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A Family Formed at Scranton: Bill Nellis ’55, Joe Nellis ’85, Kate Nellis ’10

The Nellis family, from left to right: Joe, Kate and Bill.

Three generations of the Nellis family will celebrate their Reunion together in 2015.

When Bill Nellis ’55 arrived at Lackawanna Station in 1949 he was fresh from military service with no job and no friends in Scranton, other than his cousin, a Jesuit scholastic. Originally from Westchester County, New York, Bill came to the city to get the college education promised to him by the GI Bill, but by setting in motion a vibrant, multi-generational Scranton story, he received much greater gifts, as well as a reason to celebrate in 2015. 

Before he headed to Scranton, though, he tried Fordham University, where he was crushed to learn that a flood of GIs had already matriculated, creating a lengthy backlog. Just as he was leaving campus, dejected, he ran into his cousin, John Mulholland who taught at Scranton Prep. Mulholland  said, “I’ll get you in at Scranton.” Bill said, “Where’s Scranton?”

That chance meeting eventually led Bill to that train bound for Lackawanna Station and, as dusk fell, to the University’s “Old Main.” The very first person he met was a secretary, Ann Nora “Nonie” McAllister who would later become Nonie Nellis. She helped Bill reach Mulholland, who in turn fetched the venerable Frank O’Hara, then registrar, from his home to administer the entrance exam to a party of one. A week later, Bill was enrolled and the family’s Scranton story had begun.

Bill and Nonie were married for nearly 60 years before she passed away in 2011. (The Nellis family subsequently founded the Nellis-McAllister Kiwanis Scholarship in her honor.) The couple had three children, all of whom became members of the University family: Bill ’83, special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joe ’85 and Noreen (Schofield), assistant dean, Scranton College of Arts and Sciences (Marywood ’74). 

Joe said his father was such a devoted alumnus that he and Bill had little chance to consider going anywhere else for college. Like many local students, Joe commuted and still found ways to be engaged in University life. He played baseball and was president of the accounting honor society. By January of his senior year, Joe already had an offer from Big Eight accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. After graduation, he headed to New York City with his new wife, Ann Rose. It was during this period, shortly after graduation, when Joe most profoundly felt the value of his Scranton education.

“It prepared me for that big change event — moving to the city,” he said, adding that his family and education grounded him. “It was never a struggle to do the right thing; being unethical just wasn’t an option. I got that from my Dad and from Scranton.”

Joe’s work ethic paved the way for an incredibly successful career. He is now managing director of global business development for GE Capital Real Estate. His permanent residence is in Connecticut, but he has lived and worked abroad. In fact, his daughter Kate ’10 graduated high school from the American School in London. After high school, it was her turn to write the family’s next chapter.

“Without question, it was her decision where to go to college,” Joe said. “But to me, the best choice was Scranton. It was home. I knew I couldn’t be there to watch over her, but Scranton’s culture and environment made it easy for us to let her go.”

“I thought I already knew all about Scranton,” Kate said. “Thank God I went on the formal campus tour.” Kate said the tour made her see Scranton in a new light. The real revelation, however, came when her mother answered questions for prospective students on that tour. “Someone asked the tour guide what there was to do in Scranton and she was fumbling with the answer when my mother started to answer for her! It was great ... she just rattled off so many things (but her favorite was the annual Labor Day Italian festival!)”

Today, Kate is equally impassioned about her own Scranton experience. “It taught me the value of friendship and integrity. I get goose bumps thinking about it — it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Scranton continues to be a major part of Kate’s life. She met her best friend in their freshman dorm; the two are now roommates in Hoboken, New Jersey and both work for Vente-Privee.com, a fashion website. She and her friends fly the Scranton flag when they gather at the beach in Manasquan, New Jersey.

Bill Nellis could not have known the rich legacy boarding a train to Scranton would engender. He was unaware that Nonie was in his very near future and his children and grandchildren (10 in total, 50 percent of whom are Scranton graduates: Kate, Sean Schofield ’02, Ryan Schofield ’04, Maura Schofield ’07 and Kevin Schofield ’11) waited a bit further ahead. Bill did know he was searching for an intellectual and spiritual home. He found that home in Scranton, and he looks forward to celebrating it with Joe and Kate at their upcoming University of Scranton Reunion in June 2015.

