Thursday, July 7, 2016

UNO Alumni Turned Legacy Society Members Credit UNO for Creating a Path of Success

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Anthony Centanni was 15 when he started dating Annette Johnson. He went to Ridgewood Preparatory High School and she went to Mount Carmel Academy.

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Centanni knew he’d be going to college. His father was a doctor and so that part was decided.

But when it came to selecting which college he should attend, it took just one factor to make up his mind: Annette Johnson.

Johnson, a consummate student who wanted to become a teacher, was going to the University of New Orleans, then called Louisiana State University in New Orleans. If Centanni wanted to marry Annette Johnson—and he did—he would be going to UNO, too.

Fifty-five years, one marriage, three degrees, two children and one grandchild later, the couple credit UNO with giving them the lives they wanted for themselves and their families. She got her degree in the spring of 1965. And because it was during the era when UNO held only one commencement per year, he received his degree in 1966 after finishing his last course in the summer of 1965. They like to boast that when they married in 1965, they both had jobs, paychecks and a measure of stability.

That’s why, all these years later, UNO has a place in their estate plans. The Centannis, who make it a priority to donate money and time to the causes they believe in, have long counted UNO in their charitable giving. But, by becoming members of the UNO Legacy Society, they know they can give a gift more on par with the gratitude they feel toward the institution.

“We love UNO and we’ve always been so grateful for our education here,” said Annette. “It’s so much a part of our success.”

As an accounting major, Centanni says, John Altazan paved a road for him. Altazan, the founding dean of the College of Business Administration, was always attuned to job openings suitable for his graduates and provided the recommendation Centanni needed for his first position at a public accounting firm. That job gave Centanni the springboard he needed to go to work for Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company, a subsidiary of Murphy Oil Corp., where he remained until his retirement 35 years later.

Johnson, who became Annette Centanni when the couple married, began working as an elementary school teacher. She taught for 27 years in public and private schools, received a master’s degree in elementary education from UNO in 1971, and even accumulated 30-plus hours toward a doctorate. Teaching felt like her calling, she said, and UNO gave her the foundation she needed.

Established in 2014, the Legacy Society seeks to recognize UNO alumni and friends who have chosen to have a significant impact on the University by leaving an estate gift. So far, the University has identified 26 members. Eric Balukonis, who oversees major gifts and planned giving in the UNO Office of Advancement, says the University believes there are many others who plan to give who have not informed UNO of their intentions.

For the Centannis, now both 72 years old, UNO is a source of rich memories. Between them, they speak highly of UNO’s faculty. There was Marie LaGarde, a French professor who took a keen interest in her students; Altazan, who Anthony says, was “kind, understanding” and “always made his presence known, even to freshmen"; Thomas Harwood, a longtime UNO history professor who taught a memorable Louisiana history course; Stephen Ambrose, the famed historian, author and founder of the National World War II Museum; and Dorothy Bratsas, who taught Spanish at UNO for more than 40 years.

“I’m telling you,” Anthony said of Bratsas, “she was a godsend. I can’t say that Spanish was one of my best subjects, but in her class it was.”

When it came time for their own children to go to college, both Anthony Centanni, Jr. (B.S. Accounting, ’93) and Loren Centanni Camp (B.A. Sociology, ’91) chose UNO, as well.

The Centannis have also become acquaintances with Philip Harmelink, accounting chair in the College of Business Administration, and Juliette Ioup, professor of physics, since their time at UNO. Like Anthony, Harmelink and Ioup are organists and they know one another from years of playing organ in and around the city.

The couples’ other hobbies and volunteer interests include being Friends of the Jefferson Public Library, where Annette serves on the board and has clocked over 500 volunteer hours a year for the past nine years, doing whatever she can to help raise money for library programs.

Giving back is part of the fabric of their lives, it seems. And UNO has long been a part of that, inspiring them to give whenever they get that phone call from UNO seeking support.

“We’re not rich people,” Annette said. “But we do make a donation and we give a Murphy Oil Corporation matching gift. Why not? We love UNO … We were happy here.”

Anthony said he knows their dollars go far at UNO—and it should.

“It’s so much a part of our success and what has happened to us,” he said. “UNO gave us the foundation for being here. It really gave me a solid foundation so that when I went into the accounting field I really knew what I was doing. … The experience was always top notch.”

For more information about the Legacy Society and how to become a Legacy donor, click here or contact Eric Balukonis, 504-280-6159 or