Alfano Svoboda (Dee) was not a traditional student when she
attended Mount Saint Mary College in its earliest days, graduating
with her bachelor’s degree and New York State teaching
certification in 1967. But then traditional is hardly a word that
describes any aspect of her life.
Today, Dee lives with her husband Charles (Chick) Svoboda in
Clearwater, Florida. They spend their days flying a Cessna 182
high-performance airplane over the Gulf of Mexico for the Coast
Guard Auxiliary and Civil Air Patrol.
It’s a rather non-traditional retirement lifestyle.
A non-traditional student at the Mount
Dee Alfano was married to Joseph Alfano (then president of First
National Bank of Highland) and the mother of two boys when she
started taking classes in education and chemistry at the Mount in
the early 1960s, shortly after the Mount admitted its first lay
students. Dee was looking to fill her days by continuing her
education while her boys were at school.
Dee recalls being in class in the Villa Madonna (the Villa,
today) and her classroom on the east side of the second floor. She
also recalls English Professor Emeritus James McEnery. “He didn’t
know quite what to make of me,” said Dee of Mr. McEnery.
“Sr. Genevieve, then the vice president of academic affairs,
used to tease me that I just liked taking classes,” Dee recalls
with a laugh. “She said that I wasn’t intending on graduating at
Dee proved her wrong, earning her teaching certification and
graduating in 1967 in the top portion of her class, when her boys,
James and Charles, were 16 and 12 years old. The Newburgh Evening
News published a photo of Dee with her two boys, captioning the
photo “Marlboro Mother Among Top in College Graduating Class.”
While she was offered jobs with Texaco in Beacon and in the
school district where she earned her teaching credentials, Dee
found she didn’t want to be tied down to a full-time job.
A free spirit takes flight
what any recent college graduate with two teenage boys would do:she
joined the Mount Beacon Ski Patrol, and skied there on a regular
basis, monitoring the park area for skiers who were lost or
injured. This position required that she take emergency medical
treatment training on an annual basis.
Through the years, Dee achieved a dizzying array of
accomplishments. She managed apartment buildings that she and Joe
owned, became certified as an HVAC technician, and then as a
licensed arbitrator. Dee and Joe also owned racehorses for a time.
Their two boys settled in Highland, New York.
Dee fulfilled a lifelong dream when she got her pilot’s license
in the early 1990s, while still living in the Hudson Valley. Dee
was at the helm of a plane seat during an historic flight from
Israel to Jordan and back again, as the only woman to serve in this
capacity. Dee was recognized by King Hussein of Jordan and the
flight was covered by all major news outlets.
In the early 1990s, Dee’s husband, Joe, passed away, and Dee
relocated to Florida. She met Charles (Chick) Svoboda at the
Clearwater Airport when Chick administered a check ride qualifying
Dee to fly search missions for the Civil Air Patrol. Through
their conversation, they found they both had lived in Marlboro, New
York just four houses away from one another!
Some time later, Dee contacted Chick, only to learn that his
wife had recently passed away. Through their mutual love of flying,
they continued their friendship, and were married in 2001.
Today, Chick and Dee live in Clearwater, and fly on a regular
basis. Their plane is a high-performance model (Cessna 182 with
G1000) that suits the needs of their rugged flight missions. The
plane has an all-glass cockpit, and controls are run and monitored
by computer. “That plane can practically fly itself,” said Dee.
What’s a regular flight day like?
It’s not unusual for the Svobodas to get a notice from the Coast
Guard or Civil Air Patrol in the wee hours of the morning. Up and
in flight gear (jumpsuit, boots, and life preserver vest) within
the hour, often Dee and/or Chick are boarding their plane in
Their missions can involve search and rescue
missions, scoping out potential drug or immigration
trafficking, helping with homeland security issues, or conducting
flyovers for the Sheriff’s Department.
The Mount pays a visit
Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, OFM, president of Mount Saint Mary College,
and Joan Gambeski, director of special projects, visited Dee and
Chick at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport this
past winter. Dee and Chick showed them their Cessna and
demonstrated the high-tech instrumentation and navigation system.
They also spent time reminiscing about the Mount and life in the
When the Svobodas next travel to visit family in the region,
their agenda will include a tour of Mount Saint Mary College.
The Mount community would love to welcome Dee back to campus.
Dee captures the lifelong commitment to learning and serving others
that the Mount seems to engender in its students and alumni.