When Arnie J. Civins ’71 arrived at Marietta College in August of 1967, he was riddled with anxiety. Hailing from a blue-collar Jewish family in New Jersey, he had a relatively sheltered childhood under the watchful eyes of his parents and extended family.
“My grandfather lived with us,” he says. “I went from essentially having someone telling me what to do all the time, to being suddenly on my own in a small Ohio town.”
To top it off, his father — a veteran and war hero — dropped him off at the Newark airport with the admonishment: “Don’t flunk out. You’ll end up in Vietnam.”
“I was a wreck!” Civins remembers. “I had a terrible time adjusting — socially, academically — I was scared to death.”
To channel his anxiety, Civins spent nearly every waking hour in the Dawes Library, memorizing his textbooks verbatim. In class, he would answer every question with everything he knew. Until he met Dr. Michele Hilden Willard.
In 1967, we were both new to the College,” Civins says. “It was her first teaching assignment and I was in one of the first Political Science courses she ever taught. I remember when she returned our first midterm exam; she told me: ‘You know what you are talking about, but you didn’t answer the question!’
She took the young Civins under her wing and, over time, helped him through his uncertainty.
“She basically saved me,” he says. “She had a lot of empathy for that scared freshman who was so unsure of himself in this new environment. She was willing to put in extra time with me to make sure I succeeded. I took every class of hers I could, and the friends I made were in those classes as well.”
These days, Civins is a partner at the accounting firm Citrin Cooperman & Company, LLP, where he has a specialized expertise in the entertainment industry and serves as an advisor to many individuals in the literary, theatrical, film and music worlds. With Willard’s mentorship, he graduated cum laude from Marietta College, and the two continued to stay in touch, with Civins looking her up whenever he was in the area.
Willard taught Political Science at Marietta College from 1967 to 1981. While a member of the faculty, she served as an academic advisor to many students, who like Civins would credit her with their success in their education and careers.
In 1984, she earned her J.D. from The Ohio State University. She practiced law in Marietta and often provided pro bono services to Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. She particularly championed victims of domestic abuse, and children and adults with disabilities. She passed away in October 2013.
“I always said to myself, if I ever could do it, I wanted to fund a scholarship in her name,” Civins says. “She was a special person. She was kind, she was intelligent, she was well-spoken — I can’t say enough good things about her. She was a living saint, in my opinion.”
The Michele Hilden Willard Scholarship began supporting students of Political Science at Marietta College, beginning in Fall 2021. Civins established the endowed fund with an initial cash gift, blending that gift with additional funds to be released from a beneficiary designation at his passing. He plans to continue contributing to the scholarship during his lifetime though, and encourages other classmates to join him.
“It is wonderful to work with an alum like Arnie on a scholarship like this that will grow with the endowment and support our students in perpetuity,” says Doug Evans, former Director of Major Gifts at Marietta. “This gift is proof of the impact our faculty members make in and outside the classroom, and it certainly speaks to the legacy of Dr. Willard.”
Besides funding the scholarship, Civins has supported other priorities at Marietta College through the years, including The Marietta Fund and the Department of Business and Economics. He has been active in the Marietta College Alumni Association (MCAA), volunteered to represent Marietta at his local high schools, visited campus to speak to current students in the accounting program and hired Marietta students as interns at Citrin Cooperman.
“I’ve always wanted to be self-sufficient,” he says. “And I always try to give back more than I’ve been given. I considered Marietta College because I didn’t want to be lost in a maze at a larger school, but I chose to come here because they gave me the best financial aid. It was perfect for me. Marietta was small and intimate, I found professors who cared, and that changed my life.”
This article was edited slightly from its original publishing