Having fled with her family to the United States as a refugee from her birthplace of Hungary at 17, Julia Lanigan has a strong perspective on living a quality life. “We had no food and no future; it was intolerable,” Lanigan recalls.
She and her parents found work and settled in a Hungarian community in Passaic, New Jersey. She grew up with a strong work ethic and developed a deep appreciation for visual and musical arts and a love for Hungarian composers. “Art was always part of our lives…it improved our quality of life even when life was not very good.”
Thanks to scholarships from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, she moved to its Kentucky campus for college, interacting with students from all over the world. She majored in chemistry – a good choice, she says, “when you are still learning English.”
Lanigan attended graduate school at St. John’s University, where she met her husband, Thomas, also studying chemistry. She landed a job as chemist, which led to 26 years at American Cyanamid. “It was great because I worked for the same company but was exposed to varied jobs, spanning synthetics, molecular biology and cell biology,” she says.
She later joined her husband at Humana Press, the scientific publishing company he founded, and worked there 15 years, selling the company after his death.
After moving to Montclair 10 years ago, Lanigan met a few Hungarian students from Montclair State, and because she lived so close to the campus, she opened her home to many graduate student musicians. “I became interested in the school through the eyes of the students,” she says.
She now serves on the College of the Arts Advisory Board and has generously supported the arts at the University with donations to the College, the George Segal Gallery, the Alexander Kasser Theater, Peak Performances, the Annual Scholarship Dinner and scholarship support for high-achieving students through the Creative Talent Award.
“The most important consideration for me is that the quality of education at the University is advancing,” she says, pointing to Montclair State’s tremendous growth in technology, science, business, theater and dance among other programs. “I’m impressed.”
She regularly hosts receptions and concerts with University students as well as professionals, including the New Jersey State Opera Guild and the Montclair Operetta Club. Keeping the arts in life is a message she fervently shares with all. “Art helps you think. It makes life richer – not always in dollars but it makes you richer in happiness.”
In her home full of paintings, many created by her brother, George Bartko, who became an artist, Lanigan lives that lesson. “I invite students to my home to expose them to art so they can envision the quality of life they would like to create for themselves and how to work hard to achieve it.”