Lillian Slutzker, Longtime Benefactor of Syracuse University, Passes Away
Lillian Slutzker, a longtime supporter of Syracuse University and the former owner of Manny’s athletic apparel store on Marshall Street, passed away on Thursday, August 18, at the age of 98. She is predeceased by her husband, Emanuel, who died in 1985 after a nine-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, and is survived by their son, Craig Slutzker ’79. Mrs. Slutzker’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 24, in Syracuse.
“Ruth and I are so saddened to learn of the passing of Lillian Slutzker,” says Chancellor Kent Syverud. “We were blessed to share a warm friendship with Lillian, and we are grateful for her guidance, support, and love for our international student community over many years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Lillian’s loved ones and with all of our students, faculty and staff who were touched by Lillian’s generosity and friendship. She has left a tremendous legacy in Syracuse and at Syracuse University.”
A native of Hungary, Mrs. Slutzker moved to Syracuse in 1947, three years after meeting her husband in Wales. Emanuel was serving in the U.S. Army at the time and Lillian was a refugee from Budapest, having lost both her parents in Auschwitz. Married that year, the couple opened Manny’s in 1949 and owned and operated the popular retail shop until 1995.
Mrs. Slutzker is perhaps best known at Syracuse University for her incredible generosity. In 1999, she made a $1.9 million gift, which endowed a fund to name and support the Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Center for International Services. The Slutzker Center is considered the “home away from home for international students” and has helped thousands of international students acclimate to life in the United States. In addition to being the official liaison with U.S. immigration offices for all non-immigrants at Syracuse University, the Slutzker Center is the go-to place on campus for international students and faculty.
In a 1999 interview with Syracuse University Magazine, Mrs. Slutzker said she wanted to give “more to the University – something more meaningful.”
“I love this country,” Mrs. Slutzker said. “With this gift, I can give others the opportunity to know and appreciate it.”
In 2010, Mrs. Slutzker (and the Slutzker Center) was recognized by the International Center of Syracuse for her enduring contribution to international students from around the world.
Patricia Burak, director of the Slutzker Center and assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, says that Mrs. Slutzker was well known and loved in the University’s international student community.
“Right from the beginning, she wanted to get to know the students,” Burak says. Mrs. Slutzker volunteered at the center for many years as an English conversation group leader. Through this work, she helped students become well versed and confident in the English language and familiar with American culture and life in Central New York. Her son, Craig, has been an English conversation group leader for many years.
Mrs. Slutzker would often bring her beloved dog, Tibor, to the center and to events, where he quickly became popular among the students.
Another event that was dear to Mrs. Slutzker’s heart was the former International Student Thanksgiving Dinner, a collaboration between the Slutzker Center and Hendricks Chapel that introduced new international students to the American Thanksgiving experience. She served as a table host at that celebration for many years.
Burak says that at the dedication of the Slutzker Center in October 2000, Mrs. Slutzker spoke emotionally of her dream as a young woman to get a university education. The Holocaust prevented that from happening. In Syracuse, Mrs. Slutzker did all she could to make the international student experience the best it could be.
“Lillian did not just want a building named after her—she wanted to support the students and visiting scholars,” Burak says. Mrs. Slutzker directed the refurbishment of the reception area of the Slutzker Center, making it warm and welcoming. She developed close friendships with many of students and scholars, traveling overseas for weddings and acting in the role of surrogate grandmother for new babies. Concerts were held annually at the Slutzker Center to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Mrs. Slutzker’s Oct. 7 birthday.
“Lillian was truly the shining, golden thread in the fabric of the Slutzker Center,” Burak says.
The Slutzker Center gift wasn’t the first time Mrs. Slutzker generously supported the University. In December 1997, Mrs. Slutzker gave $600,000 to the University to establish the Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Endowed Men’s Lacrosse Scholarships. The contribution was the largest gift ever to the lacrosse program at the time and continues to endow two scholarships today.
Syracuse Athletics played an important role in the family’s life. Mrs. Slutzker fondly remembered interactions with student-athletes like the late Ernie Davis ’62, whom at the time she called “a dear friend, a true gentleman,” and Jim Brown ’57.
“I took his measurements once,” she told magazine staff during her 1999 interview. “His body was like iron.” She remembered the days of unrest in the 1960s when she cried to Manny: “After all I’ve been through, I can’t take this. I’ve come to this country to escape.” And she fondly recalled the many friends they made during their years of owning the store. “My husband had a rapport with the students,” she said. “He’d listen to them, lend them a few dollars if they needed money. Alumni still come back and tell me how much they liked him.”