Vassar Today

AAVC Bestows Service Award on Judith Axenzow Lewittes ’63

By Patricia Duane Lichtenberg '90

On Saturday, June 9, at her 50th Reunion, Judy Axenzow Lewittes ’63 received the 2013 AAVC Award for Outstanding Service to Vassar College after decades of faithful devotion to her alma mater.

Judy Lewittes’s love affair with Vassar began when she was eight years old. “My mother heard about Vassar’s Summer Institute. Women could take classes and live on campus during the summer while their children attended summer camp at Wimpfheimer,” she recalls.

“Everything about that time was enchanting. My sister and I lived in Lathrop and my mother lived in Cushing. We wore tee shirts that said ‘Vassar Class of 19XX.’ I fell in love that summer and always knew where I was going to go to college.”

Nine years later, having never returned to campus but holding fast to her dream, she applied and was accepted. At Vassar, she focused her studies on foreign languages with a major in Spanish and a minor in Russian. “We were the Sputnik generation and I felt it was important—not only to understand the language but the culture, as well,” she says.

“We were a very close class. Everyone was so nice and 50 years later, they still are,” she noted.

In speaking about Lewittes, her classmate and close friend, Diana Stern Goldin said, “While exceptionally able and effective, she is also extraordinarily thoughtful and kind. Judy and I are joined at the hip in many ways but it all started with our Vassar bond.”

Following graduation, Lewittes married and moved to New York where she started a career as a teacher of foreign languages. But fate and her husband David’s professional opportunities intervened, and they moved to Poughkeepsie with their two small children.

Her return to Poughkeepsie enabled her to deepen her ties to campus. She was already class fund chair and also volunteered for the college’s first capital campaign from 1968–1973 with a $50 million goal.

In 1976, Lewittes joined the professional staff as the director of the college’s first annual fund—then called the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College (AAVC) Fund.
Frances Aaron Hess ’53, then-AAVC Fund chair, was involved in Lewittes’s hiring. “That was one of the best things I have ever done for Vassar!” she exclaims. “Vassar faced many serious fund-raising challenges when Judy came aboard. The alumnae were still coming to terms with coeducation. The AAVC Fund was no longer to be operated as an independent unit. Under Judy’s direction, the AAVC Fund made incredible strides.”

Lewittes was appointed chief fund-raising officer under President Virginia Smith in 1981. Soon after, the college launched a $75 million development program for the ’80s, which she led to a successful conclusion, bringing in more than the goal. For the next several years, Lewittes worked with President Frances Fergusson as vice president for development, laying the groundwork for the college’s next campaign—The Campaign for Vassar College.

In 1991, Lewittes retired from her post as vice president for development to launch a highly successful consultancy in fund raising and nonprofit management that continues today. But her volunteer service never ceased. Indeed, she served as a member of the regional committee for the Campaign for Vassar College, on the board of the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and she continues on as class fundraiser.

In 2007, Lewittes began a four-year tenure on the college’s Board of Trustees, serving as an AAVC trustee until 2011. Upon Lewittes’s retirement from the board, President Catherine Hill (the fourth Vassar president under whom Lewittes has served) wrote that one of the most comforting aspects of having Lewittes on the board was that, “She understands the college so well, having seen it from every perspective: student, alumna, employee, volunteer, donor, cheerleader, advocate, admirer, and, at times, conscience.”

Lewittes went on to co-chair the society of former trustees—The Pyramid Society—and to become an active member of the Campaign Committee for the Vassar 150: World Changing campaign—Vassar’s largest fund-raising campaign to date.

But Lewittes is not one to rest on her laurels. Given her thoughtful devotion to Vassar, no doubt her service will continue well beyond her landmark reunion this year. As Frances “Franny” Prindle Taft ’42 aptly puts it, “She has that Vassar glow, which I do believe is a reflection of the light of Matthew’s Magnificent Enterprise.”