Campus Living, 'Iron Mike' and the Hazzards of Service
Committed to Service: Kris Hazzard '86 and spouse Larry Hazzard '87 have established the Kristine and Lawrence Hazzard Community and Public Service Program Scholarship at UAlbany. (Photos courtesy of the Hazzards)
ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 15, 2020) — Living on Dutch Quad in the mid-1980s opened the world to Kris Hazzard '86 and her husband, Larry Hazzard '87. On a recent Zoom video call, the couple remembered an unexpected brush with fame in Ryckman Hall.
“I was working with my MBA study group when there was a knock on our apartment door, and there's Mike Tyson with our laundry basket,” said Larry. “Kris was nine months pregnant and doing laundry when Mike offered to help her.”
The then aspiring heavyweight boxing champion, nicknamed “Iron Mike,” was apparently dating a young woman who lived in the dorm. “He used to park right next to my car. I had a little Escort station wagon, and he had some real junker,” Larry said. “And then he had his first big fight and after that when he parked next to my car, he was driving a blue Rolls Royce!”
Celebrity encounters aside, the couple — who married and had two children while living in-residence as graduate students at UAlbany — credit the University with dramatically expanding their worldviews, providing life-long friendships and launching them into successful careers. Kris earned a master's in social welfare and Larry received an MBA.
“I went to [UAlbany] and I saw the world,” said Kris, who recently started her own consulting firm after 20 years as CEO of Berkshire United Way and, prior to that, The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County. “It was a significant part of our professional lives, and also our personal maturation.”
Larry, president of Berkshire Life, a fully owned subsidiary of Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, shares his wife’s sentiments about UAlbany’s impact. “I had no idea how limited my life experiences were until I went to Albany,” he said. “It exposed us to a level of diversity and opportunity we had not experienced up to that point.”
Family pride: The Hazzards and their grandson, Declan.
Those experiences, coupled with lifelong commitments to service and working with young people, inspired the Hazzards to establish the Kristine and Lawrence Hazzard Community and Public Service Program Scholarship, awarded to an undergraduate from any program in the University who is part of the Community and Public Service Program (CPSP). CPSP provides students with opportunities to volunteer at one of nearly 500 not-for-profit and public organizations in the Capital Region while earning elective credits toward graduation.
“This is an opportunity for us to say, ‘That's important.’ It's important that people care more about other people, particularly now,” said Larry. “I know it's hard to be focused academically and volunteer in your community,” added Kris. “But it's so important. Not only for what you're giving to the community, but also for what you get back.”
At the heart of the Hazzards’ philanthropy is a deep conviction in the power of education to change lives. While setting up the first elementary-school-based health center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Kris witnessed the stark social, educational and economic inequities between where she worked and the neighboring town of Fairfield where she lived and her young children attended school.
Later, while working at Berkshire United Way in Massachusetts, Kris saw the "out of control" teen birth rate and recognized that many of those 16- and 17-years-old girls would never finish high school or go to college. “I said to the staff, ‘We've got to do something about this. This is crazy.’”
They formed a countywide, cross sector coalition that developed educational workshops for teens and parents, trained youth workers in reproductive health, developed a multimedia prevention campaign using billboards, Pandora, YouTube videos, posters and bus wraps and distributed poignant youth-produced videos of current and former teen mothers sharing their stories. Within six years, the county’s teen birth rate dropped by more than 50 percent. "I believe wholeheartedly that education is the way out of poverty," Kris said. "We've got to get more kids to college. We just do!"
In 2018, the Hazzards returned to campus for Homecoming Weekend at the invitation of Carol Perrin '84 '85, the University's director of residential life, whom they befriended as young residential directors more than 30 years ago. "They are the most genuine down to earth and fun-loving couple," Perrin said in an email exchange. "They are so passionate about everything they do and have such a positive perspective on life."
Marveling at the university’s growth and diversity, they reflected on the life-long value it created in their lives and they committed to ensuring it does the same for succeeding generations. "There's so much that you can get out of an education that's not necessarily about the classes you take, experiences shape the way you learn and think," Larry said. "I saw at SUNY Albany what a public education can do for kids," said Kris, her voice rising. "I just think we need to do so much more for our state institutions. It's an excellent education."
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