World War II Navy veteran, pastoral secretary, Justice of the Peace, city constable, notary public, police PAL chairman…. and psychology student. All of these are proudly displayed on Peter Spano’s “business card,” and the title of community college student is one that he most proudly boasts to everyone who he stops to talk with on the campus of Tunxis Community College. Taking his first course in Fall 2010, Spano has taken 14 courses (for credit or audit) in psychology, art and history. Every semester, he comes back to expand his own knowledge, but what he brings to the “younger” students in his classes goes far beyond what any book could teach.
A well-known and respected lifelong resident of New Britain, Mr. Spano is a retired business owner who continues to give back to his community. A 17-year-old Spano was visited by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the war after his battalion sunk a German submarine off the East Coast. Spano is an active member of Tunxis OASIS (Operation Academic Support for Incoming Service Members), spending time with the many other veterans who attend Tunxis. He attends many events on campus, especially those sponsored by the OASIS. He is seen as a role model of persistence, and has encouraged many of our veterans to persevere and achieve their dreams, including establishing a scholarship through the Tunxis Foundation – the Peter Spano Veteran Scholarship. He also dedicated time visiting with disabled veterans at the Connecticut VA Hospital.
From psychology instructor Kelly O’Brien Mann “For the past five or so semesters, Peter Spano has been a student in my General Psychology and Abnormal Psychology courses. Peter audits the classes due to a lifelong interest in psychology. Peter is a 92-year-old WWII veteran and child of The Great Depression and shares those experiences with the students in my classes. He refers to the other students as his ‘grandchildren,’ and they have come to see him as a grandfather figure who shares pieces of history with the class, ranging from being sent to an orphanage temporarily during The Great Depression so that his family could ensure he could eat each day, and his time serving in the Navy during WWII. He talks about meeting FDR, JFK and Reagan, and tells the class advice that JFK once gave him – ‘always ask questions, even if you’re wrong, at least you’re thinking.’ Peter reminds students of manners from an era long gone, such as saying ‘excuse me’ when they get up to leave the classroom, and reminds them of the importance of taking appropriate risks and persevering through difficult times. In fall of 2016, the first semester I had Peter as a student, the entire class requested a ‘class photo’ so that they could always remember Peter. He has given precious life advice to students over the years and is a regular in the Veterans OASIS on campus. Last year, Peter lost his wife. They had been married for over 70 years, and since then, he has been in a state of cognitive decline. His lifelong goal has been to achieve recognition in the field of psychology, and while it is no longer possible for Peter to earn that recognition in a traditional manner, it would mean the world to Peter, his students, and the faculty that know him, for Peter to be given an honorary recognition for his studies in psychology and the joy he has given the Tunxis students who have been lucky enough to have him in their classes.”
Peter will receive an honorary degree during Tunxis’ Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, May 30 at 6 p.m. The ceremony will be held at Central Connecticut State University’s Welte Hall.
From advanced manufacturing technology, business, health, and technology to liberal arts & sciences programs, Tunxis offers more than 70 associate degrees and certificates, providing critical thinking and problem-solving skills that prepare students for transfer to bachelor’s degree programs and employment in areas with industry needs. Located in Farmington, more than 6,000 students enroll in credit and continuing education programs at Tunxis each semester. For more information, visit the Tunxis website at tunxis.edu.