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Paying It Forward

Tragedy hit Susan Bassett ’79 young, but showed her the value of mentorship and support.

Susan Bassett in her office, with some of the many awards won by teams she has coached and overseen as a university director of athletics; and with President Williams as she was being honored at the 2005 Ithaca College Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
During high school in Briarcliff Manor, New York, Susan Bassett ’79 was a member of the swimming and field hockey teams. The young athlete arrived on the Ithaca College campus in 1975 as a physical education major with high academic hopes and big dreams of playing her sports at the college level. Things worked out well: in her first semester she made both the field hockey and swimming teams, and even made the dean’s list. “I was on my way and loving every minute of it,” she recalls.

But Bassett’s athletic career ended tragically in December of her freshman year, when an automobile accident left her severely injured and killed her best friend. After months of hospitalization and physical therapy, she returned to Ithaca to finish her undergraduate work.

“Many people doubted I could complete a degree in physical education or work as a coach,” Bassett says. “But mentors at Ithaca College—especially Doris Kostrinsky [IC’s legendary women’s field hockey coach who also coached women’s basketball and softball], Kent Scriber’72 [professor of exercise and sports sciences], and my swimming coach, Deborah Wuest [now professor of health promotion and physical education and chair of the graduate program] — said, ‘Yes, you can do it.’

“Their belief in me has made all the difference in my life and my career.”

After graduating, Bassett earned her master’s degree at Indiana University. She became swimming and diving coach at William Smith College and then Union College, coaching 114 all-Americans and being named 1993 NCAA Division III coach of the year. Two years later she returned to William Smith College as director of athletics, and last year she moved to Carnegie Mellon University as director of athletics, physical education, and recreation. She also serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, and last year she was inducted into the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame.

Bassett acknowledges the impossibility of adequately thanking all those she considers her benefactors. “I decided that the one, true way to thank them,” she says, “is to pass their many kindnesses, help, and mentorship on to others — to ‘pay it forward,’ so to speak.”

Besides teaching and mentoring athletes, Bassett “pays it forward” by contributing to the Ithaca Fund, and she has named Ithaca College the beneficiary of her TIAA-CREF retirement fund. Last June she established a deferred-payment gift annuity that will ultimately benefit the College’s scholarship endowment. The gift annuity was an attractive vehicle, she explains, because it will provide her a stream of income when she retires and alleviate her tax burden.

“But primarily, it enables me to make a much more substantial gift to my College than I could otherwise make,” she says. “Helping the Ithaca College of the future helps me repay my debt to the Ithaca College of the past.”
— Anne Ryan

You can join Susan Bassett in supporting the athletics and events center, the Ithaca Fund, or one of the many scholarship funds for IC students.

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