Monroe Community College Foundation’s annual gala event Thursday honored the Wegman family for its philanthropic commitment to MCC, and announced a pledge of $4 million from the ESL Foundation to help support students.
Danny Wegman, president and chairman of the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation, accepted the MCC Foundation’s 2019 Salute to Excellence Award at the event, held Thursday at the Floreano Convention Center.
According the foundation, the award recognizes the Wegman family’s contributions, including $3 million to help first-year students who face hunger and other barriers to reaching their educational goals. This fall more than 200 MCC students became the first “Wegmans Scholars,” benefiting from food scholarships and coaching to keep them on their academic paths.
The Wegmans gift was part of MCC’s $50 million “Every Bright Future Needs a Strong Foundation” campaign.
The campaign’s co-chairman, Tim Wentworth, also announced the $4 million donation from ESL Charitable Foundation, to launch three programs supporting student success. Over five years, the money will support:
Pathway to College, a program of aid for students without a high school diploma who are not eligible for federal college aid.
Strong Foundation, a fund for students who exhaust their other financial aid while completing basic courses aimed at getting them ready for college-level classes.
Finish Strong, financial aid for students who run out of other aid just before they would complete their program.
“Every student in our community, no matter their age or background, should have pathways available to an affordable, high-quality education that sets them up for career success,” said Faheem Masood, ESL Federal Credit Union president and CEO. “MCC and the MCC Foundation are proven leaders in our community when it comes to making education options available that lead to meaningful employment opportunities for the Greater Rochester population. We are honored and elated to support these vital scholarship programs that will have a significant, positive impact on the students.”
Sergio Esteban, chairman of the MCC Foundation’s board of directors, also announced that the campaign had exceeded its goal by 5 percent in raising $52.5 million.
When Jack DePeters retires from Wegmans, he says his only goal is to spend time with his family. Perhaps that’s because he has spent the majority of his life doing a job he loved.
Wegmans announced last week that DePeters, senior vice president of store operations, will retire Dec. 31. During his 52 years, DePeters rose from cleaning store bathrooms to become the highest-ranking non-Wegman executive in the family-owned company, a position he’s held for the last 20 years.
DePeters, 69, began his career at Wegmans by cleaning the bakery at the former Midtown Plaza Wegmans when he was 16 years old.
“I did such a good job at that, they let me clean the bathrooms, and the meat room,” he said with a laugh. Wegmans had just 15 stores when DePeters started working with the company. Later this month, Wegmans will open its 101st store – the first in the New York City area – in Brooklyn.
As an Aquinas High School student and later at St. John Fisher College, DePeters juggled his studies with working about 35 hours a week. (That work load wouldn’t be allowed with today’s laws on employing minors.) DePeters says despite his work schedule, he did OK in school, but hopes no one checks his grades. Whatever they were, they didn’t prevent the late Katherine Keough, then president of Fisher, from recruiting him as a college trustee.
Early in DePeters’ time at Midtown, a conversation with a very tall man in an elegant trench coat started him thinking his part-time job might lead to something more. The man asked the teen-aged DePeters about his work, and DePeters described how he was putting sale tags on shelved merchandise that was being marked down. Later, when the store manager rushed up to ask about what had transpired, DePeters found out that he had been talking with Bob Wegman, the company’s CEO.
“This set me on my path,” DePeters said in a recent interview. “That got me excited to stay with Wegmans. I’ve always been interested in the work people do. I thought every day would be fun, and you know what, it has been.”
Midtown was a happening place back in the 1960s, DePeters recalled, and Wegmans always seemed to have a new challenge for him, allowing him flexibility to try out many positions within the stores where he worked.
He moved from working in the stores to the merchandising and corporate side of the business in 1982. Little did DePeters know that 30 years after his first encounter with Bob Wegman, he’d become his frequent companion on Saturday mornings, driving the CEO on his weekly rounds inspecting stores.
“Bob instilled in me high standards to take care of our people. Bob taught me to learn to be a good listener,” DePeters said. “You go out and see the trials and the hard work our people do. Then you come back and introduce programs to help us grow.”
That ability to listen to customers has been really helpful, as the company grew to 100 stores in seven states, with new tastes and preferences encountered in each region.
“Upstate New York is not the same as Virginia or Raleigh,” DePeters said. “We had to open a great channel of communication.” As a result, Maryland customers introduced Wegmans executives to Peruvian chicken and crab cakes made with crab caught in Maryland waters, both now fixtures across the chain’s prepared-food bars.
