Shaw Harbor Foundation Supports Scholars

Summer 2020 

John S. McNeely always knew he would find a way to help the community that’s been his home his entire life. It’s the same community where he and his family chose to grow a once small business into a thriving international firm that improves airfield safety and maintenance on nearly every continent.

Until recently, Mr. McNeely thought his charitable efforts to support the North Country wouldn’t come until he was well into retirement. After many years of international travel and work at airfields near and far, he sold Hi-Lite Airfield Services last fall and began to plan how he would help others who share a love for the region.

“I was working with the Community Foundation on plans for the future, and I wanted to leave something that would benefit my community,” he said. “The vision that I had was for a legacy much later in life. It’s exciting to live out that vision now and be able to experience the reward of helping deserving students and organizations that work hard to help our communities.”

Earlier this year, Mr. McNeely unveiled the Shaw Harbor Foundation, a permanent charitable fund of the Northern New York Community Foundation. In July, the Shaw Harbor Foundation awarded $10,000 in scholarships to 10 graduating seniors and one adult student who is working to complete her degree. Three scholarships were $2,000 awards and eight provided $500 in support, but that could represent just the beginning for each student. 

Mr. McNeely’s goal is to work with select students in their first year of post-secondary school through their entire academic journey, which could even extend to graduate school and include support for overseas study and internships with his present company and affiliates. 

“We want to offer students additional opportunities over a longer period of time,” he said. “Mentoring, internships and future awards are all very much within reach.” 

Mr. McNeely chose to launch the charitable initiative now, rather than wait until he is fully retired, so he could work closely with the Community Foundation to more completely develop his vision and goals that will last well into perpetuity. Support for education will continue through at least 10 annual scholarships to local students, including nontraditional, older students who may be returning to school after an extended break in studies or beginning college at a later stage in life. 

“I want our young people to know that anything is possible,” he said. “You might have an idea where you want to go, but you may change direction on your way. We can help you and mentor you to get there.” 

The class of 2020 Shaw Harbor Foundation Scholars are: 

  • Cole Webb Bennett, South Jefferson Central High School; Clarkson University, Potsdam, engineering and management; son of Jo-Ann L. Webb Bennett and Kevin Bennett.
  • Noelle Dutch, Ogdensburg Free Academy; SUNY Binghamton, political science; daughter of Kara and Peter Dutch. 
  • John Erdman, Gouverneur High School; Clarkson University, Potsdam, aeronautical engineering; son of Andrea and Daniel Erdman.
  • Emma French, Potsdam High School; Boston University, communications; daughter of Carrie and Tom French.
  • Eldon Montague, South Jefferson Central High School; SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, environmental law, planning, and policy; son of Carrie and Justin Montague.
  • Emily Smith, Potsdam High School, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; political science and economics; daughter of Lynn Hall and Kevin Smith. 
  • Andrew Thomas, South Jefferson Central High School; Nazareth College of Rochester, nursing and Spanish and literature; son of Pamela and the late Brian Thomas.
  • Barbara Tucker, The Woodward School, Quincy, Mass. (1984); SUNY Empire College, historic studies; nontraditional scholar. 
  • Kaylee Van Alstyne, Thousand Islands High School; SUNY Oswego, marketing; daughter of Tara and Michael Van Alstyne. 
  • Marina Wood, Gouverneur High School; Syracuse University, political science and international relations; daughter of Sarah and Cory Wood.

Mr. McNeely assembled an advisory committee of the Shaw Harbor Foundation to help select scholarship and grant recipients. It includes Georgette Spinelli, a longtime teacher who retired from South Jefferson Central School District; Mindy Boenning, Fort Drum site coordinator for the Office of Veteran and Military Education at SUNY Empire College, and Kraig Everard, Community Foundation director of stewardship and programs. 

Each fall, tri-county nonprofit organizations will have an opportunity to seek grant support from the Shaw Harbor Foundation through an application process the Community Foundation will facilitate. Grants will aid agencies supporting essential needs and social causes, including those that focus on LGBTQ equity. Nonprofits serving residents of Adams, Ellisburg, Henderson, Hounsfield, Lorraine, Rodman and Worth will receive additional emphasis.

The fund will support broad investments in quality of life and endeavors that strive to make life better for all. “Thinking globally while acting locally is important,” he said. “Supporting the local community makes it more vibrant and appealing.”