Family of fisheries industry leader establishes scholarship
for mid-career students at URI
KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 14, 2002 -- When Kenelm Coons decided to go back to school to earn his masters degree in marine affairs, he was already old enough to be the father of most students at the University of Rhode Island. Not only that, but he was going through a difficult time personally and professionally.
While that combination of circumstances could easily lead to difficulties in the classroom, Coons instead found his two years at URI to be a turning point in his life.
"My time at URI came at a pivotal point in my life," he said recently. "It was a real defining moment for me."
The North Kingstown resident used his new degree and contacts to launch a career serving the fisheries industry in New England.
After 23 years working first as director of the Rhode Island Seafood Council and later as executive director of the New England Fisheries Development Association, family and friends have honored his contributions to the industry by establishing a scholarship in his name at URI.
"The scholarship came as a total surprise to me, but I think its a great idea because I used what I learned at URI every week of my career," said Coons.
Coons son, Steve, said that the entire Coons family supported the idea of creating the scholarship. "We wanted to come up with a way to acknowledge his accomplishments while also helping someone else in similar circumstances who might end up making an impact on the industry."
More than $6,000 has been pledged to the endowed scholarship by family members so far, and an additional $4,000 is expected to be raised by the end of the year. The scholarship is specifically designed to support a student who has returned to school in mid-career to earn a masters degree in marine affairs, exactly as Coons did.
"My mother was a great seafood cook, and I grew to love the seafood business back when I was working in the packaged food industry," explained Coons. He described his job at the Rhode Island Seafood Council as "a great fit. I loved helping people, dealing with the media and working with legislators. And it was a good primer for the Fisheries Development Association."
Established by Coons and several other fisheries industry leaders, the New England Fisheries Development Association was formed in 1980 to serve as an industry trade association and as a vehicle to compete for federal grants for fisheries development. As its one and only executive director, Coons helped the industry improve product quality, find markets for waste material, address food safety issues, and increase seafood consumption.
"It was wildly successful for over 20 years, but the days of underutilized species are over now," noted Coons. So with his retirement last month also came the dissolution of the association. He believes that a successor organization will eventually be formed with the job of educating the public about fisheries issues.
Retirement has not slowed Coons down, though. He is still actively involved in providing industry information to fishermen, processors, distributors and markets via a weekly electronic newsletter, CoonsFishFacts.
During a party to celebrate his retirement, one of Coons former professors at URI, Dennis Nixon, now associate dean of the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences, read a letter Coons wrote when he applied to study at the University 25 years ago. "In the letter," Coons recalls, "I wrote what my career aspirations were, and they matched exactly with what I actually did in my career. Amazing!"
Thanks to his success and the generosity of his family and friends, future URI marine affairs students will receive the support and motivation to follow in his footsteps.
"We are so pleased that Ken's family has chosen to honor him in such a selfless and thoughtful way," said URI Senior Development Officer Katherine Horoschak. "Its obvious that through his life and work, Ken has made an important impact on his family, the fishing industry, and all of New England. This scholarship will ensure that he will continue to infliuence and better the lives of others. I hope that all of Ken's friends and colleagues will take the opportunity to say thank you by supporting the Ken Coons Marine Affairs Scholarship."
For Information: Katherine Horoschak 401- 874-4460, Todd McLeish 401-874-7892