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Local Lehigh alumnus to endow scholarship

Michael J. Caruso, CLU, ChFC, has endowed the Caruso Family Memorial Scholarship Fund at Lehigh University. The gift from Caruso, a Lehigh University trustee and alumnus from the class of 1967, is part of the University’s $500 million Shine Forever campaign. A primary focus of the campaign is to build endowment for scholarships at the university.

Caruso endowed the scholarship in memory of his late wife, Sandye Caruso, his late sister, Rosemarie Caruso-Myers, and his late father, Michael “Baskets” Caruso. The new endowment will provide scholarships to students for undergraduate study. A former wrestling great at Lehigh, Caruso has asked that preference be given to a Lehigh Valley area student wrestler who has a need for financial aid.

"More than four decades ago, someone cared enough to provide scholarship funds, making it possible for me to attend this superb center of learning. At Lehigh, I was exposed to innovative professors, legendary coaches, and inspiring classmates, creating the foundation on which to build a most fulfilling and rewarding life,” says Caruso. “My dream has always been to repay my unknown sponsor of many years ago by helping to ensure that young men and woman have the same opportunity to experience this magnificent institution."

“Mike first left his mark on Lehigh as a scholar and an athlete. Since then, he has continually upheld the university through his leadership and generosity. This new endowed scholarship adds even more to his legacy. It will surely change the lives of hundreds of future students looking to make their own impressions on Lehigh and the world,” says Gregory Farrington, Lehigh president.

At Lehigh, more than 50 percent of first year students receive financial aid to cover the cost of tuition. And tuition only covers 49 percent of the operating costs of the university. Plus, at Lehigh, only 25 percent of all financial aid comes from scholarship endowment. Princeton’s scholarship program, on the other hand, is 100 percent endowed. Cornell, a direct competitor of Lehigh, has 35 percent of their undergraduate scholarships endowed. In the Shine Forever campaign, Lehigh has raised $39 million to date to establish an additional 217 scholarships.

Caruso has been a loyal and generous benefactor to Lehigh for many years. In addition to this scholarship, Caruso previously established the Michael "Baskets” Caruso Memorial Wrestling Scholarship Fund in memory of his father. He has also supported a variety of other university needs, including the Zoellner Arts Center, his fraternity, Chi Psi, and renovations to Grace Hall where he wrestled as a Lehigh student. In the 1990s, he dedicated the renovation of the Wrestling Room in Taylor Gym to his former Coach and mentor, Gerry Leeman, who he speaks with frequently.

Caruso is Lehigh’s only three-time NCAA champion. A member of the National Collegiate Wrestling Hall of Fame, Caruso won his titles at 123 lbs. from 1965-67. He won his last 50 bouts and finished his career with a record of 57-1. His .982 winning percentage is the best in Lehigh history. Caruso never lost a tournament bout at the high school, college or amateur levels.

After graduation from Lehigh in 1967, Caruso was a wrestling coach at the University of Virginia. In 1971, he returned to the Lehigh Valley and joined Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. In 1974, he founded M.J Caruso & Associates, in 1982, Independent Business Associates, Inc. The Benefits Firm, another Caruso company, was founded in 1997. Ultimately, these organizations were merged under the umbrella of Caruso Benefits Group, Inc., which specializes in benefits management with an emphasis on group medical, life, and disability. The company services clientele ranging from individual entrepreneurs to organizations with several thousand employees, primarily in the eastern Pennsylvania region. KNBT Bancorp, Inc., the holding company for Keystone Nazareth Bank & Trust Company, purchased Caruso Benefits Group in February of this year.

Caruso first joined Lehigh University’s Board of Trustees in 1996 and served through 2003. He re-joined the Board in 2004 and currently serves on the Physical Planning and Plant Committees and the Student Affairs Committee. He graduated from Lehigh in 1967 with a B.A. in international relations. As part of the Shine Forever campaign, Caruso will chair the Scholarship Endowment committee.

Caruso, who was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, credits Lehigh University and good parenting for his success. “Although my academic and athletic experiences at Lehigh helped to cultivate my childhood values, I had learned what was important in life long before attending college.” Mike’s mother, Helen, continues to live in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, not far from North Newark where he was raised.

“Any success one achieves should be used to help build the worth of others,” says Caruso. “That is a lesson I was expected to remember.”

Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2005

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