'Growing that legacy'

Sam Abdelnour took over as SJPS Foundation’s president in January for Bill Marohn.

ST. JOSEPH —  Sam Abdelnour has some big shoes to fill.

As the new president of the St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation, Abdelnour is taking over for Bill Marohn who stepped down at the end of 2018.

Born in Detroit, Abdelnour grew up in Livonia and made his way to Southwest Michigan when he was hired into Whirlpool Corp.

Abdelnour retired from the appliance maker in 2018 after more than 40 years, with his last position being the head of sales in Whirlpool’s North America Region.

Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski sat down with Abdelnour to discuss his new role within the school district.

When did you join the foundation?

I knew Bill Marohn throughout my career at Whirlpool and he called me up one day to talk about the golf outing Whirlpool does to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club and local schools. A couple weeks later he asked to have lunch with him. What I didn’t realize was that going to talk about the golf tournament was my audition. At lunch he said he’d like me to be his replacement.

What was your reaction?

I’m not on the school board or any of the committees, so I thought there were more qualified people who have done this for years and deserved the opportunity. And he said “there are, but I want you.” He was very persistent. I started attending meetings to find out what they were doing. I’ve always been a supporter of the foundation.

Tell me about your affiliation with education.

I remember as a young guy starting my life with my wife, we transferred a lot with Whirlpool. My wife never found a house first. She always found a school. And once she found the school, she found the house. I started to understand that as our children got older.

What kind of role do you think the foundation should play?

I’ve heard about how tough it is for the government to support certain things in public schools. You hear about programs going away and I always saw the foundation as an opportunity to continue to do things but to also enrich a program.

Bill Marohn always used to say that the schools provide the cake and we’re the icing. You’ve probably heard that.

Yeah I’ve heard him say that a couple times.

I think it’s an easy way to think about it. It’s easy to get caught up in this idea as a foundation that you want to have a voice in the curriculum. When in fact that’s the job of the school, administrations, the superintendent and the state. Our job is to provide the extras.

Did your kids go to St. Joe?

I have three daughters. They all graduated from St. Joe. I saw that they all graduated because we moved around a lot with Whirlpool. All roads lead back here.

What’s your favorite thing about this school district?

I think it’s amazing how long the school’s been around. What I’m most impressed with is how strong these schools have been in the community. The support of the alumni association has been phenomenal.

What’s the reception been like since you became president?

I said this the other day. Throughout my career you have two opportunities. One is to follow someone who didn’t do so well and you hit the ground running. And another is to take over for somebody that knocked it out of the park. Hopefully you ride those coattails and it causes you to be a little humble. A day doesn’t go by that people remind me about the big shoes I’ll be filling.

I think it’s great. It just demonstrates the great job that Bill Marohn did, the things he accomplished and the team he brought together. I see my job as growing that legacy.

So where do you go from here?

Bill Marohn has taken us to this point and now it’s an opportunity for us to think big and do something special. It’s my job to keep people thinking that way and get them motivated.

I’ve been covering this district for three years now and I’ve never seen a foundation like this before in my previous jobs. Do you have any goals for this foundation moving forward?

We always need donors. This is a heavily asked community. People are asked constantly to give to causes. So we’re competing against everybody else for a piece of your paycheck. I think it’s important we find the projects that resonate with parents of students and alumni that want to get involved in.

And it’s our job to prepare students the best we can and give the tools to the school system to take them to the next level.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski