Designing Scholarships for 'New Era' Achievers
By Neill S. Rosenfeld
Larry Gralla (CCNY '51) has never stopped hustling but, thanks to him and wife Yvette ('52), so far 187 of New York City's brightest public high school graduates have not had to hustle to pay tuition at City College.
Larry started the first of four CCNY scholarship funds in 2001 after chairing his 50th college reunion. More than 110 of his 630 Stuyvesant High School classmates attended City, but by century's end, three or fewer came each year. He wanted to restore a tradition.
At Stuyvesant, Larry had aced his tests just by going to class and studying textbooks, but early on his French and math teachers knocked his grades down to 75 to teach him to hand in homework, as well. His three science teachers apparently favored results over process.
Grasping collegiate coursework just as easily, Larry had time to work, selling photos and articles to the college while freelancing sports reports for The New York Times -- a gig his older brother, Milton, passed on after graduating in 1948. His first story, he says, recounted a rifle competition against West Point marksmen. "The headline was, 'Army Shooters Triumph.' No surprise there."
In his senior year, Larry and Milton launched the Nationwide Trade News Service, which connected Chicago and New York publishers with hundreds of U.S. journalists who localized stories. Larry also traveled, selling articles to more than 100 magazines. Milton edited and ran the business.
The going rate was two cents a word, but with Larry's photos, they might earn a steep $50 per story. "We'd send an article to Plumbing Contractor News," he says. "If the editor sent it back, he'd know he'd see it the next month in his competitor, so he'd grit his teeth and buy it."
One story always led to another. Reporting about toy marketing for Playthings Magazine and about window design for Curtain and Drapery Department Magazine at Robeson's Department Store in Champaign, Ill., he also chatted up the lingerie buyer. "In 25 minutes I got four articles for Hosiery and Underwear Review and Lingerie Merchandising Magazine -- sales training, seasonal display, cut-price sales of markdowns and buy-one-get-one-free."
Larry married Yvette after she earned her degree. They had become friendly while taking golf lessons in the Hygiene Building's basement, hitting balls into a mat hung on a wall.
"Larry learned how businesses were run," she says. So when he encountered a Cleveland plumber who was installing complete kitchens, not just subcontracting for part of the job, he spotted a trend. "There was no trade magazine in an emerging field, kitchen remodeling," says Yvette.
While living in Chicago in 1954, Larry incubated his idea in a publishing course at Northwestern University. His term project: designing a home-remodeling magazine. But for secrecy, once again he didn't turn in homework. He failed the course.
Yvette, teaching first grade, used colored pencils to help create a dummy issue, which they took on a road trip. "I'm shocked that anyone I showed this to didn't throw me out of his office," Larry says. But manufacturers were enthusiastic.
"One sticks in my mind," Larry says. "I arrived late at the Mutschler Brothers Co. in Nappanee, Ind. It's after 6 o'clock. There's a fellow leaning against the fence. I said, 'Can I get in? There's a guy named Dick Chapman I'm supposed to see.' Well, that was Chapman and he'd waited an hour. He said, 'I'm giving you a full-page ad for 12 issues.'"
The brothers started Kitchen Business in 1955 with $5,000 from savings. Yvette, Larry and relatives compiled a national mailing list of 15,000 cabinet dealers by scouring Yellow Pages in the New York Public Library.
Gralla Publications eventually became a 22-magazine powerhouse in retail, merchandising and travel, with titles like Professional Furniture Merchant and National Jeweler. It also ran trade shows. Larry was president and general manager and Milton was creative director. They shared decision-making for 40 years without a squabble, Larry says. They sold the company in 1983 and divided the proceeds with the staff.
By the time Larry had learned of the falloff in Stuyvesant grads who chose to study at CCNY, the academic world had changed. By 2001, top students had more options than in the 1940s, including CUNY's own wider array of colleges. On the other hand, the Grallas noted, CUNY was on an upswing under Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, who that year created an honors college with free tuition and other perks to attract high achievers to the University.
Larry worked on a parallel program with Elena Sturman, executive director of the philanthropic City College Fund and, he says, a creative fundraiser. Grants are $5,000 to $7,500 a year, and the CCNY admissions office awards them based on high SAT scores. Students must maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average and be in an honors program.
After recruiting the first six Stuyvesant grads, they targeted graduates of the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech. Starting in 2009, the Grallas funded "New Era" scholarships for graduates of 11 other respected schools: Bayside, Benjamin Cardozo, Dewitt Clinton, Edward R. Murrow, Forest Hills, Fort Hamilton, Francis Lewis, Hunter, LaGuardia Music and Art, Midwood and Townsend Harris.
To date, the scholarships have helped 74 students from Stuyvesant, 42 from Bronx Science, 14 from Brooklyn Tech and 57 from New Era schools. The retention rate is astonishing: Only two failed to graduate or left CCNY.
Larry encourages other alumni to dig deep. More than 1,200 Stuyvesant-CCNY graduates and about 1,000 Bronx Science-CCNY alumni have contributed. The Brooklyn Tech campaign is beginning. Sturman said total donations top $5.4 million.
Donors "all say City College gave me a chance. It transformed my life," says Yvette, who worked part time at Gralla Publications, analyzing sales statistics, after teaching school for a number of years. "Now is the time to give back. City College is again doing what it did when we were there, offering a truly outstanding education to those who are willing to work. We're thrilled to see this happening and to be able to be part of it."