COB alumna honors professor's legacy with scholarship support

February 19, 2020

Grateful for the help she received during a difficult time, Bettine Cleaver ('83 B.S.A.) created the Richard E. Czarnecki Endowed Scholarship to help other hard-working students reach their goals.

It was the worst time of her life: Elizabeth “Bettine” L. Cleaver (’83 B.S.A.), mother of five, was facing a tough accounting final at UM-Dearborn when her husband asked for a divorce hours before the test. Tearful and distraught, Cleaver went to the professor to say she was going to flunk the exam.

The professor in question was Richard E. Czarnecki, known to friends as “The Brain” and to students as the teacher who never forgot a name. Prof. Czarnecki, who won the AICPA Accounting Educator-of-the-Year Award four times, reacted quickly.

As Cleaver recalls, Prof. Czarnecki sat her down, got her some water and told her there was no way she could flunk the exam – she knew the material too well. Encouraged, Cleaver got through the final, graduated and got a job she loved. Cleaver credits Prof. Czarnecki for helping her complete her schooling with dignity.

To honor his compassion, Cleaver endowed a scholarship in her dear professor’s name. The Richard E. Czarnecki Endowed Scholarship annually awards funds to a full-time College of Business student demonstrating financial need and who is majoring in accounting or finance at UM-Dearborn, where Prof. Czarnecki was on the faculty from 1968 to 1997.

Czarnecki scholarship recipient Rosa Gonzalez said she was facing a tough decision of her own when she applied for the funding – she was looking at dropping out of college because of the cost. With the Czarnecki scholarship, the 21-year-old UM-Dearborn Difference Maker will finish her accounting and finance degree in April 2020.

“I cannot say thank you enough for the help – I will be able to continue college because of it,” Gonzalez said.

Cleaver said she sought to create a scholarship in Dr. Czarnecki’s name partly at the encouragement of her second husband, Jerry. She got to introduce the two at the professor’s retirement party, and they both thanked him for his kindness. Afterward, the couple wanted to do more to recognize the professor’s devotion to education – and to help students who might need it.

“I went back to college late in life,” partly because she married at age 18, started a family and worked from home to help put her first husband through medical school, Cleaver said. She had Dr. Czarnecki for a number of classes, so he knew her drive. Cleaver hired babysitters, got help making dinners and devoted herself to her studies, deeply committed to getting her much-desired degree.

“Afterward, I went in to see how I did. I received a B+ for the final grade and a C+ on the exam,” Cleaver recalled. “Dr. Czarnecki told me: ‘You didn’t do as well as you should have done, but you did a heck of a lot better than you thought you would.’”

For Cleaver, the bottom line of her time at UM-Dearborn can be summed up this way: “You can be anything you want if you’re willing to work hard enough for it.”

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