Attitude Is Everything

By Christine Hofmann-Bourque

Trustee Donna Winn '76 sheds light on the important work under way behind the scenes to keep Holy Cross strong and supported


A veteran of the financial industry, Trustee Donna Winn '76 (right) helped lead her class to a record-breaking donation of $425,000 in 2011, and explains that the College has important plans for those dollars. "People should know that their donated money is not frittered away," she says, noting Holy Cross' "unique and pure" need-blind admissions policy.

In the hours immediately following surgery for ovarian cancer last year, Holy Cross Trustee Donna Winn '76 was on a mission. She was focused, not on her aches and pains or upcoming chemotherapy, but rather on how her surgeon-a dynamic young woman-would be a terrific mentor for a college student. "I was lying in my hospital bed, and I said to my surgeon, 'You know, my niece is looking for an internship,' " says Winn, who helps find and fund 20 to 30 internships each summer for Holy Cross students as part of the Holy Cross Leadership Council of New York. "I nagged my doctor to death. And it worked!" Her niece recently spent a few months shadowing Winn's surgeon at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

One secret to Winn's success in life and work is simple: "I'm not afraid to ask," she says. "I've got it in my head that it's harder for someone to tell me 'no' than it is to ask."

Her Holy Cross classmates would likely agree. As this year's chair of her 1976 class gift committee, Winn helped lead her 35th reunion class to an all-time high donation of $425,000. That amount beat the record set just two years prior by the Class of 1974, on whose gift committee her husband, Alexander Marasco '74, participated. "We broke my husband's class' record, and he was happy that we did it," says Winn, who helped push her class to new giving heights with a $25,000 challenge gift.

College sweethearts Donna and Alexander, who met during Winn's third week at Holy Cross, have been active donors since graduation. Although she was in the first graduating class at the College to be coed for all four years,
she is reluctant to call herself a trailblazer. "I didn't even know Holy Cross used to be an all-boys school," Winn says with a laugh. She chose Holy Cross because its premed program was highly regarded, and it was only an hour and a half from her hometown of Reading, Mass. "I didn't want to go too far away, but I didn't want to live at home," explains Winn, whose plans to be a doctor "lasted about a semester" before she switched her major to economics.

After working in finance at Merrill Lynch for 20 years, she moved to OFI Private Investments, Inc., a subsidiary of OppenheimerFunds, Inc.; she was president and CEO until her retirement in 2010. Today, Winn sits on the Advisory Board of Thesis Fund Management, a mutual fund, and serves as a Trustee at Holy Cross, where she is a member of the Institutional Advancement Committee and the Buildings and Grounds Committee. "Holy Cross has some really big plans for building better spaces for students and better athletic facilities, and Holy Cross needs everyone to participate," says Winn, who calls White Plains, N.Y., home. "Without the money, we can't do half of those things."

As a Trustee of Holy Cross, Winn has appreciated the opportunity to view her alma mater from a different perspective. "I think a lot of people don't really know the difference between being a student and working to grow the College," she says. "The people behind the scenes at Holy Cross are very committed and work harder than you can imagine. The need-blind admissions is very unique and very pure. Holy Cross is committed to helping someone who has worked hard in high school and has the drive to be successful. People should know that their donated money is not frittered away."

When she's not fundraising for the College or drumming up prestigious internships, Winn will be working on two personal goals during the upcoming year. "I'd like to get my kids out of college and off on their way," she says jokingly about her two sons, Alex and Steven. And now that she has closed the books on 18 weeks of chemotherapy, she'd like to travel to the Far East, Africa and Lithuania, her grandparents' birthplace.

"This was a difficult year, but I survived 9/11," says Winn, who was working in the South Tower at the World Trade Center when it was struck by terrorists with a plane. "I learned that you don't get to pick when you die. People say there are times in their lives, the 'befores and afters.' What 9/11 did was make me realize that horrible things happen."

It was a hard-learned lesson that carried her through her recent health problems. "When I got cancer it helped me," she says. "You don't get to pick the bad or good things that happen. You just have to survive them, and hopefully you will. It helped me have a much better attitude about having cancer. Not that I didn't have my terrible moods. But I really do believe that attitude is everything. I have to keep moving forward."