Strengthening Rollins’ Outreach to Military Veterans

Maureen Mäensivu is connecting Rollins past—which has ties to the military and a life of service—to its future.

SummerSERVE volunteers, led by Maureen Mäensivu (bottom row, third from the right), show their Rollins pride in front of the Orlando VA Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of Orlando VA Medical Center) SummerSERVE volunteers, led by Maureen Mäensivu (bottom row, third from the right), show their Rollins pride in front of the Orlando VA Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of Orlando VA Medical Center)

As the associate director of annual giving, Maureen Mäensivu ’97MHR is constantly connecting with Rollins College alumni, soliciting financial support while learning what made their time on campus unique.

A meeting with World War II veteran Joseph Friedman ’49 last year in Boca Raton, Florida, got her thinking: How can the school reach out to those who served our country?

When she won the 2014 Thaddeus Seymour Staff Award for Community Engagement, Mäensivu (“MAN-c-vu”) found the perfect platform. As part of the award—which recognizes a staff member for transformative community engagement—the winner gets to direct one of Rollins’ four SummerSERVE activities.

President Emeritus Seymour '90H engages with a veteran. (Photo courtesy of Orlando VA Medical Center) President Emeritus Seymour '90H engages with a veteran. (Photo courtesy of Orlando VA Medical Center) For her project, Mäensivu led nearly 50 volunteers, including her oldest daughter, Mikaela Mäensivu ’15, on a visit August 9 to the Orlando VA Medical Center in Lake Nona. There, they received a tour of the facility before splitting into groups and interacting individually with veterans.

Playing 1940s-era jazz on his keyboard, Senior Director of Advancement Services Michael Halverson proved to be a big hit. And Robert Pfluger of the IT Department, who served in Desert Storm as a Marine, put the day in perspective by playing taps on his bugle as part of the day’s closing reflection at the outdoor Veteran’s Memorial.

The volunteer group also featured five other veterans with ties to Rollins, including current student Nelson Torres ’15 of Lambda Chi Alpha, physics professor Thomas Moore, and board of trustees member Bill Bieberbach ’70 ’71MBA.

President Emeritus Seymour ’90H even made an appearance, giving a speech that included part of a poem written by Emily Huntington Miller for Rollins’ dedication almost 130 years ago:

Then carven deep above her portals fair
Set in her seal, for witness everywhere
Borne on her heart, with faith that cannot swerve,
This to all time, the watch-word be—“I serve!”

Lives Dedicated to Service

For Mäensivu, the poem’s message of serving others continues to resonate at Rollins. Helping veterans is just one way of giving back.

Mäensivu with her daughter Mikaela '15. Mäensivu with her daughter Mikaela '15. “Our purpose is for serving,” she says. “I’m so proud to be doing the work our founders deemed important. We were taking a day to serve those who have served us.”

Mäensivu prefers to shine the spotlight on others, but her charitable work has not gone unnoticed. As a Winter Park resident and the mother of four children ages 13 to 21, she has been a long-time active fundraiser for local schools and sports teams. She has also contributed time to Rollins’ Holiday FunFest, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, the Cady Way Trail, the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, Keep Winter Park Beautiful, and Basket Brigade. Service through Rollins is something of a family affair—she has been bringing her children along on community-service opportunities since joining Rollins in 2004.

That level of service propelled her to win this year’s Community Engagement award.

“I was thrilled when Maureen was recognized with the award that bears my name,” Seymour says. “She has always been a committed volunteer, both on the campus and in the community. Maureen’s example of leadership and service to others is Rollins at its best, and I couldn’t be more proud to count her as a colleague and a friend.”

As part of her award, Mäensivu selected the Orlando VA Medical Center to receive the $500 donation the College will make in her honor. The money will assist the center in providing basic necessities to homeless veterans.

“My goal is to give the Rollins community opportunities to serve veterans,” Mäensivu says. “I would also love to help the College develop a database that tracks military service of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I’d like to see us have a better understanding of who our veterans are, since our mission is to serve and lead. It would be another point of pride.”

While Rollins has records that document its students’ involvement in both world wars, there is no comprehensive list that spans military service among all Tars. Mäensivu has identified at least 40 veterans among the current faculty and staff.

Military History Ingrained in Rollins’ Ethos

Joseph Friedman '49 as a soldier in the U.S. Army. (Photo courtesy of Friedman) Joseph Friedman '49 as a soldier in the U.S. Army. (Photo courtesy of Friedman) As many area resident knows, Rollins’ mascot—the seafaring “Tar” —traces its roots to World War I, when the Navy sailors trained on Lake Virginia. But fewer people know that the Army’s STAR (Special Tactics and Rescue) Unit was stationed on campus in 1943.

The Tomokan put it this way: “Our first feelings toward the STAR Unit were a slight bristly resentment toward the fellows for making barracks of our loved fraternity houses and an amazed confoundment as they hung their washing in the back yards.”

But by the time the soldiers left in late 1943, the yearbook continued, “They were our boys—war-borne part of our people, place and spirit. … When the last detail had taken care of the last details and handed back the keys to the college, the silence east of the flagpole was an eloquent reminder of a thousand more ‘Rollins’ boys on their way to war.”

One of those boys in the STAR Unit happened to be the same Joseph Friedman that Mäensivu would meet 70 years later as part of her alumni outreach. In the days following the end of World War II, Friedman held such fond memories of Rollins that he returned on his GI Bill, graduating in four years.

Now, he and Mäensivu—whose father, grandfather, and uncles also served in the military—share a special bond.

Friedman and Mäensivu on Friedman's 90th birthday. Friedman and Mäensivu on Friedman's 90th birthday. “I just celebrated his 90th birthday with him,” she says. “He was so full of energy and great stories, and he’s made service a very important part of his life. Joe was a great starting point for learning more about veterans at Rollins College.”

To learn more about community engagement efforts and opportunities at Rollins College, visit rollins.edu/communityengagement.