the annual Drama Club production. They began dating during Dave's final semester in 1986, were married in 1988, and raised two sons, Matthew and Nicholas, at homes in Wilbraham, Mass., and later Avon, Conn.
Not quite. In the past 10 years, Dave and Ellen have added a new dimension to their Bison story, in pursuit of a deeper connection to their alma mater.
Dave, who is currently senior vice president in the finance organization at New York Life in Manhattan, joined the college's Board of Advisors as a charter member in 2007. "This was my initiation back," he says. "I really enjoyed getting up to the school and connecting." He has participated in panel discussions and mock interviews, mentored students at his work - at both New York Life and formerly, The Hartford - and hosted or co-hosted alumni events. Becoming a trustee in 2011, he says, really "catapulted" his involvement.
For her part, Ellen, a former employment and marketing consultant who remembers working the phonathon all four years as a Nichols student, has shared her time and talent advocating to alumni the virtues of staying connected and supporting the college. She was also a long-time volunteer at her sons' schools, and she and Dave have served as co-chairs of the Crystal Ball Gala for Connecticut Easter Seals.
The Bedards infuse meaning in their many acts of philanthropy. When Dave's mother died unexpectedly in 2015, the family established the Norma P. Bedard Annual Memorial Scholarship for a three-year term and planted a tree in front of Conrad Hall. When the scholarship reached its term last fall and its recipient graduated, Dave and Ellen wanted to make it permanent so they created a new endowed scholarship.
The couple also recently joined the Conrad Society, documenting a commitment to provide for Nichols College in their estate planning. "We've been more than fortunate on many fronts, and we wanted to get something started," Dave says of their decision to create this legacy. "We are involved in a couple of charities but Nichols is at the top…. It's where we met. We have dear friends from there for 30 plus years. Lots of good things emanated from Dudley. ('From the Hill!' Ellen interjects.) What we're doing is to help support and recognize that."
College ties invariably grow dimmer over the years, but the Bedards have watched theirs become stronger and more rewarding. Examples abound. They are helping to usher in a new generation of Bison - Ellen's college roommate and maid of honor, Robin (Sharpe) Brown, has a son who is a senior year at Nichols. Ellen hosted a barbecue for some of her college friends this summer; Dave met up with his for a golf outing in Orlando in April and most recently at the Annual Alumni Golf Tournament in July.
Dave has enjoyed seeing these same friends become more involved with Nichols, two of whom recently joined the Board of Advisors. "It's been great," he says. "They are getting the same experience I did six or seven years ago, reengaging with the campus, the faculty, the President." (He's quick to defer full credit for their participation, though. "Promise them some free beer, they will go anywhere," he quips.) Dave has even headed an effort with classmates for a Class of 1986 Endowed Scholarship, which exceeded the $25,000 goal!
While their Nichols network is precious and pervasive, the Bedards contend it is not unique in Bison Nation. "Students graduating today talk about the friends and the connections they made at Nichols. Those who graduated 10 years ago still have a tight and strong connection with their Nichols friends. I'm not sure all schools are like that," says Dave.
"All schools aren't like that," Ellen asserts. "There's something about the small scale, the interesting location. Whatever it is, people seem to take away the same thing from it…that strong sense of community that they made when they were there for the four years."
Whether it was truly a twist of fate that brought them together, Ellen and Dave Bedard found a home at Nichols College, and the college is all the more blessed and grateful for it.
If you would like to learn about ways that you can donate to Nichols through your will or other planned gift vehicles, please contact the Advancement Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-622-4766. We welcome all inquiries and considerations.