Past Fellowship Recipient Gives Back

December 17, 2018

The year was 1960. Chicopee resident and UMASS alum, Robert Zelis, had just won the Walter S. Barr Fellowship Award, gotten married to Gail Ann Heelon, and had driven from Springfield to Illinois in their packed second-hand 1950s Ford.

Zelis was enrolled in the University of Chicago School of Medicine where his Fellowship stipend covered his entire tuition, a particularly welcomed gift for the newlyweds. To supplement the award amount, Zelis engaged in research positions, which developed his interests in Circulatory Physiology, Heart Failure, Lipid Disorders, and Teaching Techniques and eventually launched his academic career. His wife, formerly trained at Mercy Hospital, also worked before the couple went on to have four children.

After completing his internship and residency at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Zelis further trained for two years as a clinical cardiology associate at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, MD, served on faculty at the University of California at Davis School of Medicine, became a Visiting Scientist at the Albert Ludwigs Universität in Freiburg Germany and Visiting Professor at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Dr. Zelis also went on to hold many leadership positions in a number of national scientific societies such as the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Federation for Clinical Research, and the American Heart Association’s Executive Committees of the Councils on Circulation and Arteriosclerosis. Additionally, he served on the editorial boards of several well-known cardiology journals, published 350 papers, and edited two books and symposiums relating to his basic and clinical research on the control of blood flow to the regional circulations and how it is altered by heart failure.

Though now retired from his position as Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, he never forgot the Horace Smith Fund and what being awarded the Walter S. Barr Fellowship enabled him to achieve.

It was on a 2014 trip to Western Mass that Dr. Zelis and his wife visited The Horace Smith Fund office and spoke with Executive Director Josephine Sarnelli and former office administrator, Anne Mahoney. The Zelises shared fond memories of growing up in Hampden County and expressed their heartfelt appreciation to The Horace Smith Fund by awarding Robert the Walter S. Barr Fellowship over 50 years ago.

Within a month of their visit, The Horace Smith Fund received a donation of $25,000. Zelis said he did this as a way, “to give back a little to the Fund.” His substantial donation was added to the Fund’s capital, which is used to generate income for funding future scholarship and fellowship awards.

In 2016 alone, HSF award 20 Scholarships and four Fellowships to Hampden County students for a total of $258,000. Without the generosity of past recipients such as Dr. Robert Zelis or philanthropists like Walter S. Barr, whom the scholarship and fellowship awards are named after, The Horace Smith Fund would not be able to help so many residents finance their education.