William Searle and his wife Madonna “DJ” Jones-Searle of Enfield light up when they talk about what Asnuntuck Community College means to them. Their time at Asnuntuck spans decades and their commitment to the institution that brought them together is as strong as ever. The couple will each be honored during Asnuntuck’s Commencement with honorary associate of arts degrees.
The ceremony will take place May 25, 6 p.m. at Dunkin’ Park, Hartford Yard Goats’ stadium in Hartford. This recognition is part of the institution’s celebration of 50 years of service to the community.
DJ says the recognition is an honor and Asnuntuck is the greatest place around. Bill reminds everyone that Asnuntuck’s emphasis was and is all about community.
Bill began his journey at Asnuntuck in 1973. His roots may be in Maine where he grew up, but Connecticut is where his branches grew even stronger. A graduate of Trinity College, Bill recalls being one of only 16 fellow high school grads in Maine, out of a class of 135, who went on to college. Bill recalls, “My students remind me of the friends I grew up with. I wanted to give them the chance that my friends never got.”
Known as one of the founding fathers of the college, Bill from 1971-74 was deeply involved with the early stages of Connecticut’s Community College system. He moved from work with Connecticut’s State General Assembly to become a coordinator of community services for the Board of Trustees for Connecticut’s Community Colleges. It was in 1974 when he was hired full-time as the director of instruction. Bill has held many titles at the college including that of faculty member, program coordinator, and director of the Center for Teaching.
DJ’s path to Asnuntuck came one year after she became a widowed mom with two young children in 1977. She had three years of college under her belt from her time at Mary Washington College in Virginia and studies at Eastern Carolina University. But the full degree was what she yearned to earn. Encouragement from Joan Reuter, who established Asnuntuck’s Cooperative Children’s Reading Room, was the support she needed to return to school. She earned her associate of science degree at Asnuntuck in 1983 and continued her education at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). She worked in Asnuntuck’s Financial Aid office as a vendor while she took classes at CCSU at night and earned a master’s degree in organizations management. She worked three years at Manchester Community College and returned to Asnuntuck to serve as acting director of Financial Aid and then became director, a role she held until her retirement in 2015.
Bill mentored DJ early in her time at Asnuntuck as a professor helping her navigate how she could continue her education. The two married in 1985.
“Bill and DJ have served the Asnuntuck campus and surrounding community for nearly 50 years and have counseled and educated thousands of students,” says Asnuntuck’s CEO Dr. Michelle Coach. “Their reach and impact extend beyond what we can put to paper; they champion education.”
The couple remains committed to many causes and organizations in Enfield including Asnuntuck. DJ has served on the college’s Foundation Golf Tournament Committee and board of directors for The Network Against Domestic Abuse for 31 years. Bill sat on the board of directors for the Enfield Girls Basketball and Softball Associations and is active with Asnuntuck’s Foundation. He is serving on the college’s 50th Anniversary Committee.
The two offer the Class of 2023 very valuable advice. Bill says, “Stand up for what you stand for with dignity and respect for all.” DJ says, “Give back and start with your community.” She reminds students that they don’t have to look far to help. She named Asnuntuck’s Food Pantry, The Network, the Enfield Food Shelf, and Enfield’s Loaves and Fishes as places where they can make a substantial impact with their time or financial donations.
The public is invited to attend the Commencement and celebrate Bill and DJ’s recognition and the Class of 2023.
Asnuntuck is among 12 community colleges in Connecticut merging on July 1 to become CT State Community College, one of the largest community colleges in the country and largest in New England, dedicated to quality, access, and affordability. CT State students will be able to apply once and take classes at any campus. In addition to Asnuntuck, other locations include Capital (Hartford), Gateway (New Haven & North Haven), Housatonic (Bridgeport), Manchester, Middlesex (Middletown & Meriden), Naugatuck Valley (Waterbury & Danbury), Northwestern Connecticut (Winsted), Norwalk, Quinebaug Valley (Danielson & Willimantic), Three Rivers (Norwich), and Tunxis (Farmington) Community Colleges.