Toni Schaefer James ’60
In 1979, nearly 20 years after I graduated from Bucknell, and when times were were rough financially for me and my young son, my dad told me that that his gift to me — paying for Bucknell — was like money in the bank. In my student days (the 1950s) it cost $2,000 per year to attend Bucknell. That included tuition, room and board, and $500 for books, clothes, etc. My degree was in English literature, hardly an immediate pathway into a profession, but Dad paid it all.

In the late ’50s, a woman didn’t automatically think of working after college. Most expected to get married and raise a family. I applied for a job with the CIA so I could travel the world, but I quickly found that it took six months for them to do a background check on me, so off I went to work in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to me, my parents were selling my childhood home and moving to Florida, 1,100 miles from me. Yikes! I wasn’t ready for that, and I left for Florida.

There I found a job as a secretary for a newly created United Way. As it turned out, my boss, the executive director, quit in six months. At 23, I was left to run the place. What did I know about such things? Long story short, I ran the United Way for 4 ½ years, until I married and did what all young women did in those days: I stayed home and hoped to get pregnant. Six years later, I did. But nine years after that came a divorce and a bankruptcy. That’s when Dad made the statement about Bucknell being money in the bank. My bachelor of arts degree at Bucknell was the ticket to being hired back at the United Way as the executive director, and I stayed there for another 26 years, leading annual fundraising drives from $300,000 in 1980 to $2.5 million in 2006, when I retired.
Toni Schaefer James headshot
During those 26 years I raised a son, completely financed his college education and saw him become a very talented television sportscaster for ESPN and several other sports networks. I wrote a bi-weekly column in our local newspaper about volunteer opportunities, joined the Florida Public Relations Association and achieved several professional certifications, and was invited to join a group of 16 other United Way directors across the country who met once a year for a discussion on issues facing our communities. I eventually chaired the group. At one point, I was the only female member of the group.

Since retirement I have led our floundering local symphony orchestra board to solvency and success. I am a board member of the local public library’s Friends of the Library and the local Public Policy Institute (which is currently studying causes and solutions to homelessness). I am part of a team of four helping a retired newspaper editor and columnist publish a collection of his articles about the history of our county.

All of this is not to say what I personally have accomplished, so much as it is to say what a Bucknell liberal arts degree has enabled me to accomplish, with the help of a great father.