DePeters said his own father provided the example of a strong work ethic, which he followed by working six days a week ever since he began working full-time at Wegmans. Orphaned as a child, DePeters’ father chose the location of the first home he owned because it was on a bus line that allowed him to get to work. Despite coming from modest means, he paid for his three children to attend college.
DePeters speaks with similar reverence of Bob Wegman, who was clearly a mentor. “Bob used his resources to help people to do their job. You can’t do everything yourself; you’ve got to rely on those who can” carry out the company’s work, he said.
DePeters took those lessons to heart. Early in his years at the corporate office, one of Bob Wegman’s Saturday store visits focused on the men’s rest room. He asked DePeters to examine the rest room. DePeters said he expected to find a mess that had prompted Wegman’s request, but all appeared to be in order. Until Wegman pointed out that there was no place for a man to hang up an overcoat while he used the facilities.
The lesson for an up-and-coming company leader? “Many people look, you see.” DePeters’ first memo to his subordinates was to order coat hooks installed in the rest rooms and he’s kept his eye on details like that ever since.
“I always hope every day I’m making him proud,” DePeters said of Wegman, who died in 2006.
Those early lessons were formative for DePeters’ accomplishments on the job, including the “Ask Jack” program in which any employee could ask a question or make a suggestion and DePeters would publish the response – 16,000 of them over the years – on the company intranet.
“I wound up becoming the pupil. Before I could tell people the answer to their questions, I had to go and do research,” DePeters said. Some of the Ask Jack conversations led to major improvements. For instance, he said, in an attempt to improve safety, Wegmans introduced new cut-proof gloves for deli workers. But the gloves were so cumbersome that the workers couldn’t do much while wearing them. The deli staff at the Eastway Wegmans had more than a few thoughts about how awful they were. As a result of DePeters talking it over with them, Wegmans came up with a proprietary design for a more work-friendly glove that’s still cut-proof.
A store deli was also pivotal to a lesson DePeters experienced in the value of both giving and receiving from employees. The deli departments had been struggling to enact an idea Bob Wegman had on how to attractively display pre-cut meats. The Rochester stores had recently started pre-cutting some of the popular cold cuts to speed up service, but “nobody liked it laying there in piles,” DePeters said. None of the employees could quite grasp the concept Wegman was trying express on how to make it look appealing.
At the same time, a Wegmans’ employee named Bess had been living without power in her trailer for six months as a result of her daughter’s financial troubles. The issue only came to DePeters’ attention because a co-worker had stopped by Bess’ trailer to visit, but left, thinking no one was home because there were no lights on. “We got the power turned back on for Bess,” DePeters said, using a company fund he administers to provide emergency assistance to employees.
The grateful Bess also happened to be the part-time deli employee who finally figured out how to stand up slices of cold cuts in “florets.” Her manager summoned DePeters and Wegman to see whether her handiwork was what Wegman envisioned.
When Wegman saw the deli case, “He threw his arms up and said ‘Jack, you figured out what I wanted!’” DePeters identified the real meat architect, and the not-quite-5-foot woman started blubbering to the 6-foot-5 CEO about how he had helped her in her time of need. His reply: “Bess, we’re even.”
It’s no wonder then that DePeters often quotes Wegman’s motto of “Never think of yourself; Always help others.”
DePeters considers Wegmans’ earning Fortune magazine’s No. 1 spot on its “Best Companies to Work For” list in 2005 one of his proudest moments. The honor inspired him to create a bubble chart illustrating for employees the paths they could take to rise through the company as he did. He also created Wegmans Leadership University, a training program that helps store managers and others learn how to foster talent and encourage others cooperatively. About 500 employees have taken the training so far.
Past and present Wegmans CEOs are household names in Rochester and virtually every Wegmans customer is familiar with their faces, but DePeters has the unusual vantage point of really knowing them. He was even Colleen Wegman’s boss before she became his boss and CEO.
“Their dedication has made me feel I’ve been part of the family, from Bob to Danny to Colleen,” DePeters said.
“Danny (Wegman) taught me to lead with my heart and always do the right thing.” He called the former CEO and current chairman a visionary who knows what consumers want even before they do. “His ability to see what’s coming down the road is uncanny.”
He also attributed to Wegman making sure the company is driven by its values, even insisting new hires are a good match for the company values, and not just have the best qualifications and experience.
