Notre Dame College Benefactors Recognized for Support of Students with Learning Differences

A pair of Notre Dame College benefactors is honored for leadership among philanthropists.

Ray and Eleanor Smiley, nominated by Katherine Callahan, director of annual and special giving at Notre Dame, have been selected the winners of the 2017 Outstanding Philanthropist Leadership Award by the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). Known for their support of the College, particularly its Academic Support Center for Students with Learning Differences (ASC), the Smileys and their family foundation were celebrated for outstanding commitment, motivation to others, philanthropic impact and their leadership role during the recent National Philanthropy Day ceremony of the local AFP.

“They believe in giving back to the community both with their time and resources. They believe strongly in hard work, commitment and ethics, which they have clearly demonstrated throughout their lives,” Callahan said in presenting the pair for the award. “We know you are truly ‘best bar none’ in our book.  Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for the Cleveland community. We are all eternally grateful.”

In support of students with learning differences

The Smileys through their Smiley Family Charitable Foundation first became involved with Notre Dame and its ASC in 2014, when the organization became the first to offer a challenge grant to kick off the campaign for an endowment to fund the College center. The Smileys have continued to show their dedication throughout the years with additional gifts totaling over $300,000 to Notre Dame’s ASC.

Along with their support of the College, the Smileys have aided Notre Dame in making connections throughout the community. The pair’s initial outreach eventually led to a gift of $100,000 to the ASC from an anonymous donor.

With the help of their challenge grant, Notre Dame also was able to inspire current ASC families and alumni to give back and help support current and future students. This “overwhelming success” started by the Smiley’s leadership gift resulted in double the amount of donations for the ASC compared to the previous year, according to Shawna Whitlock, vice president for College advancement at Notre Dame.

“As soon as they heard about the impact the center has on the lives of the students who need the service, they generously offered support. They wanted to become involved immediately and find ways to help us grow this service,” Whitlock said in the nomination. “Ray and Eleanor appreciate the individualized approach to education of meeting the students where they are and taking them where they need to be.”

The Smileys have aided not just with philanthropic support for the Notre Dame ASC but also have helped students with learning differences find their way to the College. The ASC was established in 2005 to serve students with documented learning differences who are frequently underserved in postsecondary education. In 2005 the center had one student, today there are over 123 enrolled.

In support of making a change and making a difference

The Smiley family attends numerous events on the Notre Dame campus, from dinners to concerts to the annual Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society induction ceremony for students with learning differences. Each year, ASC students with documented disabilities, who complete 24 undergraduate or 18 graduate credits and achieve a 3.1 GPA are inducted into the society.

“This event is always full of emotion when so many students who have worked hard to successfully overcome their learning differences are inducted into the honor society,” Whitlock said. “The students and parents have thanked the Smiley family for helping them stay in college and supporting their efforts. One student was surprised by the support of the Smiley family. He said it boosted his confidence to have people that believed in the ability of ASC students to make a change by investing in the efforts of the ASC.”

The Smiley family also regularly attends the ASC’s Recognition Day, during which the achievements of the ASC’s seniors are celebrated, along with the professors who helped make the students’ success possible.

Not only are the Smileys supportive of the College’s ASC but also its ecology and environmental science programs. Ray Smiley attended a field trip with Notre Dame biology students. The family foundation also has given to support that program at the College.

“The Smiley Family Foundation made education their focus because they understand that education gives a person the opportunity to move forward and make a difference in the world,” Callahan said in the nomination.

In support of Catholic education, community and family

In addition to their efforts with the College, the Smileys’ philanthropic works have aided the Natural History Museum, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Alzheimer’s Association, Leukemia Society, University of Akron and Western Reserve Land Conservancy, among others. The family also assists other Catholic and postsecondary educational institutions, establishing the Chair for Ethics at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University and helping with Hiram College’s James Barrow Field Station for nature conservancy.

Through scholarship funds, the Smiley Family Foundation also has supported economically challenged students at area high schools, including Benedictine, Holy Name and Padua.

Ray Smiley, who was born and raised in Maple Heights, Ohio, received his high school education from Holy Name in Parma, Ohio, where he graduated with honors. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II. After his tour of duty, he attended John Carroll University and graduated magna cum laude in 1951 with a degree in accounting.

He started his career as a senior accountant at Price Waterhouse.  He was then recruited to become the CFO for McDowell-Wellman Engineering Co.  He went on to become senior manager at Delloite, LLP; and a CFO and vice president at Gilford Instrument Laboratories; and CFO of Bearings, now called Applied Industrial Technologies. He retired in 1992.

His volunteer efforts include serving on numerous boards throughout the greater Cleveland community including at Holy Name, John Carroll and Hiram, among others.

Ray and Eleanor Smiley have been married for 65 years and have eight children and 20 grandchildren.

November 2017


About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master's degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Brian Johnston, chief communications officer, at 216.373.5252 or


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