$1.6M Gift Aims to Create ‘Jim Tressel-Type Leaders’ at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s not easy to catch Jim Tressel off guard. But the announcement Wednesday that a $1.6 million endowment to the Youngstown State University Foundation would create a pair of leadership initiatives did just that.

Put together in less than eight weeks with donations from nine YSU Foundation board members, the James P. Tressel Endowed Chair in Leadership and the Tressel Center for Leadership was a last-minute surprise for the university’s president, who found out about the gift when he walked into the conference room. 

He was planning on talking to YSU Foundation Paul McFadden and We See Tomorrow campaign chairwoman Jocelyn Linsalata for an update on YSU’s fundraising efforts.

Speaking off the cuff – “They usually give me a few minutes to prepare,” he admitted with a laugh when he was invited to the podium – Tressel said the most valuable thing the region has is its people.

“They’re collaborative. They’re diverse. They care about one other. They care about the values of family and community,” he said before pausing. “I don’t know what else to say other than I’m humbled and I can’t thank you all enough.”

Turning those people into leaders, said YSU Foundation trustee Anthony Payiavlas, is a crucial effort that will solidify the Mahoning Valley’s future.

“The purpose of this is to grow leaders – Jim Tressel-type leaders – for the betterment of our Mahoning Valley and beyond,” he said. “It’s evident the Mahoning Valley hasn’t experienced a leader with the capabilities and impact of Jim Tressel for many, many years. … The purpose of this endeavor is to inspire future generations by capitalizing on the profound legacy and extraordinary accomplishments and transformational leadership Jim Tressel has had on our beloved university and our beloved region.”

YSU President Jim Tressel, We See Tomorrow chairwoman and YSU Foundation trustee Jocelyn Linsalata and YSU Foundation trustee Anthony Payiavlas at the announcement of the $1.6 million gift to create the Tressel Endowed Chair in Leadership.

Since coming to Youngstown in 1986, Tressel has been a pillar in the community. Best known for his work as a football coach – leading YSU to 10 playoff appearances and four national championships and taking Ohio State to six straight Big Ten titles and a 2002 national title – he was also involved in civic work. After his retirement from coaching, he’s worked in higher education, first at the University of Akron and then YSU, and long said he did so to support and foster the next generation.

While at Youngstown State, he’s overseen the university’s expansion and partnerships through the Mahoning Valley, including the Smart2 Network, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and other economic development efforts.

With the creation of the Tressel Endowed Chair in Leadership and the Tressel Center for Leadership, that work will carry on even after his retirement from YSU, whenever that may be.

“Leadership is all about the action you take to serve others. How can you make a difference for others? That’s the core foundation of leadership,” he said after the announcement. “You have to be competent in your field and grow and mature and be aware and be compassionate and all those things. But it all starts with a desire to help others.”

Payiavlas and Linsalata said Tressel will be involved in further developing the leadership center and the chair position, which will be open to anyone in any department at Youngstown State.

“We’re hopeful that Jim Tressel will help us fill in the details of what this will be. We’ve sketched out this broad vision and as a leader of leaders, he can help us define what traits to look for,” Linsalata said. “That’s why we made it not discipline specific. There could be leaders in administration or the school of business, for example.”

Now in his sixth year as president of Youngstown State, Tressel said that creating the next generation of leaders is important as the current class prepares to retire. He referred to a Thursday morning event with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber announcing a new internship program with area educational institutions. 

“I told people, ‘We have to make the people who are going to replace the Tom Humphries and the Guy Coviellos when they retire someday,’” he said, referring to the outgoing chamber president and his replacement. “You have to continually work at it. You don’t wake up one day with the capability to lead an organization like that. You first have to recognize what makes a good leader and reinforce that it’s about what we do for one another.”

Creating the Tressel Chair in Leadership, McFadden said, will have an impact on both faculty and students. Beyond just learning about leadership from Tressel, the position also comes with a financial boon, allowing for recipients to study, travel and bring in speakers.

“This position has a double impact. Not only is there an honor in carrying the name, but there are funds that go along with it,” he said. “It’s a tremendous benefit to the recipient and the university, as well as an honor to be named a leader alongside Jim Tressel.”

Funding for the leadership programs was brought together in less than eight weeks, given by nine of the YSU Foundation trustees: Linsalata, Payiavlas, Alan Cope, Ed Muransky, Anthony Cafaro Jr., Lee and Bonnie Burdman, Marty Solomon, Don Constantini and Dr. Gary Bitonte.

“Everybody is a big supporter of Jim Tressel and many of these people have a special relationship with him,” Linsalata said. “When we discussed it, everyone said, ‘Of course we’ll do it.’ Nobody said no.”

“The fact that we were able to do it in less than eight weeks speaks to the man we’re honoring today,” Payiavlas added. “What we’re trying to do here aligns so well with who Jim Tressel is, so when you put them together, it’s magic.”

In McFadden’s estimation, magic might be underselling the accomplishment. When asked if he’d ever seen that much raised that quickly, he quickly answered “No. No. No. Never. 

“We met in Mr. Cafaro’s office two months ago and, boom, here we are,” he said.

For Tressel, the surprise announcement was a humbling moment, he said. When asked about what it means to have this kind of support from business leaders in the community, he took a long sigh and paused.

“I’ve known all along that we have special people. They’ve been so good to this university and to this region,” Tressel said. “For them to go out of their way, it’s humbling. They’ve done a lot more for me and Youngstown State than I could for them. It’s truly flattering, humbling and all the rest of those words.”

With the gift announced Thursday, the YSU Foundation’s We See Tomorrow has raised $115.5 million since it was launched in 2017, including $2.8 million for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, $3.6 million for the Rich Center for Autism, $6.6 million for endowed chairman and professorship positions, and $66 million for scholarships.

Pictured at top: YSU President Jim Tressel speaks after being surprised by the announcement of a $1.6 million gift to create the Tressel Endowed Chair in Leadership and Tressel Center for Leadership.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.