More from the Nellis family:

Bill Nellis ’55

When Bill Nellis arrived in Scranton in 1949 to begin school, he also needed a job. While he was working on his degree in business management, he worked for the post office. His degree ultimately allowed him to move up the ranks at the post office and he became postmaster in 1970, a position he held until he retired in 1986.

He credits his mother's side of the family for his deep understanding of the tenets of Jesuit education. “My mother's side of the family was loaded with Jesuits,” he said.

Bill took those Jesuit ideals to heart. In his life, he has given thousands of hours of service to various charities, including, but not limited to, the Kiwanis Club of Scranton where he served as treasurer for over 25 years. Eventually, he reluctantly handed that responsibility over to one of the younger members. He also served as a national officer for a number of years.

Jack Finnerty, director of the Scranton Public Library, decided to join the Kiwanis Club because of Bill. “He simply exuded integrity, compassion, humility and sincerity,” said Finnerty. “I quickly concluded that if this man was a Kiwanian, I wanted to be one too - hoping that some of those qualities might rub off!”

He went on: “It is no exaggeration to say that Bill Nellis is the heart and soul of the Kiwanis Club of Scranton. He is, in effect, our spiritual leader - always reminding us by his deeds, of the value that Kiwanis places upon service to others.”

Bill is still very active in the Kiwanis Club as well as with the United Way of Lackawanna County.

Bill’s strong faith led him to be very active in his parish of Holy Rosary in Scranton (now Mary, Mother of God Parish), where he served on the Finance Committee, was the chairperson of the food stand for the Parish Block Party for over 20 years, volunteered to be a Eucharistic minister, bringing Communion to the residents at Allied Services and ushered at mass every week. He also served on the Scranton Diocesan School Board for a number of years.

After taking Scranton's entrance exam—administered solely to him by Frank O'Hara—Bill joined a night school class that he describes as “100 percent GIs.”

Bill is proud that his graduating class played an instrumental role in building the first Loyola Hall of Science. “It was the first time Scranton looked to its alumni for major fund raising,” he said. “It was so big for the community. To see the building go up and replace the barracks and the Knights of Columbus building, and to see how it helped the city, was just amazing.”

Joe Nellis ’85

“Scranton will always be home to me,” Joe Nellis said. “I still call it home.”

He said he treasures the experiences and opportunities Scranton gave him, particularly citing a formative relationship with accounting professor, Dr. Ron Grambo. “I didn't have perfect grades in my other classes, but I always had a 4.0 in accounting,” Joe said.

Of his Jesuit education, Joe said, “Being part of the Jesuit family made me aware of the importance of service to others. I like to think I approach my work in the spirit of service.”

Joe serves as chairman of the Arthritis Foundation’s Northeast Region Board and co-chairs it’s Annual Fund with his wife Ann.

Kate Nellis ’10

“Scranton is a lot different than I gave it credit for before enrolling,” said Kate. “It taught me the value of friendship and integrity. I learned to be good, strong, smart and thoughtful. Right now I am surrounded by about 20 other Scranton grads, and we all love it. My sister went to a different university and she always tells me, 'I like my school, but I don't have the connection to it like you do.' Scranton is my favorite place in the world.”

The Nellis-McAllister Kiwanis Scholarship

Established in 2011 by Joseph A. Nellis ’85 through the Scranton Kiwanis Club to honor his parents, William J. ’55 and Ann Nora McAllister Nellis, this need- and merit-based scholarship is awarded to one incoming freshman who lives and attended high school in Lackawanna County. The student must have demonstrated a commitment to service and volunteer work. Students must submit an essay describing their qualifications and worthiness for this prestigious award along with the application and provide a letter of recommendation from a high school teacher/counselor, high school transcript and standardized test scores to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. The scholarship is renewed annually over a total of four years provided the scholar meets the scholarship criteria and academic requirements. Upon the graduation of the Nellis-McAllister Kiwanis Scholar, a new freshman recipient is selected. Read more about scholarships at Scranton here

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