Tommy Zurhellen has served as associate professor of English at Marist College for the past 19 years. During his tenure he also has held a range of administrative posts including English department chair, director of the Marist Summer Writing Institute, and most recently, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Tommy grew up in the Bronx and Putnam County. After earning a B.A. from Beloit College, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a nuclear electrician during two deployments to the Persian Gulf as well as Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. Tommy received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, and the Coast Guard Special Operations Service Medal. He was honorably discharged from the Navy.
Tommy used the G.I. Bill to earn an M.A. from Western Washington University and an M.F.A. from the University of Alabama. He subsequently served as a full-time lecturer at Alabama and taught at the Northwest Indian College (Lummi Nation) before returning to the Hudson Valley and joining the Marist faculty.
In 2018, Tommy was elected commander of VFW Post 170 in Poughkeepsie. The experience deepened his commitment to serving fellow veterans in Dutchess County and beyond. The next year, Tommy walked solo across the country to raise awareness of high rates of suicide and homelessness among veterans. His journey was featured on the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and Fox News’ The Five and stories appeared in dozens of local and national print outlets.
Since then, Tommy has expanded his advocacy for veterans. He created the Tommy Zurhellen Fund to help veterans in need and since 2020, as VFW NY’s citizenship education chair, is a liaison between the VFW and teachers across the state.
In addition, he worked with Hudson River Housing to create VetZero. Its Ride program has given over 2,000 free rides to veterans who have no transportation for essential appointments such as doctor visits and job interviews. VetZero’s Heroes Making Heroes program employs homeless vets in a food-making enterprise.
Since 2020, Tommy has served on Hudson River Housing‘s board of directors. He is a past recipient of the R.E.A.L. Skills Network‘s Rosa Parks Icon Award. In 2021, he was recognized for his contributions to rural suicide prevention by the New York State Office of Mental Health.
Help seniors and families stay in their homes. Nearly everyone in the county has felt the impact of the national housing crisis. Those on fixed incomes face eviction or resort to predatory lenders and working families can’t find affordable homes.
As county exec, Tommy will identify and implement common sense initiatives to help seniors and working families secure the homes they have worked so hard for.
Fight food insecurity and help youth succeed. It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry, yet we have kids right here in Dutchess County who rely on school lunch as their only square meal. Tommy will also take other steps to give youth a chance to excel.
Bring more good-paying, green jobs to Dutchess County.
Help veterans get the support they deserve. Tommy will work to expand veteran outreach programs in Dutchess County so that all our heroes — including those living in rural parts of the county get the support they deserve.