When her father died, Susan Widem racked her brain to find a way to honor him and preserve his legacy.
Then she had an epiphany. What if the family set up a scholarship to honor his love of education and the law?
“As Jews, the tradition has always been that when somebody passes, we honor who they were,” she explains. “One way to do this is to do a ‘mitzvah,’ a good deed. I thought if we set up the scholarship, my father’s name lives on as a good deed. We’re helping someone who had the same dreams and desires he did and, hopefully, making it a little bit easier for them.”
Her mother loved the idea but stipulated that the scholarship should support a student who worked during the day and attended UConn School of Law at night, just like her husband.
That was 23 years ago. Since then, the I. Milton Widem Memorial Scholarship has helped 22 students afford to attend the law school’s evening division. The latest recipient is Megan Frayne ’12 MS, a first-generation student from Mystic, Connecticut.
“The Widem scholarship was the difference between my being able to pursue this dream and having to sit it out,” Frayne says. “I remember crying when I received the call informing me that I was to receive this scholarship.”
Frayne previously worked as a researcher and a high school science teacher. But a trip to Greenland, where she studied the damaging effect of climate change on indigenous people, prompted her to apply to law school so she could help. Now in her first year at UConn Law, she is considering going into intellectual property law while pursuing environmental issues and legal matters on a pro bono basis.
Dean Eboni S. Nelson says the Widem Scholarship illustrates the vast impact that generous supporters and alumni can have.
“Gifts of this kind advance our values of accessibility and affordability and support UConn Law students who go on to contribute their talent and efforts in the pursuit of justice,” Nelson says. “We are so very grateful that Mr. Widem’s family chose this way to remember and honor him.”
Susan Widem sympathizes with students like Frayne who are working full time while attending law school. She remembers hearing her father talk about how challenging it was balancing his job at the Hartford Insurance Company with night classes at UConn law school.
“He talked about how he had to struggle through law school to make financial ends meet,” Widem says. Widem recently supplemented the scholarship with a generous planned gift, ensuring that it will continue in perpetuity.
Her father, Milton Widem ’48 (CLAS), ’55 JD, went on to a highly successful career in real estate law, becoming a partner in the law firm of Ribicoff & Kotkin before venturing off on his own. He and his wife, Selma, a teacher, settled in West Hartford, Connecticut, where Susan grew up.
Susan Widem majored in theater and communications at Syracuse University, then moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Over the next 18 years, she appeared in commercials, movies, and several TV shows, including “One Day at a Time,” “St. Elsewhere,” and “In the House.” Later, she switched gears and ventured into the healthcare field, working as a director in physician development at various hospitals over the years, most recently at Cedars-Sinai, Torrance Memorial Medical Center, and Tenet Healthcare in Los Angeles.
While she has built a successful career and a wide circle of friends in LA, she likes to return to the East Coast every year to meet her father’s scholarship recipient and celebrate his legacy.
“Giving back to the law school is like passing the baton, handing it back to make someone’s life easier,” she says. “I can’t think of a greater legacy for my father than for his name to go on forever with this scholarship.”