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Current Henry Suzzallo Society Newsletter

Henry Suzzallo Society Newsletter Edition: 2023

newsletter cover showing images of UW quad with cherry blossoms in bloom
Donors who include the University of Washington in their estate plans become members of the Henry Suzzallo Society. In this annual newsletter we celebrate our donors, showcase UW news and events, and spotlight the impact of extraordinary members of our society.

Scroll down to read each article, or view the entire newsletter (PDF).

Donor Spotlight

Ron Simons: “There’s no such word as ’can’t’”

Ron Simons at the UW commencement

Ron Simons, Henry Suzzallo Society member

In his late 30s, Ron Simons was offered a promotion that made him question his career and priorities. “I thought, ‘If I stay where I am and take this job, I’m going to be a corporate exec for the rest of my life,’” Ron said. “‘I will have this regret that I never gave this other dream of mine a possibility.’”

That other dream was acting.

As a young man, Ron had acted in plays during high school, noting he loved to learn and make others laugh. Because those experiences had stayed with him, at that turning point in his life, Ron made the tough decision to pass on the promotion and pursue his dream instead.

“I just said, ‘I’m gonna do it!’ I went back to school, and that school, of course, was the University of Washington.”

Studying at the UW wasn’t without its difficulties for Ron. He was the oldest student in his classes, which focused on the physically strenuous Suzuki method of acting. “You’re trying to learn how to breathe in the most demanding circumstances. So of course [my classmates] had 20-year-old bodies, and they would stomp around and sweat and get tired. And I was like, ‘If you think you’re tired, you should come back in about 15 years, then we’re going to talk about what tired looks like.’”

After graduating from the UW, Ron went on to pursue his dream of acting. This soon led to producing feature-length films, then working on Broadway. Most recently, Ron has been focusing on producing plays with his production company SimonSays Entertainment. He’s proud of his work telling stories about Black people with plays like “Ain’t Too Proud” about the Detroit vocal group The Temptations. His work has been recognized with multiple Tony Awards, and recently, the key to Detroit, which is also Ron’s hometown.

Last year, Ron was invited to speak to graduating students about his life experiences at the UW’s commencement ceremony. He asked new graduates to step into their passions. “For an African American kid like me, especially one who was queer, the numbers were not in my favor. So, to have made it out of inner-city Detroit and to have been looking to go to college and grad school, I was an anomaly. But that’s what I wanted to do,” Ron said. “If you want to do something, you can achieve it.”

Ron hopes his gift of securities to the School of Drama will help students start off their careers on the right foot, so they can overcome challenges and continue to pursue their passions for acting.

“As my mother said, I always remember: ‘There’s no such word as ‘can’t.’ I want my kids to know that; I want my friends to know that; I want everyone to know that.”

Donor Spotlight

Evelyn Barbee: Opportunities of impact

Evelyn Barbee smiling

Evelyn Barbee, Henry Suzzallo Society member

In the late 1970s, Evelyn Barbee started her Ph.D. in anthropology at the UW. Her career at the time was in nursing, and her studies allowed her to better understand the intersections between public health, nursing and anthropology.

During her studies, Evelyn was most impressed with how supportive UW faculty were in giving her the freedom to pursue her own interests. With faculty blessing, she spent over a year in Botswana researching traditional healers. “Opportunities like that just don’t come along, so when they do, you have to grab them,” Evelyn said. She was also encouraged to take classes in the School of Public Health, where she learned to take a broader perspective of health care and how it can be affected by societal structures.

Working in anthropology in the 1970s, Evelyn found herself breaking new ground with the support of the UW’s professors. “When I did my Ph.D., I was using statistics, which was unusual for anthropologists at the time.” For advice, Evelyn called on the renowned sociologist and statistician UW Professor Hubert Blalock. He was on leave at the time but met with her anyway, something Evelyn still appreciates. “He was so kind to show up when he was on his leave to help me like that, and I found that was true of a lot of the faculty.”

Evelyn completed her Ph.D. in 1979 and believes she was the first Black woman to graduate from the University’s department of anthropology. Afterward, another Black woman told Evelyn, “I saw you could do it, so I decided I was going to do it too.”

