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The Communicator


A Family Affair

Q&A with Vivienne Bellisario

Viv Bellisario stands for a portrait

Vivienne “Viv” Bellisario received an Honorary Alumni Award from the Penn State Alumni Association in early June for recognition as a longtime benefactor and champion for the University.

The Alumni Association has given the Honorary Alumni Award since 1973 to recognize individuals who, while not graduates of Penn State, have significantly worked toward bettering the University.

Viv and her husband Don have supported the Bellisario College with transformational gifts that have supported students, faculty development, facilities and more. In the past quarter century, Viv, who greatly values family, has developed strong connections with Penn State.

Dean Marie Hardin of the Bellisario College recently talked with Viv about the award, her relationship with the University, her family and much more.

Marie Hardin: First, congratulations on your designation as Penn State’s newest honorary alumna. You have become a beloved part of our community.

Vivienne Bellisario: We are so proud.

Marie: Don has been honored by the University as a distinguished alumnus. You’ve been with him on his campus visits for many years, and you have been a great booster and supporter of our faculty, staff and students. Tell us how you and Don met. What connected you?

Viv: We had two boys in high school that were best friends, and they set us up. Don was supposed to come and pick up Michael, his son, who was pretty much living at my house at that time. Don honked the horn and said, ‘Come on, I’m in a hurry.’ Michael gave him the gesture to come in. He waved for Don to come in, and he turned around and walked back into the house. So, you know, he had to come in. He came in, and he left about four hours later. It’s pretty cool when the kids set you up.

These kids are now in their mid-40s. We’re actually a great family, a blended family. And we all love each other, and we’re all together quite often. It’s an important part of Don’s and my life.

Viv and Don Bellisario

Marie: Tell us about your family, and the role of family.

Viv: I’m the youngest of five. We are still very, very close. It’s all about family, and that’s the thing I love about Don, who has a big family. We have a terrific relationship with every one of them, and all of them together. I was at a function the other night when Troian was up speaking in front of a crowd. And during one part, she said, ‘… and my brother, Chad, …. My brother did this.’ Chad [Murray] is my son. I love the fact that she calls him her brother.

Marie: Tell us about the interests and the joys that you and Don share.

Viv: Well, what comes to my mind is golf. He taught me how to play golf. Now I beat him. We go as much as possible. And we love movies and television. My son [Sean Murray] was and still is an actor. Of course, when I met Don, I had no clue who he was. When I met him, actually, Michael said to me, ‘You should meet my dad. He’s a producer.’ And I went, ‘Oh, my God, Michael! Every other man in town is a producer.’

Marie: That’s a fun story! Another common interest is, of course, Penn State. You’ve been visiting for many years — do you remember your first impressions?

Viv: It was much bigger than I had imagined. Coming from a different country [Australia], it was all totally different for me. I was kind of overwhelmed.

Marie: I understand. Penn State is like a little city.

Viv: It is, for sure.

Viv and Don Belisario walking hand in hand

Marie: So, had you ever been to a college football game before visiting Penn State?

Viv: I had no idea about the rules of football at all. As a matter of fact, my favorite story to tell is that we were down on the field with these huge guys, just, you know — massive guys. And Joe Paterno was there. I jokingly said to Joe, ‘So, Joe, I don’t see the yellow lines,’ because all I’d seen was
on television.

Marie: You’ve obviously made friends in the Penn State community over the years, including Joe and Sue Paterno, Graham Spanier and others. Can you talk a little bit about the friendships that you’ve made?

Viv: There are so many people that I’ve met. I’ve really enjoyed being with faculty. So wonderful. Always ready to help and do whatever they can for you. And [former Dean] Doug Anderson, a very special man. And Kevin Musick, who worked with the Bellisario College. And the lovely Marie Hardin. We’ve become, I think, more than just acquaintances and friends. It’s like family.

Marie: Agreed! The Penn State family. You’ve brought friends and family with you on your visits. I love it because I’ve met so many fascinating people! What do you want them to know about Penn State?

Viv: They see the love that’s put into everything — every aspect of teaching these kids. My brother was absolutely blown away when he was visiting.

Marie: I’m sure that until they see it themselves, it’s hard to even describe to them.

Viv: Yes. Like you said, it’s like a little city. I came from a town [near Wollagong, Australia]. When I grew up, there were only 800 people where I lived. It was a big deal when we got a stop sign put in.

Marie: Talk about your childhood, and what was formative for you growing up there.

Viv: I just had a wonderful childhood.

Marie: How would you describe yourself as a student growing up?

Viv: You don’t want to hear this. I was very lazy and didn’t pay attention until one day my English teacher threw a book at me. Really, he did, and I kind of smartened up a bit. I was good in school, but I was lazy. I just wanted to be outside.

Marie: You were an athlete!

Viv: Absolutely. I did fencing. I was a national fencing champion. I did track and swimming. I was always competitive, and in all sports, including javelin and shot put. I was tall and I was strong. I should have gone to the Olympics. I was chosen for fencing. But I discovered boys, and I got lazy and didn’t. That was my bad.

Marie: You mentioned golf earlier. You’re very good at it! You play when you visit Penn State each year.

Viv: The thing with golf is that you can never get to the end. You play brilliantly one day, and you go out the next, and somebody else is in your body who has never played golf before. So, it’s a constant challenge, a different challenge every day.

Marie: Was there a moment on a visit when you thought, ‘I’m a Penn Stater’?

Viv: Yes. It was when President Barron took us down onto the field [at the halftime of a 2017 home game with Michigan] with you and announced to the stadium the commitment we made, and the stadium went wild.

Marie: Wasn’t that amazing?

Viv: Yes, amazing.

Marie: That was a gift that you and Don both gave me, letting me accompany you onto the field. I will never forget that sea of white in front of us. So, thank you for that.

Viv: You’re welcome. That was special.

Marie: Viv, you’ve seen many football games. You’ve visited classes. You’ve spent time with students in the Bellisario Media Center. What’s been most impressive to you? What do you cherish the most?

Viv: What first comes to mind is the students and the faculty, the love of the school and how excited they are to be there. And scholarships that are given out every year: Amazing! The letters the students write us every year brings tears to your eyes. They’re in situations that are very difficult for them to attend Penn State, and when they get there, oh, my gosh, it’s their life. It’s just been amazing.

Marie: For you it’s about the students, and helping the students, and I just want to tell you that it is so admirable.

Viv: Thank you. It brings tears to my eyes. And I just tell a story about one of the letters. A young man wrote and said, ‘My family was so excited that I received a scholarship that we all went out to dinner at TGI Friday’s, and I was even allowed to have dessert.’ It gets me every time I think about it.

Marie: What are your hopes for students who have received support from you and Don?

Viv: That they achieve their dreams for their lives and families. Take it to the highest level and just go for it. They’re very, very fortunate to attend Penn State.

Marie: Tell us what it means to become an honorary alumna.

Viv: Honestly, it’s a little confusing to me. You know, I never went to college. We couldn’t afford to go. I went to work to help pay the rent.

Marie: That must be part of the reason you feel so strongly about the students having this opportunity, right?

Viv: Yes. I wasn’t given it. They have to make the best of it.