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Veteran’s Center pioneer lives on through scholarship

The UNF family lost a passionate leader earlier in March, a dedicated advocate for veterans and a committed mother that always found a way to get the job done.

Retired Navy Commander Cynthia Alderson, 55, director of the UNF Military and Veteran’s Resource Center, lost her bout with cancer, but her passion and work ethic never wilted as the cancer strengthened, and her legacy will live on through the center.

“In the hospital, she would ask me to get her computer so she could transfer files for a co-worker,” said her son, UNF graduate Christopher Alderson.

That’s just the kind of person the 32-year-old Navy veteran was.

Cynthia Alderson’s brother, Steve Murley, said she enlisted in the Navy right out of high school, when it was still fairly uncommon for women to volunteer in the armed service. But that accomplishment was just the beginning.

She moved up the naval ranks, becoming a limited duty officer and eventually a full commander by the time she retired, Murley said. Becoming a “Mustang,” which is the unofficial title for someone when they begin as an “E-1” enlisted sailor and work up to full commander, was an unlikely feat for anyone to accomplish, man or woman, he said.

After her military career, she wound up in Jacksonville, where she continued her success. She resurrected a struggling Jacksonville car dealership, making it profitable, before moving on to pursue her passion at then Florida Community College at Jacksonville and eventually UNF, Murley said.

That passion not only fueled her but impressed her family and friends.

“She always wanted to go to work,” said her other brother, David Murley. “Her passion never died.”

David Murley said Alderson saw a gap people fall through after leaving the military while she was in the Navy. She saw difficulties for people transitioning from military to civilian life, and said she committed herself to giving veterans an opportunity to fill that gap after leaving the military.

From this passion sprung the UNF Military and Veteran’s Resource Center, which provides resources for active and veteran military personnel to “successfully make the transition from the military environment to campus life,” according to the center’s website.

Alderson’s mission moved the UNF Alumni association so much that when she shared her idea with them in 2009, it immediately voted to provide funding for all the furniture in the new center, a very uncommon vote to make so quickly.

Now completed, the center will continue working toward the goals Alderson wanted to achieve with the same kind of energy and dedication she brought to the table, said her life partner and Director of Alumni Services Faith Hall.

In addition, a memorial scholarship has been established for active duty military and veteran students at UNF in Alderson’s name at Hall’s request.

“An endowment scholarship is a great way to ensure her vision and passion for veterans lives on,” Hall said.

Alderson’s commitment to the military and UNF did not distract her from being a great mother, daughter and sister, too, her family said.

“She always took time for her profession, took time for her family and took time for her friends,” Steve Murley said.

Alderson dedicated herself to her son’s life, and made his success a priority.

“She put her life on hold to make sure I made every baseball game,” Christopher Alderson said.

She also made sure to never lose track of her roots and was in constant contact with her parents in Kennewick, Wa.

“Like clockwork, our parents could expect a call from Cindy at 2:30 western time four or five days a week,” Steve Murley said. “And then she’d get back on the phone and call (David) or I.”

This obvious caring and affection she had for everyone carried over to all aspects of her life, from her days in the Navy to her family to friends that she made along the way. The UNF Veterans Center was the culmination of her passions, though.

“She loved the UNF community and the people she worked with,” Steve Murley said. “The opportunity to build the center really fulfilled her professionally.”

PULL OUT BOX: You can contribute to the endowment. Checks can be made out to the UNF Foundation for the Cynthia Alderson Endowment Memorial Scholarship Fund and sent to the attention of Pierre Allaire in Institutional Advancement. For more information, contact Bill Delaney in Student Affairs at ext. 5355. A memorial service for Cynthia Alderson will be held.

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