Evelyn went on to a career teaching nurses, although she is most proud of the work she has done to research health care in the Black community. She says a few students have contacted her over the years to share their own studies. One young woman told her, “I would have never gotten my Ph.D. if it wasn’t for you.”

Now retired, Evelyn has included the UW’s Schools of Public Health, Nursing and Arts & Sciences, as well as the department of anthropology, in her bequest plans. She was inspired by the support she received when she attended the UW and the mutual respect she experienced from faculty.

“I believe in the power of education and knowledge,” Evelyn said. “I give back to the UW, because for me, they gave me the power to pursue my academic interests.”

Donor Spotlight

Kelly Snyder: Paving a pathway of possibilities

Kelly Snyder on the UW Bothell campus standing in front of the W smiling

Kelly Snyder, Henry Suzzallo Society member

The daughter of a University of Washington maintenance technician, Kelly Snyder was a first-generation student when she transferred to the UW from a community college and earned her bachelor’s degree in the early 1990s. She went on to work at UW Bothell before becoming the current director of public works for Snohomish County, the first woman at Snohomish County to hold the position.

Kelly’s father was proud of her for working with the UW and even more proud of her attending the University.

When Kelly began her UW journey, the statistics at the time were low for a community college transfer student to graduate, but she achieved it. She later returned to the UW to complete a master’s degree in public administration from the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

Kelly recalls graduation day as being one of her favorite memories at the UW for both her and her family. She didn’t realize how pivotal a moment it was until later in life, saying “I felt like I had made it. It was such a big deal for my father to put his T-shirt and jeans aside and put on a suit.”

After her father passed away, Kelly and her husband, Virgil, established an endowed scholarship at UW Bothell with an outright gift to support women entering engineering careers, nodding to Kelly’s experience in the field of civil engineering. The couple also included future funding for the scholarship in their bequest to the University of Washington, wanting to leave a legacy that would “live beyond the initial gift.”

Ultimately, philanthropy has a different meaning for everyone, but for Kelly it means “giving back and reducing barriers, so individuals can be successful and thrive under the hardest of circumstances. Philanthropy is a possibility maker.”

While working at UW Bothell, Kelly experienced first-hand the need for transformational gifts to support current and future Huskies. In addition to her work as assistant vice chancellor, Kelly volunteered with student government, and in that capacity, she connected with students. “I learned just as much from the students as they did from me.”

Kelly often shared her career path and University journey with students, and they were surprised how much it mirrored their own. “If you don’t see someone like yourself at the top or in a leadership role, it can be challenging. The students felt seen and heard, something I always wanted, and I was grateful to have had my own mentors along the way. I’m now paying it back after my own success and helping to inspire students.”

Student Spotlight

Simran Deol: Q&A with a recipient of the Kelly and Virgil Snyder Endowed Scholarship for Women in Engineering

Simran Deol smiling

Simran Deol, UW Bothell Student

How has the scholarship impacted you?

I’m extremely grateful for being the recipient of this scholarship because my family relocated to the United States from India and were not financially stable when I started at the UW. In addition to this, I’m the first in my family to
attend college.

This scholarship helped me pursue my studies without the financial stress for my family or me. I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to come up with the resources to pay for my studies, which allowed me to focus on my academics. This scholarship also was welcomed for me because I felt like I was supported as a woman and encouraged to pursue my passion
in STEM, which tends to be an underpopulated area for women. Every gift makes a difference, and I am one of the many examples of the impact that a future gift can make today.

How has the UW helped you grow?

I recall my first week at the UW as having been nervous due to trying to find classes and meet others on the UW Bothell campus, but everyone was friendly and welcoming. As I prepare to graduate in June, I have learned and grown in many ways during my time at the UW, but one way is thanks to my time on the Robotics team.

From 2021–2022, I had the opportunity not only to be part of the UW TrickFire Robotics team, but also to be the team lead. I never imagined myself in that position because when I first arrived at the UW, I was shy, especially if in the spotlight. Being the team lead helped me grow to become a leader not only for the team, but also in my field of study at the UW, mechanical engineering. I enjoy solving problems and have had hands-on experience from this, which later assisted me in obtaining my internship. Ultimately, being the team lead impacted me, but it also helped me impact other students. This was a huge achievement for me and one of the moments I’m most proud of.