Mel Malchenson of Hagerstown, who established a scholarship to Frostburg State University for students from the Hagerstown and Frederick areas, claims she’s had a 30-year love affair with Frostburg State University, but the romance nearly ended before it had a chance to get started.
The first day she arrived in 1979, she almost turned around and went right back home, she said. Her father, who had just moved her and her belongings into Gray Hall on campus, encouraged her to stay for just a week. He knew she would get over the fear that often gripped her in new situations.
“The mountain worked its magic on me,” she said, and she never looked back.
Now, 30 years later, Malchenson has two master’s degrees from Frostburg, in 1981 and 1993, has been a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors for the past two decades, chairs the Old Main Society and, with her family, has established the Ethel Hollinger Malchenson Scholarship Fund in memory of her mother.
Malchenson, who has movement and mobility problems caused by cerebral palsy, credits her parents with raising her as a person with a disability, not a disabled person. They expected as much out of her as they did her brothers and sisters, right down to the chores they all had to do around the house.
It was her experience living with her disability that encouraged her career choice as a special education teacher.
In addition to her desire to work with children, “I wanted also to prove that somebody with a disability could … make a contribution to society,” she said. She thought she could serve as a role model to her students.
She earned a bachelor’s and the first of three master’s degrees before encountering Frostburg. She began her career teaching special education first in Grant and Wood counties in West Virginia, then in Frederick County, Md., for a total of 17 years, then moved into guidance counseling for the next 10. She retired in 2003.
Her Frostburg love affair began with her second master’s degree and continued through her third. She moved in full-time over the summers, then took courses during the school year, traveling to Frostburg from Frederick once a week after school, getting home at midnight. All the while, the mountain – and the people there – continued to work magic.
“I feel a closeness to the entity of the University, the quality of the University, the personhood of the University. When I picture the University, I picture a collage of people who very much worked together to make me who I am,” she said with a catch in her voice.
As the years have passed and she has increased both her volunteerism and philanthropy, her devotion has grown.
The scholarship, created in memory of her mother soon after her mother’s death, supports education students from Washington County, where she grew up, and Frederick County, where she had her career, and neighboring counties in Pennsylvania. Since it was established in 1992, more than $31,000 has been contributed to the fund. Malchenson has made a $15,000 pledge to FSU’s current campaign, Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg, to benefit the scholarship fund.
Her parents grew to share her devotion to the University with which they had no other connection. Her father passed away earlier this year.
“My parents very much embraced my love for Frostburg,” she said.
She sets goals to reach certain giving levels each year, and her latest effort has been to help the FSU Foundation encourage people to consider remembering FSU in their estate plans, which is the role of the Old Main Society. She has written FSU into her will.
Despite her and her parents’ natural reluctance to “never toot your own horn,” she is determined to continue working for the place she loves so much. “I want my parents to have this legacy,” she said.
The FSU Foundation has embarked upon a $15 million comprehensive campaign, Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg, to raise badly needed funding for higher education in Western Maryland. Gifts support student enrichment, academic enrichment and regional and cultural enrichment. For more information about supporting FSU or about the Old Main Society, visit foundation.frostburg.edu or call 301-687-4161 or 1-866-241-3296, toll free.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 13 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland.