Patricia Lapan was born and raised in the Bronx. Her dad was a tough and decorated New York City detective. The Lapan family always believed in a strong work ethic, Patricia began babysitting at the age of 11 and by the age of 14 she was working at the local five and dime. In high school Patricia would work at the Macy’s department store after school until 9 pm and all day on Saturdays. Not only did she work hard on the job but also in the classroom. Pat never was the smartest in the classroom but always one of the hardest working. Patricia graduated high school early at the age of 17.
After high school Patricia’s parents did not have the money to send her to college. The US Department of Health had created a program called the Cadet Nursing Corps to address a shortage of nurses. Entrants to the program would receive free tuition, books and uniforms, and would receive $15/month in their first year. She applied to her top choice school, the Waterbury Hospital School of Nursing at Yale University in New Haven CT. At her interview, the interviewer told her: “You meet all of the school’s requirements and I can’t turn you down but I must tell you that we have never had a Jewish student nurse. I expect you will ﬂunk out because Jewish girls don’t make good nurses. If you come to our school, we have required chapel and prayers every morning. If that is against your religion, say so now because we do not make any exceptions.” Despite the anti-Semitism and the required chapel, she still wanted to go to nursing school at Waterbury.
After her first year Patricia Lapan fell in love and married Dr. Joseph Lapan. Patricia took a leave of absence from school to move with Joseph to Nuremberg Nursery where he was stationed in the Army. During Pat’s time abroad, she taught English to German children and became a mother.
After Dr. Lapan’s tour of duty was over, the family moved to Omaha, Nebraska where Patricia finished her last year of nursing school and graduated from the University of Nebraska. From Nebraska, the family moved out west to California where Pat continued to work as a nurse and then taught nursing.
Pat loved going to school. After getting her teaching credentials she continued to go to night school once a week. A mother of three, Patricia studied accounting, economic, business, investment, real-estate, and stock market principles. After that, Pat became a financial consultant, analyzing, negotiating, and managing other people’s investments.
As if Patricia had not done enough for a mother of three during this time period, she graduated law school in 1968 and earned her pilots license in 1962. She was a woman before her time. Patricia taught “free market economics” in Poland and Russia and in 2000 at the request of the US government, she spent 6 weeks in Ghana helping with the Industrial development program.
If you asked Pat of all these amazing accomplishments “what was she most proud of in her life” she would say in 1989 when she created the Lapan Sunshine Foundation. Pat wanted to make the world a better place. She knew helping people get an education would be a step in the right direction. The Foundation had the purpose of helping young people get an education. She knew this Foundation would continue her work even after she was gone.
Patricia knew that children needed more than money, they needed encouragement, someone to talk to, someone to teach them money management skills, someone to give them guidance mostly, and most importantly, they needed people they could count on. In addition to the Foundation, Pat created the Lapan College clubhouse in 2004 to provide all of those things and more. The Lapan College Club began as a place where students would receive not only funding but a place where they could get mentoring, tutoring and parents could get support to help their kids reach their goals.
The Lapan College Club continues today growing, thriving and evolving to meet the needs of children of the Wakefield community. Pat said “my wish is that each child becomes an educated person and in their adult life they will also reach out and help other children reach the same goal.” Pilot, attorney, nurse, author, business woman, mother, philanthropist and friend, she was and always will be an inspiration to generations, and her legacy lives on in the hundreds of students who have and will attend college because of her dream.