As for the current CEO, “Colleen’s drive for continual improvement is phenomenal,” he said. She reminds employees of the stores’ philosophy “to do something that no one else is doing and offer choice they don’t have today and they’ll (the customers) reward you for that.”
Danny Wegman recently said of DePeters, “Counting the number of people and employees Jack has impacted throughout his professional career and through his community efforts would be an impossible feat. Our family is grateful for all that he has contributed to our company and our community.”
DePeters is reluctant to accept too much credit, noting that anything he accomplished is owed in part to the support of his wife, Donna, a retired teacher. The couple lives in Irondequoit, where they reared two daughters. The elder, Sarah DePeters, followed her father and is a vice president at Wegmans. The younger, Laura McDonagh, followed her mother into teaching. McDonagh is also the mother of DePeters’ three grandchildren.
Both Jack and Donna DePeters have given to the community by serving a number of boards and giving their time and treasure to charitable causes.
“I’m blessed,” DePeters said of his family and his career. “I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity…I just love what I’ve done.”
Jack DePeters, the most senior executive in the Wegmans corporation other than members of the family themselves, will retire at the end of 2019.
DePeters, senior vice president of store operations, began working for the grocery store chain 52 years ago when he was 16 years old. That first job was a part-time position at the former Midtown store. After graduating from St. John Fisher in 1973 with a degree in business administration, DePeters became a full-time employee at Wegmans and started an ascent through the store and corporate structure.
“Jack has played an immeasurable role in the success of our company by bringing our values to life and always putting people first,” says Danny Wegman, chairman. “His career has set an example of continuous learning and leadership for the many generations that followed.”
In his long career, DePeters has been store manager, store buyer, head grocery buyer, director of Wegmans brand, and director of grocery, dairy and frozen. He was promoted to his current title in 1999. DePeters instituted the company’s “Ask Jack” program in which employees of any rank could send him questions about the company for an answer. Over the years, thousands of questions and his responses were shared companywide.
“When we listen to those closest to the work, we always find ways to get better,” DePeters said.
He has also been deeply involved in the community, serving on the United Way board for three years and now serving as chairman of the board of trustees at Fisher.
Bob Farr, who has worked for Wegmans since 1980, will take DePeter’s place. Farr has most recently worked as Virginia division manager and senior vice president.
Monroe Community College has received a $3 million gift from the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation to help low-income students in need of food and other necessities overcome obstacles that make it hard to attend college or complete a degree.
Wegmans’ gift will provide scholarships for food, funding for two programs that assist low-income students with emergency grants and services, and counseling aimed at helping students stay on track and graduate.
“Helping Monroe Community College students overcome hunger and other barriers to higher education will lead to more graduates working in and contributing to Rochester’s economy,” said Danny Wegman, president and chairman of the board of the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation.
“On a daily basis, too many MCC students are choosing between pursuing higher education and eating or feeding their families,” said MCC President Anne M. Kress. “Monroe Community College greatly appreciates the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation’s generous support of our efforts to combat student hunger and basic needs insecurities in order to help more students earn the certificates and degrees they need to be successful.”
The gift contributes to MCC’s $50 million “Every Bright Future Needs a Strong Foundation” campaign, which has raised $45 million so far. In a 2014 study of food and housing insecurity on community college campuses, half of the MCC students who participated said they cut back on meals or went without eating at times because they lacked money for food.
The University of Rochester’s Board of Trustees has selected a retired dean and longtime philosophy professor, Richard Feldman, as interim president to replace Joel Seligman when he steps down at the end of February.
Feldman, who has worked at UR since 1975 and was taking a sabbatical, had intended to return to teaching once his sabbatical was over, according to a statement announcing the selection by trustee chairman Danny Wegman. He was dean of the college from 2006 to 2017.
“As a scholar, an award-winning teacher, and a supremely capable and compassionate administrator, Rich Feldman is respected and admired by students, faculty, and staff alike. The University could not ask for a better leader for this next chapter in the institution’s history,” Wegman said in his written statement.
Seligman announced his resignation Thursday, within two hours of the release of an independent investigation into UR’s handling of sexual abuse complaints against Prof. T. Florian Jaeger. The university had found no evidence to support sanctions against Jaeger and promoted him while its own investigation was underway. Eight former and current students and faculty have filed a federal lawsuit against the school.
Wegman said, “Even before he formally steps into the presidency on March 1, the board and I have asked Rich to immediately take responsibility for leading the effort to respond to the independent investigation report, and to make it his top priority to work with members of the University community and the Board to develop a plan to act on the report’s recommendations.”
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