All in the Family: Getz parents and children feel that campus is their second home

Louie Love binds commencement speaker, boyfriend, their parents

Photo/Mike Lovett

The Getzes, from left, David '15, Ken ’84, Ellyn '13, Debra (Hassenfeld) ’85 and Julia.

Debra Hassenfeld and Ken Getz on his Brandeis graduation day in 1984.

Ken ’84 and Debra Hassenfeld Getz ’85 never lobbied their daughter Ellyn ’13 to attend Brandeis. There was no pushing, prodding, poking or promising. It wasn’t really necessary.

“I feel I grew up on this campus,” Ellyn says. “Every time I came to visit with my parents, it just felt like home to me. I would look at the students and say, ‘I can see myself going here and being friends with these kids.’ It was always Number 1 on my list.”

Ken and Debra frequently brought Ellyn and her siblings (brother David ’15 and sister Julia, a high school student) to campus from their home in nearby Sharon, Mass., for plays, musical performances, exhibitions at the Rose Art Museum and Reunion. They even snuck in a picnic atop the Sachar International Center – a practice that has since been banned – when Ellyn was 8 or 9.

“We would never force our children to go to our alma mater, but I think that through the years they came to know how fond we were of Brandeis,” Debra says. “And they also met many successful Brandeis people who had attributed their success to Brandeis.”

When Ellyn enrolled in August 2009, she discovered the same welcoming campus her parents had found – a unique community built around principles of social justice and fairness that respected differences in ethnicity, religion and opinion. Professors became mentors and friends.

Ellyn adroitly managed to juggle classroom challenges – she’s a double major in business and theater – with an extensive list of extracurricular activities: theater undergraduate departmental representative; business manager and lead vocalist for Spellbound; performer and events coordinator for Starving Artists; Roosevelt Fellow and group fitness instructor.

At commencement on Sunday, Ellyn will deliver the undergraduate student address. She began working on her remarks last summer, and then was chosen as the speaker after a rigorous selection process. Nearly 30 seniors applied to give the speech.

“I am so excited and honored to speak to my peers and the Brandeis community, but also to my parents,” Ellyn says. “They are my two biggest role models.”

Ellyn’s parents, brother and sister will be among a crowd of more than 8,000 people gathered at the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center to hear her reflect on her four years at Brandeis.

“We’ll be beaming and kvelling with pride,” Debra says. “It’s hard to believe that she will be up on the podium representing the student body and the school. It’s wonderful that she has the privilege of addressing her community.”

Like her parents, Ellyn found “Louie Love” at Brandeis. She has been dating Ryan Slade ’13 since their sophomore years. He is also a Brandeis legacy; his parents, Nancy Title Wernick ’82 and Mark Slade ’82, are alumni. His cousin Matthew Zunitch ’13 is the son of Sharon Slade Loveridge ’85 and Daniel Zunitch ’84.

Ken and Debra met during a nuclear awareness seminar that was being led by sociology professors Gordie Fellman and Morrie Schwartz.

“I saw Debra before she saw me,” Ken remembers. “I had seen her before conducting the choir at a concert and I made a mental note that I wanted to meet her. And then, lo and behold, we were at this seminar together.”

Ken and Debra grew close in part due to a shared love of music. He was the lead singer in a campus rock band, Aphasia. Debra majored in music, sang in the choir, played piano in several chamber groups and studied conducting.

The Getzes have stayed connected with Brandeis through the years. They have supported the Alumni Annual Fund since graduation and established the Dan Getz Endowed Fund for Heart Disease Research in honor of Ken’s brother, who died of a massive heart attack at the age of 37.

Ken, the director of sponsored-research programs and a professor at Tufts University’s Center for the Study of Drug Development, has also spoken frequently to Brandeis students at career forums and served as a guest lecturer in the Business of Biotechnology course.

Categories: Alumni, General, Student Life

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