The Orange legacy of the family of Charles (Charlie) Raffe ’60, L’62 and Olivia Gruschow Raffe ’61, pictured above, reaches back to the early 1900s, but the couple’s own story began in 1959 when Olivia asked Charlie for a ride back to campus one evening. That evening eventually led to 61 years of marriage. And, while they were committed to one another and their family, they also remained devoted to Syracuse University, both through their financial support and their enthusiasm for their alma mater.
Charlie and Olivia’s generosity to the University dates back to 1972. They both felt strongly about making education accessible for all and gave a number of donations to help that happen for others. Over the years, most of their gifts were directed to the College of Law, but they also gave to the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the University’s Annual Fund.
Before Charlie died suddenly in February, 2023, he documented some of the family’s connections to the University. It began with Olivia’s grandfather, Everett S. Elwood, 1908, who attended what was then called the Liberal Arts College and started the family legacy at Syracuse University. He was the first director of the University’s marching band. In 1921, Everett went on to become the executive secretary and treasurer of the National Board of Medical Examiners and was the only nonmedical member of the board.
Olivia’s great aunt, Ruth White Carr 1914, also attended Syracuse University as a sociology major at a time when there were not many women pursuing a college degree. A trailblazer to be sure, she traveled to China twice as a missionary after college. Ruth later married and settled in Massachusetts.
Everett’s daughter, Barbara Elwood ’38, followed in her father’s footsteps and attended Syracuse. There she met George F. Gruschow ’36, G’38, who graduated from the University affiliated State College of Forestry (now called the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry) and went on to earn his master’s degree from SU. The couple married in 1939.
George went to work for the U.S. Forest Service. Having been involved in ROTC while in college, he was called to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the end of his military career, he held the rank of major. From there, George went back to work for the U.S. Forest Service at the Lee Experimental Forest in Buckingham, VA. Over the years, George authored many scientific articles and was a member of the Society of American Foresters, as well as Xi Sigma Pi, a national forestry honor society.
In 1966, he was named assistant director of research support services at the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station in Ogden, Utah. He retired in 1974 after 36 years with the U.S. Forest Service.
Barbara and George were parents to five children, the oldest of whom was Olivia. Olivia grew up in various places as the family followed her father’s career with the U.S. Forest Service. She attended high school in Virginia in the 1950s where schools were segregated. Not wanting to go to a teacher’s college, which was the path most women were encouraged to take at that time, and eager to continue her education in a place that was not segregated, she chose to attend her parents’ alma mater and enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences.
During her four years at the University, she worked at the Maxwell School Library and was an active member of Chi Omega, as her mother had been, too. Like her father, she was proud to be Orange, and the two of them celebrated their 25th and 50th college reunions, respectively, together on campus in 1986.
Charlie Raffe was a member of Delta Upsilon while an undergraduate at Syracuse. He often remarked that he appreciated that Syracuse took a chance on him by granting him admission to the school—and Charlie did not disappoint. After earning his undergraduate degree and then graduating from the College of Law, he returned home to Riverhead, NY, to practice with his father, Solomon Raffe, at what would become Raffe & Raffe Attorneys at Law. Charlie was especially proud that he was appointed a special town attorney in Riverhead to assist with the development of the town’s parking district. Charlie and Olivia had three daughters: Catherine McNeill, Melinda Trovini, and Deirdre Quinn.
Always philanthropic, Charlie was an active member of a number of organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the Kent Animal Shelter. He was an avid animal lover with a particular fondness for horses—a common interest he shared with his mother, Flora Raffe. He also loved to play cards, achieving the status of life master bridge player. And, he was the most senior member of the Southampton Golf Club for 64 years, where he often provided legal advice as a member of the board.
In 1991, the couple bought a house in Savannah, GA, and divided their time between there and their home in Riverhead, NY, although Charlie remained active in his law firm until he retired just a few years ago. In Georgia, he continued his love of golf as a 30-year member of The Landings Club. During his time out on the links, Charlie achieved every golfer’s dream— two holes-in-one: one at The Landings Club and another at the Southampton Golf Club!
While none of their daughters attended Syracuse University, the legacy did not end with Charlie and Olivia. This May, one of their four grandchildren, Emily McNeill ’23, will graduate from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications as a photography major. (Emily is the daughter of the Raffes’ oldest daughter, Catherine, and her husband, Joseph McNeill, of Colts Neck, NJ.) Olivia is looking forward to attending Emily’s commencement, as she has not been back to campus since the 1980s.
When Emily made her decision to attend Syracuse, her grandparents were elated. Olivia pulled out a Syracuse University diploma belonging to her great aunt, Ruth White Carr, to show her granddaughter and express how proud they were both part of an extended legacy of strong women who attended the University. Emily’s grandfather, Charlie, was equally excited, eagerly showing his granddaughter a Syracuse University pennant he had saved since his college days adorned with a number of pins from the various organizations to which he belonged. Both Charlie and Olivia were especially proud that their granddaughter was accepted into the Renée Crown Honors Program.
“Having my grandmother with me will make a special day even more special,” said Emily, who is headed to work as a product photographer for Fisher-Price in East Aurora, NY. “She always reminisces about all the great times she had here, as well as the story of how she met my grandfather and how his time at the College of Law was so important to our family. I’m proud to extend the Orange legacy of the Raffes, Gruschows—and now the McNeills.”