When Mary Mochary – then Mary Kasser – and her older brother Michael were living in Montclair and attending College High School at Montclair State in the 1950s, their parents sometimes sent them into New York City to see world-class performances.
“My parents had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera and a few times they sent Mary and me,” recalls Michael Kasser. “They’d take us to the corner at Valley Road and put us onto the bus to New York.”
Fast forward to the present day, and the Kasser kids have brought world-class performances back to that Valley Road bus stop. Or pretty darn close.
In 2002, Michael and Mary, along with Mary’s daughter Alex Mochary Kasser and her son Matthew Mochary, made a joint gift of $4 million to name the Alexander Kasser Theater after Mary and Michael’s late father, an engineer, international philanthropist, art lover and one-time Montclair resident. Now, Mary and Michael have made another generous gift to create the Alexander Kasser Theater Endowment Fund, to enhance the Theater’s vibrant future as a cultural resource in advancing the arts and arts education.
The siblings’ support for the Kasser Theater is a continuation of their parents’ legacy. Alexander and Elisabeth Kasser fled communism to build a successful new life in America. They loved music and art and were devoted to the civic sphere and humanitarianism. While in Hungary during WWII, Alexander – who managed the largest paper mill in Eastern Europe – worked to save thousands of Jews. He received the Righteous Among the Nations award from the State of Israel in 1998.
After fleeing Hungary in 1947, the Kasser family ultimately settled in Montclair so that Michael and Mary could attend College High School, a competitive, tuition-free demonstration school at Montclair State where professors modeled teaching for students training as educators. (College High School was located in what is now Morehead Hall from 1927 to 1973.)
“My parents were highly educated,” explains Mary. “Education was very important to them. We recognized as immigrants there was nothing more important to bring with you than your education. You can lose your money, your property, everything, but you always have your education.”
Michael went on to earn a bachelor’s in engineering and a master’s in chemical engineering from MIT, a doctorate in engineering at the University of Grenoble (France) and an MBA at Harvard Business School, leading to successful careers in manufacturing, finance and venture capital.
Mary earned a BA in economics from Wellesley College and a JD from the University of Chicago Law School. In 1980, she was elected mayor of Montclair and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1984, losing to Bill Bradley after she was compelled to stop campaigning due to her husband’s illness. Mary then worked for the State Department during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations as Principal Deputy Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State and Special Negotiator for Real Estate with the rank of ambassador.
Mary and Michael both remain active philanthropists: He in Arizona and she in Washington, D.C., and Palm Beach, Florida. Mary’s work included serving as a member of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Michael has served on the board of the Tucson Museum of Art, among others, and played a vital role in saving the Arizona Theatre Company.
Both are devoted to the success of the Kasser Theater.
“The University has done such a good job with the theater,” says Mary, who credits President Susan A. Cole’s vision and ability to recruit cutting-edge leadership such as Obie Award-winning Arts and Cultural Programming Executive Director Jedediah Wheeler. “I believe the Kasser Theater has made an enormous difference. And the programming has been terrific.”
–Mary Barr Mann