Jona Tanguay, pictured here with his mother, received a 2018 scholarship through the Dr. and Mrs. Arthur F. Sullivan Scholarship Fund at Connecticut Community Foundation. He is a student at Yale School of Medicine. 

After 24 years as a guidance counselor at Wilby and Crosby high schools in Waterbury, Joyce DeCesare was well aware of the financial challenges facing students who wished to attend college.

But there was another reason why Joyce, her mother and family established the Dr. and Mrs. Arthur F. Sullivan Scholarship Fund at Connecticut Community Foundation in 1998 to help medical students put a dent in their education expenses.

Her stepfather, Dr. Sullivan, was an only child whose parents had died by the time he was 16 years old. He was an excellent student who always wanted to be a doctor.

DeCesare recalled her stepfather often talking about how difficult it was for him to make ends meet while in medical school.

She said, “Even though he was the recipient of many scholarships, he still needed several loans in order to fulfill yearly costs. I thought that creating the scholarship fund was a great way of keeping his memory alive and lessening the financial burden for students like him whose goals are to become physicians.”

Dr. Sullivan practiced family medicine in Waterbury for decades and was the medical director at two area nursing homes, Park Manor and Oak Cliff. Park Manor named a wing of the home in honor of Dr. Sullivan’s service.

Dr. Sullivan married DeCesare’s mother, Grace, in his 40s. Their blended family included five of Dr. Sullivan’s children and Grace’s brother, who had special needs due to Down syndrome.

Asked about her models for philanthropy, DeCesare reflected on the compassion of her big family—especially her mother.

DeCesare remembers her mother, a credit manager at Worth’s Department Store, being moved by the stories of people who were unable to get credit because of family hardships, such as job loss or illness. “My mother was always willing to give,” she said, “and she taught my stepsisters, stepbrothers and me to always help those less fortunate.”

DeCesare, a licensed professional counselor, retired from the school system but has maintained a private practice in Middlebury for more than ten years.  There, she still counsels young people as well as individuals, families and couples.

She fondly recalls her stepfather’s commitment and dedication to the medical profession and to his patients, and she hopes the Sullivan Fund scholarship recipients share those same qualities. And, mindful of the crushing student loan debt that medical students often face, she continues to build the fund so scholarships can be awarded yearly.

“No matter how small the scholarship is, it can make a difference in one’s life,” she said.