Madeline Dreifus says that when it was time to choose a college, Brooklyn College chose her. “I graduated from Erasmus Hall High School and came from modest means. The only way I could attend college full-time was to go to a tuition-free school.” Today, she has found a new way to create this kind of experience for Brooklyn College students.

Along with her husband, Madeline founded The Charles and Madeline Dreifus Student Success Fund at Brooklyn College. Both she and Charles are first-generation college students, graduates of the City University of New York (Charles is a Baruch alumnus), and deeply committed to giving back.

“We always felt that when the time came, if we were fortunate enough, we would help make life a little easier for today’s students.”

The Charles and Madeline Dreifus Student Success Fund provides scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. It also covers completion and emergency grants, internship stipends, books, fees, transportation, and student research.

Madeline’s Path

Madeline came to campus in the early 1960s knowing she wanted to be an elementary school teacher. She always loved school, her teachers, and children.

“You have to put everything in the context of the time,” says Madeline. “Girls grew up thinking, ‘We’ll become nurses or teachers.’ There was no question that those were professions where women were easily employed.”

Charles Dreifus elaborates. “In those days, students majored in something that could get you a job upon graduation. In Madeline’s case, teaching. In my case, accounting.” Charles went on to become a portfolio manager and managing director at Royce Investment Partners, and worked in executive portfolio management positions at Lazard Frères & Co. (today Lazard Ltd.) and Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

Madeline says teaching was attractive because it had its perks: summers off and a chance to travel outside her Flatbush neighborhood. Throughout Madeline’s childhood, everything was “local.” She and her peers attended the nearest public schools. She rarely ventured out to other boroughs, mainly because the 30-cent roundtrip subway fare was out of reach. During her teacher training, she babysat to afford the fare to elementary schools in Sheepshead Bay and Borough Park.

She says her experience at Brooklyn College was eye-opening, from meeting students from other parts of the borough to reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. “I never imagined I’d be reading Joyce,” she says.

“My time at the college opened me up to new things. I even taught myself the ukulele as part of my teacher training,” she says, laughing. “We were required to teach ourselves an instrument so we could teach students. I have played ‘Happy Birthday’ on it for my grandchildren.”

Brooklyn Meets Baruch

For Madeline, opening up to new experiences was not confined to Brooklyn College. Thanks to her future sister-in-law who knew “a nice boy from Baruch,” the education major found herself on a blind date at Jahn’s ice cream shop at Church and Flatbush Avenues.

There, she and Charles Dreifus discussed the challenge of completing term papers, especially given that Madeline didn’t have a typewriter. “Charlie,” as she calls her husband, “gave me a 1964 Olivetti typewriter for my 18th birthday.” The couple married in 1966, two months after they graduated.

Looking Forward by Giving Back

Today, the Dreifuses draw parallels between their experience and that of current Brooklyn College students. “The names and national origins differ, but the similarities are there,” Charles says about first-generation college graduates.

“Even so, the needs today are more startling,” adds Madeline. She is referring to the challenge of tuition that she and her husband did not have to face.

“But it’s beyond that,” says Charles. “It’s MetroCards, food insecurity, childcare, rent, and all kinds of ancillary issues. My parents came from Germany. They worked in factories, but the cost of living was much cheaper in those days.”

Philanthropy is nothing new for the Dreifuses, but until recently, they preferred to remain anonymous about it. “We felt like maybe it was showing off, immodest,” says Charles. “But then we listened to some smart people who told us that using our name may inspire more people to support our alma maters.”

Madeline believes that the Charles and Madeline Dreifus Success Fund is a form of paying it forward. “There’s a Hebrew phrase, l’dor vador, which means one generation to the next. We’re hoping that as students succeed, they will pull others up alongside them,” she says. “That’s been our motivation. Creating the fund has been easy because it’s so satisfying for us to be able to do it. We are very grateful.”