Jimmy Malone is a name dropper for all the right reasons.
He remembers the names of the nearly 200 students he’s helped put through college, along with the mentors and professionals he’s introduced to many of them.
Malone makes a good living talking on the radio, but it’s the conversations he has outside the station that are life-changing. Just ask Destiny Kaznoch, Briana Miller and James Maher. All three will be graduating next spring from college, a path made available largely through Malone’s scholarships and his enthusiastic encouragement.
For these students, the money is important, but they’ll tell you Malone is the key to their success. He’s a welcome and vital part of the package.
RADIO PERSONALITY, MENTOR
Jimmy Malone is part of the top-rated Cleveland morning radio team Nolan, Malone and Kullik at Majic 105.7. From 5:30 to 10 each morning, Malone has free-ranging exchanges with co-hosts Mark Nolan and Chip Kullik, and show producer Tracey Carroll about local and national events, goofy people (his Knuckleheads in the News is a listener favorite), politics and favorite diners, to name a few.
For someone who values education, Malone’s own was completed in fits and starts. Raised in the Glenville area of Cleveland, he attended Cleveland State University, Morehouse College and eventually Ohio University, where he graduated with a degree in interpersonal communications. He wanted to be a lawyer but quickly found other interests that didn’t involve law school.
Malone, 62, put those communication skills to use in clubs throughout the region as a standup comic. He caught the attention of popular Cleveland radio personality John Lanigan, who in 1985 asked him to do the Knuckleheads in the News skit for his WMJI show. Listeners loved it. He joined the station full time six years later.
Co-hosting a top radio show put Malone in contact with many of Northeast Ohio’s civic, sports and business leaders. It was a natural fit. Malone is personable, funny and wickedly good with names. Not only does he know a lot of people, he remembers them, too — a skill that’s come in handy during his encore career: mentoring young adults.
CASH AND A CAUSE
“If there’s any way he can connect us to an internship he’ll get us there, and so will his friends,” says Destiny Kaznoch, 21, a Malone Scholarship winner and Kent State University senior.
“Not only will Jimmy do anything for us, his friends will do anything for us. It’s like we have this huge network because Jimmy knows everyone.”
Like many successful ventures, the Malone Scholarship started small. Shortly after snagging a fulltime radio job, Malone and his wife, April, became parents to their only child, Angela. Malone found himself with an extra $1,500 and wanted to do something to celebrate the birth. A do-
nation to charity seemed like a good call.
Malone and his wife wanted the money to make a difference in someone’s life. A friend suggested splitting the money among three students to help with college costs.
Malone thought $500 was too insignificant to make a difference. He did it anyway. One student later told Malone that without the money he would not have been able to buy books that year. Malone was hooked.
In 1993, he and April started the Malone Scholarship Fund. All of the money raised — $3.7 million so far — goes to promising high school seniors, many from financially strapped households — most are eligible for Pell Grants. Just as important, they must have a “positive outlook on life.”
Students get about $3,000 a year for each of the four years, plus a new laptop if they need one. Students can earn bonus money each year, depending on their GPA. The money comes primarily through Malone’s wildly popular Malone Scholarship Golf Classic, held in July, and smaller fundraisers.
The Malone Scholarship Fund is managed by College Now Greater Cleveland, a nonprofit organization that works with schools throughout the region to help students get into college by providing guidance counseling and help with financial aid forms and scholarship applications.
Malone also recently started working with the Lake/Geauga Educational Assistance Foundation (LEAF), which provides similar services outside the greater Cleveland area.
This year, about 200 students wrote a letter to apply for a Malone Scholarship. College advisers help him whittle the group down to 20 or 25, then Malone and a small team start hitting the phones, calling prospective scholarship winners to determine if they’re a good fit. He likes the phone interviews because he can’t be inadvertently swayed by appearances. Malone uses his voice for a living; he’s good at reading voices, too.
Since he started giving away scholarships — eight to 14 most years — 90 percent of recipients have graduated within four years, a threshold that is key for Malone. Another key: He strongly encourages students to attend a college they can afford. Students are required to report their grades each semester, stay in touch with him about their overall progress and attend the annual golf outing as a show of support to others in the program.
CALL ME JIMMY
Malone takes the mentoring part seriously. He’s a pal, not a father figure. The names of his scholarship winners roll off his tongue and into casual conversations like they’re old friends. That’s because many of them are.
Malone relishes the college experience. He’s started a mentorship pro- gram at Notre Dame College in South Euclid to support incoming students. Students value his involvement because he’s a welcome booster among young people whose families and friends might not quite understand or appreciate the value of earning a 3.9 GPA freshman year, a 32 on an ACT or a terrific MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) score. Jimmy does.
Kaznoch, the Kent State student, graduated from Highland High School in Medina County. A College Now adviser encouraged her to apply for the Malone scholarship. Kaznoch got good grades in high school. She’s a first-generation college student, raised by a single mother. She has a disabled brother at home.
“He called me in late April of my senior year and I didn’t know who Jimmy Malone was,” recalls the premed biology-chemistry major. “I said,
‘Mom, I just talked to a really great guy and he has a great voice. He really should be on the radio.’”
Kaznoch, like some of the Malone scholars, is graduating debt-free, thanks to a combination of summer jobs, a resident adviser post and scholarships.
Malone has been one of her biggest cheerleaders.
“With my background, there’s not a lot of people you can tell your accomplishments to,” Kaznoch says. “That first semester, I called him to tell him I got a 4.0, and Jimmy knows what that means. Jimmy is so invested in our lives. One of the best things is having someone who is genuinely proud of you. If you have a really good week and want to tell someone, you can call him. He really cares.”
Kaznoch is waiting for her MCAT results. She has her eyes set on the University of Cincinnati for a PhD/MD program.
James Maher, 22, graduated from Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland. He’s working on a degree in chemistry with a minor in mathematics at Cleveland State University.
“I usually call him (only) every two weeks now that I have a lot of stuff going on. He’s really funny. I thought I was just going to be sending my grades and he’d send me money, but it wasn’t like that. He’s very supportive,” Maher says.
At the beginning of last school year, Maher’s mother, Julie, died suddenly. “(Jimmy) was one of the first people I called. He was there for me and gave me advice and kept me going when I didn’t think I could.”
Briana Miller, 22, is an accounting major at Cleveland State. She’s working at an internship at Parker Hannifin, one of two Malone helped her get. “It’s amazing how connected he is and how willing he is to help his students,” she says.
LESSONS LEARNED, AND SHARED
Malone is a big fan of today’s students. The ones he meets are hard workers and do well in college because many of them held jobs in high school to help pay the family bills.
“People think today’s youth are lazy bums and have everything handed to them. By the time these kids come to me they’re already working hard because they’ve been doing it to support their families,” he says.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a welder or a bus driver, as long as you’re contributing to society. My bigger frustration is getting people to understand you can be very, very successful going to school locally,” he says.
He encourages his students to apply at their dream schools but to stick with schools that can provide the most money. Malone reinforces the value of networking and connecting with others.
“The way you separate yourself (in an interview) is with people skills. Ninety-five percent of the people who apply for a job are smart and qualified. The way you separate yourself is with people skills. People want to hire people they want to be around.”
Malone says he’s had terrific support from local business leaders, other media people and community groups who have worked together to make the scholarship and mentoring programs a success. “I get so much out of this, not only from the students, but I have so many friends I’ve made who started as (golf tournament) sponsors.”
Those connections are lifelines for many students.
“It wasn’t just money I got out of (the scholarship), it was Jimmy,” Kaznoch says. “I would take him without the money in a heartbeat.”