By Joan Killough-Miller
Once again, memory and tradition drew hundreds of alumni back to campus for Reunion, but 1996 had lots of "firsts" and a few surprises in store for them and their guests during the June 1 weekend. More than 900 alumni, spouses and visitors returned to their alma mater to find a campus alive with new construction, and a dynamic learning institution expanding with knowledge of past and present.
This year's Reunion programs offered some remarkable opportunities. On Saturday, visitors were transported back to Victorian England in the time of author Charles Dickens. Letters, sketches and other treasures from WPI's Robert D. Fellman Dickens Collection were on display for the first time during a talk by Joel J. Brattin, associate professor of English. Later, alums blasted into outer space with a videotaped launch of the space shuttle Columbia. It's not every engineering school that can boast a hand-bound first edition of The Pickwick Papers in the library and an astronaut/payload specialist on the faculty.
The first hint that things are changing came as visitors pulled into the parking lot to discover construction trailers camped on the quad, and their beloved Sanford Riley Hall fenced off and covered with scaffolding for a much-deserved face-lift and interior refurbishment. Many alumni had their first view of the newly renovated Higgins Laboratories, with a guided tour and a live demonstration of the Fire Science Laboratory.
For some, the most novel experience was strolling across a safe and quiet West Street, which is now closed to vehicular traffic and will soon be graced with a pedestrian plaza.
Local weather forecasters had one word for the weekend: "beautiful." Friday was sunny-- perfect for those who took part in the many receptions, athletic events, and trips to local attractions. The evening featured a clambake, a barbecue for younger alumni, and a gala dinner and reception for the 50-Year Associates. Saturday dawned picture-perfect. Early risers were treated to some down-and-dirty Trivial Pursuit during breakfast; Al Papianou '57 came down hard on those who did not know their history, never mind the name of their Tech Carnival skit, or which Kennedy spoke at WPI.
President Edward A. Parrish gave his first address to the Alumni Association at its annual meeting. He described the nationwide examination of standards for engineering education and said it would give WPI much positive attention. In another first, Parrish received the university's first $1 million Anniversary Gift from the members of the Class of 1956, who, under the capable leadership of August Kellerman, raised $1,422,980. The class and its chair, Tom Zajac, received kudos for rounding up almost a third of their class for their 50th Reunion--quite a feat for a group that was hurried through WPI under the accelerated Naval V-12 program, graduating in four separate segments. Special honors went to class member John Lott Brown, who was presented with the William R. Grogan Award for his service as interim president during the 1994-95 academic year.
Not to be outdone, the record-setting gift of the 50th class was immediately followed by the 40th Reunion gift. Chaired by Harry Tenney, the Class of '56 raised $690,000 in individual contributions, which, boosted by corporate matching funds and an astonishing matching gift from an anonymous class member, brought the total to $1,420,748.
The Herbert F. Taylor Alumni Award for Distinguished Service to WPI was presented to Edward S. Coe '31 and Bradley E. Hosmer '61. Five individuals were honored with the Robert H. Goddard Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement: Martin G. Bromberg '51, George C. Messenger '51, Hans H. Koehl '56, John C. Petrillo '71 and Ronald L. Zarrella '71.
Earlier in the day, younger alumni received the John Boynton Award for Distinguished service and the Ichabod Washburn Young Alumni Award for Professional Service. (An article about the award-winners appeared in the Spring 1996 WPI Wire.)
The Class of '17 Attendance Cup was presented to Walter Dahlstrom '36 and his classmates for a record 60th Reunion gathering of 35.7 percent of their class. They hope to do even better at their 65th.
First place for best hospitality suite went to the Class of '51, with '56 and '31 as first and second runners-up. To celebrate their 25th anniversary, the Class of '71 reincarnated the psychedelic era in their hospitality suite. Those nostalgic for incense and peppermint could step though a beaded curtain into a walk-in display complete with Day-Glo posters, posters of The Doors, and life-size cutouts of JFK and Marilyn Monroe. It was enough to induce flashbacks in even the most bourgeois members of the capital establishment.
One award came as no surprise to anyone. The Stephen J. Hebert golf tournament trophy went to Tom Benoit '66, who already has two on his shelf. Former Director of Special Admissions Roy Seaberg '56 was caught by surprise when he was called to the podium to receive the Alumni Association's appreciation for his dedicated service and members' best wishes for his retirement. And to cap of a day of surprises, the Goat's Head trophy, which had rested complacently on the dais throughout the luncheon, was abruptly hoisted up to the balcony of Harrington Hall by a rope held by members of the Class of '98, who bagged their prize and ran, with other classes in hot pursuit. Tune in at Homecoming for the next installment of the adventures of the Goat's Head.
firstname.lastname@example.org Last modified: Thu Jun 10 10:23:13 EDT 1999