Susan E. Greenwald

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From the the UNC Chapel Hill website, Caroline Connection Archives

"Access granted"

Young alumna's parting gift supports students with disabilities

For Susan Greenwald, being confined to a wheelchair was merely an inconvenience - definitely not something to keep her from doing what everybody else was doing or lending a hand to others in need.

And she proved it again and again. As a teenager, Greenwald had to depend on a wheelchair after falling victim to an acute case of lupus that almost took her life, but she still managed to complete high school and get into Carolina. Most recently she proved it in a $300,000 bequest she left to Carolina to support the Laura Thomas Fund for Disability Services - named after Carolina’s first director of disability services.

"Susan never, ever considered herself disabled," said Jim Kessler, director of disability services, who remembers Greenwald fondly from her days at Carolina in the early 1990s. "Her gift was a total surprise and will have a lasting impact on a lot of students." Currently, there are 102 undergraduate and 36 graduate students at Carolina who have identified themselves as having a physical disability.

Greenwald’s gift can be used to provide services to students with disabilities. Examples include counseling services or paying for an interpreter for a deaf student who wants to participate in a student club or maybe even study abroad.

As a student at Carolina, Greenwald often helped the disability services office make sure students with disabilities had access to all campus facilities. And before the 2000 bond referendum, that was a much more daunting task. "Now that the first phase of the bond construction is complete, there are only two academic buildings - Caldwell and Smith - that remain completely inaccessible," Kessler said. "Considering there are buildings on campus that are 211 years old, Carolina is an incredibly accessible campus for its age."

In fact, Carolina’s reputation for supporting students with physical disabilities was one of the reasons Greenwald, a 1991 graduate, chose to come to Carolina. When she first visited the campus and stayed with family friends Doug Dibbert, president of Carolina’s General Alumni Association, and his wife, Debbie, director of external affairs at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, she left comforted that Carolina was sufficiently wheelchair accessible. The other reason she chose UNC: Carolina basketball - a passion she shared with everyone she could.

Shortly after she was admitted to Carolina, Greenwald’s father was fatally struck one morning while jogging. Despite another life-altering setback, Greenwald moved to Chapel Hill and started classes, excelling inside and outside the classroom. She helped organize a campaign to elect Brien Lewis, Class of 1990, for student body president and was elected president of her residence hall.

After graduating with a degree in journalism, Greenwald headed to Washington, D.C., where she wrote and consulted for numerous government, corporate and nonprofit clients, including the Department of State and the Atlanta Special Olympics. She also volunteered for a low-income housing group in Arlington County and the Arlington County Democratic Party. And, of course, she stayed busy keeping up with Carolina basketball. She cheered on the Tar Heels at many Carolina basketball TV-viewing parties with the D.C. Carolina Club and watched many games with her mother, Sheila, also an avid basketball fan, but of her own alma mater, the University of Michigan. When her mother died in 1999 after a decade-long battle with cancer, Greenwald recalled the fun times they had together watching and attending basketball games, especially the 1993 national championship when Carolina defeated Michigan for the title.

In late April 2004, Greenwald suffered a fatal stroke. Her parting gift is her way of making sure future students with disabilities have a positive Carolina experience. As Doug Dibbert said, "Even in death, Susan was looking out for those students who might not be able to look out for themselves."

Catherine House

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