Published March 30, 2020
By Matt Choquette
Each family has a legacy. Inherited and paid forward, a generational passing of the torch.
Kerry, Candice and Jennifer Kushinka, sisters born to Michael and Joyce Kushinka in that order, have turned their family torch into a wildfire, spreading beyond kin into the Rutgers Athletics community.
The Kushinka heritage is rooted in education. Michael Kushinka was the fifth in a line of seven siblings, and the first to graduate high school and attend college thanks to a full athletic scholarship to play football. He became a Hall of Fame Scarlet Knight after serving in the Navy in World War II, then playing in the Golden Age of Rutgers football alongside the legendary Frank Burns. He earned a degree and parlayed his love of learning into a doctorate in education.
Michael married another aspiring academic. He and Joyce, who earned her doctorate in education at Rutgers, instilled the family values in their daughters at an early age. The sisters also acquired through their bloodline an innate passion for football and Rutgers sports.
“He loved Rutgers,” Kerry said of her late father. “It was ingrained in him and he kept his bonds formed ‘On the Banks’ throughout his entire life.”
Michael stayed connected to the game as a high school coach in Chatham, New Jersey. His daughters were around the game from the onset.
“We went to every game we could,” recalled Jennifer, who went to her first Rutgers football game at six weeks old. “I had college football scores in my diary. We were football nerds. Everything revolved around the game.”
The game opened the door for Michael Kushinka, who was raised in an impoverished immigrant family. His American Dream started with an athletic scholarship and continued by passing on an appreciation for education to a growing family. Kerry, Candice and Jennifer not only kept the tradition going in their own expanding clans, but also tied in their father’s roots as a beneficiary of a scholarship when giving back to the University that launched their family’s path.
The sisters created the Drs. Michael and Joyce Kushinka Endowed Football Scholarship at Rutgers. Recently, they expanded their giving to Scarlet Knight student-athletes in the form of two more scholarships – one for women’s basketball and another for women’s soccer, along with gifts to the RAC Revitalization Project and the general Student-Athlete Scholarship Fund.
“Education is the most important thing in our household,” Jennifer said. “To be able to meld our love of sports with academics made the most sense. We want to help a student-athlete get through school without worrying about the bills. Our mother also felt strongly about sports helping students get an education.”
“What better way to honor them than giving an education to Rutgers student-athletes?” Candice posed.
Kerry and Candice are Rutgers alumnae and all three have indelible ties to The State University of New Jersey regardless of their alma mater. Jennifer, a broadcast journalism major, returned home to work for WCTC and host a Football USA scoreboard show, conducting interviews with the week’s ‘Knight to Remember.’ She was the color analyst on Rutgers women’s basketball radio broadcasts in the mid-90s, breaking down the action at the end of the Theresa Grentz regime and the beginning of the C. Vivian Stringer era. Her radio work led to a longtime fandom of RU women’s hoops, 25 years of season tickets and an eventual creation of a women’s basketball scholarship, not to mention a successful career in business news and on a program syndicated by 280 stations nationwide.
Candice also had a deep connection to the ground floor of Rutgers Athletics. She was a math major and a football letterwinner, serving as a team manager for the Scarlet Knights during her four years as a Rutgers student. She worked with the team as a math tutor, attended every practice and every game, with them every step of the way – including the magical 1976 undefeated season. She has held season tickets ever since, still supporting the team through thick and thin while working toward a master’s in computer science and building a career as a systems analyst and manager for IBM and AT&T.
Kerry learned the importance of giving back to her alma mater from her father, who donated through his own humble means and served on the David Bender Trust, which supports eight Rutgers athletic scholarships in Olympic sports. Kerry took her father’s place as a trustee when he passed away. Philanthropy wasn’t the only thing she learned from Dad. Just like her old man, Kerry used her Rutgers education to set her family up for long-term success. Utilizing her contacts from RU, a master’s in communication and a savvy business acumen, Kerry built a blooming company, PharmIntell, which provides information services to the pharmaceutical industry.
Another legacy exists in the David Bender Trophy, awarded to the Scarlet Knights’ top lineman. The first recipient? Mike Kushinka in 1947.
Kerry and Candice are also well on her way to passing down the Scarlet in their veins. Kerry’s daughters, Keely and Dyana, are avid fans. Kerry introduced her grandson, three-year-old Camden, to Rutgers men’s basketball. Camden quickly became an overnight Twitter sensation in a video where he adorably names the Rutgers men’s basketball starting five during a postgame meet-and-greet. Candice’s daughter, Kelsey, is a 2013 Rutgers graduate, and her two sons, Kristian and Ryan have become steadfast supporters of the Scarlet Knights.
“It’s in our blood,” Kerry said.
Jennifer’s most cherished memory of working for WCTC was the interaction with the student-athletes. They each had a story to tell, which she had the pleasure of extracting as a journalist and interviewer. Years later, she still gets the same joy hearing the Scarlet Knights’ stories. All three sisters have attended R Fund events geared toward connecting scholarship donors to their recipients.
The scholarship honoring their parents was bestowed to Saquan Hampton, a 2018 Rutgers football grad and current member of the New Orleans Saints in the NFL. The sisters were impressed at his dedication to academics amid the demanding schedule of being a college football player, along with his constant gratitude toward the family for making his scholarship possible.
“We’re not just donating money,” Candice said. “The scholarships are given right to a young person and we see first-hand how it positively affects them. We have met some outstanding individuals through these scholarships and it’s a great feeling they will be connected to our parents’ names.”
“They need all the support we can possibly give them,” said Jennifer, who also volunteers in literacy programs and animal shelters. “You get back twice what you give. When you see the impact, there is no feeling like it.”
The Kushinka Family now has a 75-year history established in Rutgers athletics and academics, passing along tradition, passion and community. Perhaps the endowed scholarships bearing the Kushinka name will be the beginning of another lineage creating their own generational success story through sport and learning.