Momentum for RIT’s new arena stems from a boyhood love of hockey
March 22, 2012
by Paul Stella
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The origin of Gene Polisseni’s passion for the sport of hockey was humble—to say the least.
Family members say he started skating as a teenager, using magazines as shin pads.
“He built a makeshift rink in the back of his sister’s house and started a league there,” says his son, Gary.
A half century later, a lasting devotion to community-based hockey will be commemorated through the creation of a permanent venue at RIT.
In November, the university introduced the identity of its forthcoming arena as the Gene Polisseni Center. RIT President Bill Destler declared that the naming of the facility resulted from a $4.5 million partnership between the Polisseni Foundation and RIT trustee B. Thomas Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex Inc. and lifelong Polisseni friend.
Gene Polisseni founded the Polisseni Foundation with his wife, Wanda, and he served as vice president of marketing at Paychex until he died in 2001. Most of his professional life was devoted to helping build the payroll services company, but hockey always remained his personal outlet. He organized youth and adult amateur leagues throughout the area and he regularly attended professional hockey games.
“He just loved the sport,” recalls Gary Polisseni, a Polisseni Foundation board member. “It’s fast-paced and physical. That’s what he enjoyed most.”
Golisano, who spent eight years as owner of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres, remembers afternoons at Paychex headquarters when his friend would suit up in his Sabres gear in preparation for game night.
“Gene understood firsthand how sports could make a community feel about itself,” says Golisano, “and I am proud to help create a legacy dedicated to his passion for competition and camaraderie here at RIT.”
The $4.5 million commitment is the most recent and most significant gift in support of Tiger Power Play—The Campaign for RIT Hockey, which puts the effort more than halfway to its $15 million fundraising goal. Construction of the new arena is expected to cost between $30 million and $35 million, and RIT is developing a business plan for the facility’s operation intended to cover the remaining expenses.
“This is an extraordinary partnership that provides a giant step toward our goal of creating the highest quality game-day experience for our players, students and the fans of RIT hockey throughout the local community,” says Destler. “The support of the Polisseni Foundation and our long-time benefactor and friend Tom Golisano heightens our resolve to make that a reality.”
Gary Polisseni says supporting the creation of the Gene Polisseni Center fits well with the foundation’s mission of targeting quality-of-life issues related to education, human services and civic improvement—as well as his father’s love of hockey.
“I think this would have been one of his favorite gifts. This one would have truly touched his heart.”
Several RIT alumni are among the key benefactors who are responsible for the growing momentum of Tiger Power Play—The Campaign for RIT Hockey.
Tom Golisano and Gene Polisseni
The Gene Polisseni Foundation joined RIT trustee B. Thomas Golisano in presenting the $4.5 million commitment that resulted in the arena’s name. Golisano calls it a fitting tribute to his late friend and business partner who saw hockey as a source of camaraderie among diverse members of the community.
Stephen and Vicki Schultz
Stephen Schultz ’89 (computer science), co-founder and chief technical officer at Pictometry, and his wife, Vicki Schultz ’94, ’99 (business administration, MBA), presented the campaign’s opening gift of $1 million in November 2010. Stephen Schultz is a former leader of the Corner Crew cheering section.
J.M. Allain ’03 (multidisciplinary studies), president and CEO of Trans-Lux Corp., announced plans last April to donate a center-hung electronic scoreboard for the arena, valued at $1 million. Having grown up in French Canada, Allain admits to having hockey “in my blood.”
For more information on Tiger Power Play— The Campaign for RIT Hockey, go to www.rit.edu/powerplay.