A Couple’s Generosity Connects them Across the USF Spectrum

Jean and Phil Amuso

Feb. 28, 2024

Jean and Phil Amuso’s philanthropic roots run deep at the University of South Florida, entwining many facets of the institution they love – most notably the Alumni Association, the newly named Samuel P. Bell, III College of Public Health building, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. 

Their generosity has involved giving through the USF Foundation’s Office of Gift Planning, including a handful of endowed scholarships. But the truth is, they might never have intersected with USF at all if not for certain twists of fate that forever changed their lives and, in Phil’s case, saved it.

Jean began her post-secondary education at the University of Tampa, leading to a budding career in social work. Her first big job after graduation was with the state’s social service agency, working in the field to get experience and then completing her graduate work at FSU. That opened the door to an adjunct teaching position at USF at the School of Social Work where she eventually became the Director of the School of Social Work from 1994-2003.

“When Phil and I were in a position to make donations to USF, we wanted to look at scholarships because we hated the thought of the debt students accrue to get through college,” she says. “Many entry level jobs in critical fields have low starting salaries and paying off huge student loans is almost impossible.”

Phil, meanwhile, didn’t have his eyes set on USF when he graduated from high school in 1969. Instead, he wanted to continue playing football in college as a preferred walk-on at Marshall University in West Virginia, where one of his high school football coaches had played. A family health crisis, however, forced him to abandon the dream of competing with the Thundering Herd, a deep disappointment at the time. Instead, he enrolled at USF to be close to his family in Sarasota, two decades before the arrival of the Bulls football program. 

Yet, because of that decision, he was not on the Southern Airways plane carrying the Marshall football team that crashed on Nov. 14, 1970, killing all 75 passengers. 

“I would have been on that plane,” he says. “As a young person, something like that has a tremendous effect on you. It was a life-changing moment.”

As his heart went out to the families who lost loved ones, Phil wondered if it was also part of a plan for his own life. And little by little, that plan unfolded. He graduated in 1973 with a major in biology. The Vietnam War had been raging in his early years at USF, and with a draft number of 12, he would likely have been called to duty if not for his college deferment. As the war wound down, Phil decided to go for his master’s at USF in microbiology, leading to a job with the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Along the way, he and Jean met on a project in the early 1980s and married in 1988, while Phil gradually climbed the ladder in the state’s Bureau of Public Health Laboratories.

“I began working my way up in the department’s Bureau of Public Health Laboratories,” he explains.  “In the late 1990s, I realized I wasn’t going to get any further without a PhD, so I returned to USF and earned it at the College of Public Health.”

With three USF degrees under his belt, he eventually became a public health laboratory director for the Florida Department of Health, and for 10 years a faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, retiring in 2012.

But retirement has definitely not meant slowing down for the couple.  Jean embraced a new passion when she left her faculty position at USF – the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI-USF), a member-based program for adults 50-and-older that offers classes, workshops, events and social networking.

“When I first retired, Phil was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to do,” She says.  “Learning new things has always been a driving force for me and I was looking for something that would give me the opportunity to learn in new areas.”

She attended a Lifelong Learning luncheon at the invitation of her good friend, Lee Leavengood, an iconic and pioneering figure at USF who served as the first director of the Lifelong Learning Institute. “I talked to the participants who had mostly retired from interesting and responsible jobs,” Jean says. “They told me what a big difference the program had made in their lives.”

Not only did she become involved as a participant, taking numerous classes, but she became chair of the curriculum committee and served on the OLLI board. “I’m still taking classes, and enjoying every minute, appreciating the discussions and new concepts,” she says.

In Phil’s case, consulting in clinical laboratory medicine has been his focus in semi-retirement, taking him all over the country. “I really wasn’t ready to stop doing things when I retired,” he says. “I was 60 and needed the work more than I needed the money. I enjoy feeling like I am contributing and needed. It’s still what keeps me doing what I do.”

Jean and Phil Amuso
Jean and Phil Amuso

That is not all he does – far from it. Phil and Jean have also made a regular practice of giving back to USF because the university did so much for them. Their initial contribution was to an endowed scholarship in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, which entwined Phil’s civic involvement with the Greater Tampa Sertoma Club and its mission to help individual with hearing and speech disorders.

“Jean and I started contributing money to that endowment at its very beginning, to get the ball rolling, and today it’s up to $275,000 with the help of many friends,” he says.

In the meantime, Phil’s inaugural stint on the Alumni Association board in the early-to-mid 1990s – the first of two runs – further involved him with the university. That led to the creation of an endowed scholarship with the Alumni Association. 

Within the USF College of Public Health, he continues to serve as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at the invitation of the late Sam Bell, more than 25 years ago. This prompted the Amusos to endow a scholarship at the college. They were also involved in the fundraising push that culminated recently in the naming of the building that houses the USF College of Public Health in memory of Samual P. Bell, III. In addition, they have provided financial support to OLLI.

“When Jean and I first married, we weren’t financially well off by any means,” Phil says. “I had the impression that if you weren’t a multi-millionaire, why bother giving? However, Jean and I talked about it, and we decided to start giving as much as we could, instead of doing nothing. It’s about paying it forward, and helping students get an opportunity they might otherwise not enjoy – even if we just help one student at a time. That’s our philosophy.”

Today, the Amusos continue to savor many aspects of USF. They attend, for instance, nearly every USF men’s basketball game and the Bulls football contests at home and several away games yearly. 

For this interview, Jean and Phil sported matching green USF shirts, preparing to attend a joint men’s and women’s basketball gathering – their roots forever connecting them to the university they are proud to support.

157,355,063

FY 2022-23 Total Commitment

637,872,759

Endowment Assets Through FY23

37,500

Total Donors in FY23