Sweeney Family Members Earn 25 Degrees

Leo Sweeney

You can spot them on ladders, investing sweat equity and money to open academic doors for inner city kids.

You can visit their medical offices, knowing that they will devote their time and expertise to getting you well.

You can hear them at UMKC retiree meetings, exhorting others to reconnect in classrooms or with campus groups.

You can find them in downtown offices, advocating for minority contractors to get a shot at a job. They lead Chamber of Commerce meetings, teach at the college level and manage county election offices.

These are members of the 2013 Alumni Awards Legacy family, the Sweeney clan. Their careers and philanthropic interests are widespread, but family members are not so far flung; and it is fortunate for UMKC that they are making such an impact locally.

The Sweeney family story began at UMKC in 1951, when children and their in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins were just a faint dream in the future for Leo (Arts & Sciences, 1951) and his wife, Annabelle. They decided to hitch their career wagons to Leo’s alma mater. Annabelle was a staff member, a past president of the Faculty Wives Club and a member of the UMKC Women’s Club. Leo took a job in the Admissions Office, beginning a career that would last for more than 50 years and would include a string of leadership roles:  Director of Admissions, Registrar and Assistant Vice Chancellor.

Leo’s most lasting contribution is undoubtedly in international student affairs. He was a Fulbright grantee assigned to India who was asked to set up United States-India Education Foundation advising offices in Delhi, Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. From what he learned during this experience, Leo drew up criteria and methods for evaluating transcripts of international students to align their preparation and readiness with American higher education institutions. His books on several Asian countries are still required reading for any international admissions professional.

Furthermore, Annabelle and Leo injected a personal touch, welcoming international students into their home with hospitality and affection.

As the next generation reached college age, it didn’t take much convincing to steer them to UMKC.

Daughter Kathleen Orford (Arts & Sciences, 1971) was an honor student at UMKC who used her degree in psychology to work with special education students in the Shawnee Mission School District. She started college in India when Leo took his family there on the Fulbright grant. Kathleen’s husband, Patrick Orford (Arts & Sciences, 1970), was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon with his brother-in-law, Michael Woods (Education, 1972).  Patrick is past president of Kansas City Risk Selectors Club.

Another daughter and honor student, Susan Sweeney (Management, 1970), is a past member of Truman Medical Center’s Board of Directors.

Janice Woods(Arts & Sciences, 1975) works for Quest Diagnostics as Regional IT Director. She is married to Michael Woods, who received the prestigious Victor Wilson Scholarship while at UMKC. Woods is a retired IBM executive.

A cardiologist, son Michael Sweeney (Medicine, 1978), was also an honor student at UMKC. Ingram’s Magazine named him one of the region’s top 100 doctors. His wife, Ellen Sweeney (Law, 1979), is an artist whose work is displayed in numerous midwestern and local galleries.

Putting their family and faith values into practice, Michael and Ellen bought a home and renovated it to sell, with net proceeds going to the Central City School Fund (now the Strong City School Fund), a scholarship program for students attending local Catholic schools. Lots of people stepped forward to help with the project, including Ellen’s sister-in-law, Susan Sweeney.

Also in the UMKC picture are the Browns, a niece and nephew. Nancy Brown Grasse (Management, 1982), is an officer with UMB Bank. She is a board member of the Minority Business Development Council and devotes volunteer time to the United Way, Bishop Sullivan Center and Catholic Charities Hospice.

Michael Brown (Biological Sciences, 1996) and his wife, Mildred Masure Brown (Biological Sciences, 1998), likewise serve the community. Millie is on the Notre Dame de Sion Board of Directors and Michael is a Union Station advocate and board member of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. Together the couple is active in fundraising for Catholic Charities.

With a borrowed stake, Michael rode the tech wave created by the explosive growth of automatic teller (ATM) machines and the software to operate them, founding Euronet Worldwide, where he remains chairman and CEO. Two years ago, the company processed more than 2 billion transactions in 32 countries.

Annabelle’s brother, Anthony Pecoraro, attended UMKC. Her niece, Carol Pecoraro, (Arts & Sciences, 1976), has worked as general manager of Kansas City’s Downtown Marriott Hotel for more than 25 years and will retire this spring.

Three more nieces joined the UMKC alumni ranks:  Marla Turner Byrne, (Management 1981), adjunct professor at Johnson County Community College; Karen Turner, (Management 1980), program coordinator with American Academy of Family Physicians; and Sheryl Ann Turner Roederer, (Arts & Sciences, 1977, MPA, School of Management, 2000), elections manager, Johnson County, Kansas Election Office.

Annabelle’s aunt, Dorothy Vaiana Mook – herself a 1946 graduate of the Conservatory – added two more names to this impressive list. Her daughter, Cynthia Mook Atwell (Music & Dance, 1979), earned three degrees in piano performance.

At least one family member made history with his academic decision. Dorothy’s son David Mook, (Medicine, 1976), was all set to follow a similar musical path:  “My UMKC career started with my mother, who had music in her soul and a degree from UMKC’s Conservatory. I took piano lessons from Conservatory professor Victor Labunski’s wife.” Mook switched to percussion, but “these pursuits were halted by a PA announcement my last week in high school. It laid out plans for a new style medical school. State appropriations, videotaped interviews and 16 chosen students later, I began my UMKC Medical School journey” (as a member of the first graduating class).

If you are keeping track, the final count is remarkable. The Sweeney family took home nine degrees from Arts & Sciences, one in Education, seven from the Bloch School, two in Medicine, one in Law, two in Biological Sciences and three in Music & Dance.

There is a tree on the UMKC campus commons, planted upon Leo’s retirement by his friends in the International Student Affairs office, symbolizing him and his amazing family. The staff explained it this way:  The roots and branches are strong and run deep and will leave a striking mark on the landscape.

Well said.

The Legacy family is chosen for their professional achievements, community service and their tradition of attending and supporting UMKC. The Sweeney’s award, and those of the other alumni honorees, one from each school and the five university-wide awards of distinction, will be presented by the UMKC Alumni Association at its 2013 Alumni Awards luncheon on April 18.


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