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A champion for others

Gary Mervis, founder and chairman of Camp Good Days and Special Times Inc., first met Donald Bain in 1982 at the inaugural Teddi Dance for Love, St. John Fisher College’s 24-hour dance marathon.

Named after Mervis’ late daughter, the event has raised more than $1 million for Camp Good Days, which provides residential camping programs and year-round activities for children, adults and families affected by cancer.

Now largely student-led, the Teddi Dance for Love has become the longest-running activity at St. John Fisher, and many participants keep tabs on its annual return through a countdown timer online.

Over the years, Mervis has enjoyed getting to know Bain better.

“He listens to people, but if he knows and feels strongly about what he would like to do or the direction (he’d) like to go, he … persists,” says Mervis, whose Mendon-based non-profit has served more than 45,000 individuals from 22 states and 29 foreign countries. “He won’t compromise on his values.”

Long-praised for helping students harness their ambitions and aim high, Bain also has shared that skill with various non-profit organizations in the Rochester area. Gifted with a sense of how to balance the past with the future, the president of St. John Fisher College makes the impossible seem doable.

“He’s a visionary,” says Joseph Stefko, president and CEO of the Center for Governmental Research Inc., where Bain serves on the board of trustees. “He is somebody who wears his aspirations on his sleeve, whether that has been making Fisher a bigger, stronger institution or contributing to causes here in Rochester focused on making the community a better place to live, work and play.”

Bain’s knack for leadership has permeated St. John Fisher’s campus, says Mervis, an assistant football coach at St. John Fisher since 1989.

“I get lost walking around the college (now),” he says. “I mean, when I first came, there were just under a thousand students and there were no graduate programs.”

Collaborations between the college and local human-service agencies also have grown under Bain’s leadership. St. John Fisher students, for instance, have satisfied experiential-learning requirements by creating marketing collateral for Catholic Family Center of the Diocese of Rochester and reaching out to clients of the non-profit’s mental-health clinic to find out why they did not show up for appointments.

St. John Fisher students also volunteer at carnivals Catholic Family Center hosts at Carlson Commons, an affordable housing community in the city’s Plymouth and Ex-change neighborhood.

At its annual gala last year, Catholic Family Center honored Bain with an award for his devotion to improving life in Rochester. Recipients of the award must “exhibit the same sense of both giveback and community involvement that we try to exude from our agency,” says Marlene Bessette, president and CEO of Catholic Family Center.

She adds: “So there was the relationship with Fisher” when selecting Bain for the award, “but it was also his personal philosophy that he’s … embedded in Fisher that basically benefits the entire community.”

With ancestors hailing from County Cork and County Kerry, Bain had little trouble relating to the theme of Catholic Family Center’s 2014 gala, “Passport to Ireland.” He has appeared twice on Irish Education 100, a list of distinguished educators in North America who are of Irish descent, and received an official proclamation in 2010 from Monroe County for enhancing local Irish culture, not long after serving as grand marshal of Rochester’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

When joining the Center for Governmental Research’s board of trustees last year, Bain arrived at a pivotal time for the non-profit that George Eastman founded in 1915.

“Certainly in the context of our strategic planning effort, one of the things that I appreciated most about Don’s active involvement was that he is someone who really operates effectively not only at the … strategic or vision level but at the nuts-and-bolts level, too,” Stefko says. “He’s somebody who deeply understands both the forest and the trees.”

He adds: “One of the things I admire most about Don: He’s somebody who shoots high. He’s somebody who asks big questions, who challenges the status quo. He’s certainly done that during his time on our board.”

Not only does Bain ask thoughtful questions, he possesses a precise command of language, says Rev. Peter Bayer, priest chaplain and director of the pastoral care department at St. Ann’s Community in Rochester.

“I mean, he’s very concerned (about) developing relationships with those that he immediately serves, as well as people in the community,” adds Bayer, who serves on the board of directors at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and Mausoleums with Bain. “My impression is that everything he becomes engaged with, he wants to see it successful.”

Bain’s lifelong interest in history and law informs many of his talents, Bayer says.

“So he wants to make sure that we have the global picture,” he says.

Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

5/29/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]

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