A Love Story that Started in a UConn Dorm Comes Full Circle

The Krenickis in 1984 and today
John Krenicki Jr. and Donna Samson Krenicki, in 1984 (left) and today (right). Photos courtesy of the Krenickis.

John Krenicki Jr. ’84 and Donna Samson Krenicki ’84 met in the McMahon dorm where they both lived their junior year at UConn. He was studying mechanical engineering and while she majored in graphic design.

Like so many Huskies who meet at UConn—more than 20,000 Husky couples at last count—it wasn’t long before they realized that what they had was more than a fleeting college romance. They married the year after they graduated.

Now, 32 years later, after navigating careers and raising three children together, they are still going strong. Recently, John gave Donna a unique birthday gift that harkens back to the place it all started. He named an endowed scholarship after her in the School of Fine Arts. He knew it would please his wife, an artist, and help their alma mater at the same time.

“It’s just something that she loves and enjoys and spends a lot of time on. It was really just about her,” he said.

The Donna Krenicki Professorship in Design and Digital Media is one of two endowed professorships that the Krenickis recently gave to the school.

Anne D’Alleva, dean of the School of Fine Arts, said the professorship is transformational.

“It’s our first endowed professorship in the school,” she said. “It’s very exciting to have this recognition of the quality of our faculty. We have established a new department of digital media and design. I see this as linking graphic design and digital media together to enable us to have exciting and innovative interdisciplinary education and do some creative projects.”

In addition to the fine arts professorship, Krenicki recently endowed The Paul Krenicki Professorship of Chemistry to give the chemistry department a boost. He hopes the two new professorships, which have combined value of $1.5 million, will help bolster UConn’s rising academic stature.

“We would like UConn to be a top-20 university so we have devoted most of our contributions to academics,” said Krenicki, a longtime, generous donor to the University. “For us to be in the same neighborhood as a Michigan or a Virginia or a Berkeley you’ve got to have top faculty. UConn’s a great school, but could be better and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

“To attract faculty, having these endowed professorships is a big deal. It’s a big factor in terms of recruiting and retaining key faculty. It’s a permanent commitment to the university. From where we sit, it’s probably the best thing we can do to advance the university,” he said.

The chemistry professorship is named after Krenicki’s brother, Paul, who had a passion for chemistry but whose college career was cut short. Paul Krenicki was bound for a career as a chemist, but died of cancer at age 22.

“It’s an opportunity for someone to continue great work to advance chemistry, which is something he would have done had he survived,” Krenicki said.

Krenicki also honored his mother, Olga Krenicki, with the chemistry professorship by dedicating it to her in honor of her 90th birthday in January.

“This professorship will strengthen our chemistry department’s already exceptional capacity to train undergraduates for science careers and to pursue research in fields like materials science, biomedicine, and environmental sustainability. UConn undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty will all benefit from this gift for years to come, and for that we are truly grateful to them,” said Jeremy Teitelbaum, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Longtime UConn supporters, John and Donna Krenicki are both former members of the UConn Foundation Board of Directors. They have also donated endowed scholarships and previously endowed two other professorships: the chair of the biomedical engineering department and a professorship in genomics and personalized medicine. John Krenicki was awarded an honorary doctorate from UConn in 2007.

He is currently a partner in Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a private equity firm in New York and previously served as vice chairman of General Electric and president and CEO of GE Energy. She is a graphic designer who serves on the board of directors of the Berkshire Museum.