It’s a love story that started at UB, as so many do. And when it ended far too soon, a gift to UB was a heartfelt tribute.
“We were best friends,” said Russ Agrusa, BS ’76, speaking of his late wife, Paula, BS ’78. They met doing laundry in the basement of a residence hall, when Russ invited her for a homemade dinner of lasagna and fresh bread (“my mom and grandma made sure I could cook,” said Russ). By the spring of Paula’s senior year, she and Russ were married.
After graduation, Russ, an engineering major, started an automation software company, and soon asked Paula to join the firm as chief financial officer. Paula had thought about studying pharmacy at UB, but Russ helped convince her to be an accounting major. “She could read spreadsheets and add up huge strings of numbers in her head while she waited for you to add them up in the calculator,” says Russ.
As partners at home and at work, the Agrusas grew the start-up into an international software company with hundreds of employees. Seeing their success, Paula suggested they make a gift to the university that had given them an education—and each other. In April 2010, Paula and Russ donated funds to support the construction of Barbara and Jack Davis Hall, part of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In recognition of their gift, the auditorium in Davis Hall is named in their honor.
After decades spent building their business—and their lives—together, the Agrusas received tragic news: Paula was diagnosed with colon cancer. She spent years fighting, but ultimately lost her battle in 2016, just a few days before their 38th wedding anniversary.
To honor Paula’s memory and encourage future generations of students, Russ has provided a gift to build Paula’s Plaza—a peaceful, welcoming space filled with beautiful flowers, benches and walking paths outside the School of Management, Paula’s alma mater. “Students can go there to relax, smell the flowers, and take photos when they graduate,” said Russ. Work on Paula’s Plaza is currently in the planning stages.
Russ also hopes that Paula’s Plaza will inspire other donors, just as he was inspired by Grace Plaza—an outdoor space on UB’s North Campus that also honors a beloved partner.
“She was a very caring person,” said Russ, “and always wanted to give back. If it wasn’t for UB, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“UB was the spark.”
New outdoor spaces make UB more attractive, pedestrian-friendly, and underscore the university’s overall commitment to sustainability. “Something like this helps the average student out,” said Russ. Students throughout the university also appreciate the effort. “I’d love it if UB had more outdoor spaces for students on campus,” says accounting student Katie Kriner. “A classroom is just a classroom, but creative spaces help us take a break and really enjoy our time here.”