By Andrew J. Concatelli
Completing a history major may not have led directly to his long career as a retailer and manufacturer of apparel, but Michael Wallace ’57 believes that his strong liberal arts education continues to fuel his never-ending quest for knowledge. “It helped me learn how to learn,” Wallace says of his time at Trinity. “I enjoyed it very much.”
A lifelong passion for learning, Wallace says, is what unites Trinity alumni of any age, in any location. As the founder of the Trinity Club of Southwest Florida in Naples, Wallace has scheduled guest lecturers at the club’s Monthly Speaker Series each winter for the past 15 years. “Our alumni don’t just want to be entertained; they want to be educated. They enjoy learning about the community and topics like human trafficking, immigration, and government,” Wallace says. “Trinity education is about giving back, so in addition to giving back to the College, our members are exposed to all of these local things and have become involved by giving to migrant workers, to the need for fresh water, and to charities that we care about after they’re presented to us.” Speakers have included representatives from the Florida Wildlife Federation, a local children’s museum, the League of Women Voters, the Naples Historical Society, and experts on topics such as elder law, autism spectrum disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Originally from Illinois, Wallace followed one of his three older brothers to Trinity. “My sophomore year I had to drop out because I didn’t have enough money, but I came back the next year,” he says. “Because I was from the Middle West, I wanted to go back there after I graduated, and I found that my Trinity education was of value.” He eventually became the founder and sole shareholder of The Acorn Shops, which operated 55 retail stores in nine states, before selling the company in 1990. He then became the founder and sole shareholder of Bellepointe Sportswear Co., a designer and manufacturer of ladies’ apparel, which he sold in 2001. Wallace now spends his summers in Pentwater, Michigan, and his winters in Naples.
The Trinity Club of Southwest Florida began in 2001, when Wallace asked a fellow alumnus to join him for lunch. More Bantams began to join the gatherings, and now the group regularly includes 20 to 25 alumni and their spouses. In addition to alumni, the lunch meetings are open to anyone who seeks to build a connection with other members of the Trinity community. Wallace says he regularly welcomes current students, former trustees, and retired members of the Trinity faculty and administration. “We customarily meet the second Wednesday of every month, January through April, at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club,” Wallace says. “We have our luncheon right on the water, on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s very casual. We have no budgets, no dues, and no honorariums. It’s all Dutch treat.”
To add more variety to the club’s programming, Wallace organizes field trips to places such as a migrant workers’ center, botanical gardens, and a Holocaust museum. Next season will feature a tour of Fenway South, the winter home of the Boston Red Sox.
The increased sense of school pride and camaraderie is one of the clear benefits of the club’s gatherings. “Alumni discover each other, and then the friendships build up,” Wallace says. “There’s a lot of spirit involved.” Trinity’s Office of Alumni Relations provides Wallace with favors to distribute at meetings and mails postcards about the speaker series to local alumni. But Wallace himself follows up by making around 50 phone calls each month to help encourage attendance, and the response has been very encouraging. “I’ve had three other organizations from other colleges contact me to find out how we do it,” he says.
“Michael works the phone lines to generate enthusiasm and participation in ways few alumni do,” says Steve Donovan, Trinity’s director of alumni relations. “He’s extremely warm and charming and knows so many Trinity alumni. Our alumni in Southwest Florida look to Mike for current news from the College as they know he is so tuned in.”
Wallace is pleased that his efforts have had such a positive impact. “It’s really about communication, friendship, and building the College’s name up,” Wallace says. “I must say, it’s work, but I’m glad to do it because it’s made people happy.”