NORWICH, N.Y. — Despite a rare degenerative disease that has forced her to change the course of her life, Marsha Friedel is still all heart. And she is putting it to good use.
The New Berlin resident and human services student at the SUNY Morrisville Norwich Campus is going to college at age 52, blazing a trail of giving along the way.
Friedel’s spirit and commitment are among the reasons she earned the State University of New York Association of Council Members and College Trustees Award for Excellence in Student Initiative Scholarship.
The scholarship recognizes outstanding academic achievements and extraordinary service to the campus and community. Recipients receive $1,000 and an additional $250 to the charity of their choice. Friedel designated her award to the Norwich Campus Human Services Institute, which develops ongoing partnerships and collaboration between the college and surrounding communities.
“Marsha shares her ideas in the classroom and actively engages other members of the class,” said Julanne Burton, assistant professor and human services program coordinator at the Norwich Campus. “She has demonstrated an extraordinary work ethic and shows great promise as a future human services professional.”
Friedel graduated from Sherburne-Earlville High School, where her propensity for helping others shined as FFA president. She put college on hold to get married, raise six children and help run a family dairy farm.
A turn of events decades later forced her to take a look at her career in farming and choose a less physically demanding path. Diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD), a degenerative condition which causes irregular heartbeat and cardiac disease, she decided to go to college.
“Sheila Marshman (associate professor of agricultural business development) is the reason why I am here,” Friedel said. “She encouraged me to follow my heart; If not farming, what else was I really passionate about? I knew it was helping people.”
It’s evidenced in all aspects of her life.
When a local agency sought volunteers to make desserts for a community-wide Christmas dinner last year, Friedel stepped in. She found sponsors to purchase ingredients and a kitchen where volunteers could make dozens of cookies.
She helped to plan the Human Services Organization’s (HSO) annual Sunday Fun Day at the Norwich Campus, which attracted more than 200 families to a night of games, arts and crafts, and talked the local 4-H group into bringing a petting zoo.
On the Norwich Campus, Friedel is vice president of the campus HSO and serves as the public relations liaison with the campus Student Government Organization. She also is an alumna member of the Unadilla FFA.
An advocate for upstate farm families, she spearheaded an agriculture appreciation day on the Norwich Campus to help local farmers and agriculture enthusiasts.
“When I started in the human services program, I decided that my passion is to help upstate farm families,” Friedel said. “Planning this event came straight from my heart. I feel that agriculture is what keeps New York State beautiful.”
She plans to finish what she started.
“My goals are ambitious,” Friedel said. “I want to create a resource center for agriculture in Chenango County and surrounding areas.”
“Marsha has a unique understanding of the stressors and pressures those who live, work and own businesses within rural America face every day,” Marshman said. “Her own experiences as a farm business owner combined with her degree in human services will benefit many.”