France Griggs Sloat
Perhaps it was the time spent savoring a hot fudge sundae in the white clapboard barracks on University Drive where students from the Class of 1956 would kill time with each other between classes.
Or maybe it was the dances—the annual Military Ball and the Greek fraternities’ Turkey Trot and Bunny Hop—where guys in spiffy suits would show off their dates. Or it could have been the way the dormies shared their dorm rooms with the day hops in exchange for a double date in the day students’ cars.
Whatever it was that makes the Class of 1956 so active, so loyal, so generous to Xavier is found somewhere in the mix of these and other moments its members experienced together. For many, actually, the bonds were formed long before they arrived on campus.
Most of the 250 freshmen entering Xavier in 1952, when annual tuition was $300, Dwight Eisenhower was president and rock ’n’ roll was on the cusp, attended Catholic high schools together—St. Xavier, Purcell, Roger Bacon and Elder in Cincinnati. A large group came down from Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High.
They started tight and ended tight. And it’s been that way for 50 years.
“Many of us have agreed that we received a fine education at Xavier, but what really held us together were the friendships we developed as students,” says Paul Lindsay, who returned to Xavier as alumni director in 1970. “When I was a freshman, we had more than 20 students from St. Ignatius. I’d gone from there to Purcell to finish and we had 10 from there, so I knew personally almost a fifth of the class.” Those relationships, coupled with Lindsay’s involvement in the early days of annual fundraising, gave the Class of 1956 special ties to the University that led to its distinction as one of the top contributors to the annual fund.
That’s why this year, the Class of 1956 was selected as the inaugural class for a new donor program that will celebrate the 50th-year reunion of every class. The annual Reunion Weekend event sponsors the 50th-year class each year with free accommodations, meals, golf and happy hour, and class members are asked to make a special gift to Xavier by either giving for the first time or stepping up their gifts from past years.
“It was done to honor those alums celebrating 50 years because when they come, they’re saying, ‘I’m still involved with Xavier,’ ” says Leigh Ann Fibbe, assistant director for the annual fund. “We want to honor those who have kept Xavier in their hearts all these years.”
To get ready for the event that takes place on Father’s Day weekend in June, Lindsay and co-chair Grant Dibert pulled together a committee of 24 class members and treated them to a party in October in the Surkamp Family Welcome Center. After eating, drinking and reminiscing, they gathered at a table piled with cards for every surviving member of the class. “Someone chose a name based on who you might see,” says Dibert. “I ended up with eight or nine calls. I got one guy who hung up on me, but I also had some really good conversations.”
Dibert says about half the people he called made a pledge, and more than 25 percent plan to attend Reunion Weekend. The effort has paid off for the Class of 1956. Its $60,000 donation last year was surpassed with more than $150,000 pledged for the anniversary year.
“In many cases they got people who have never given in the past,” Fibbe says. “Some of the class who gave $1,000 in the past gave $10,000 this year, and others joined The 1831 Society for the first time. The point is that everyone has stretched in whatever way they can. This class has always had among the highest participation rates in terms of numbers of people giving.”
Dibert and Lindsay know the value of fund-raising. The money supports the annual fund, which raised $6.4 million last year and has a similar goal for this year. It supports the costs of operations, such as paying utility bills, but it also supports scholarships and financial aid for qualified students. With tuition now more than $21,000 a year and room and board hovering near $8,000, more students need financial help. This year, 90 percent received some form of aid, averaging $13,000 each.
Lindsay says when trying to raise money for the University, the personal approach usually yields the best results. It’s worked magic with the Class of 1956, which on its own has maintained a supper club and annual golf outing for many years. But there was something else, says Dibert.
“We had a guy on the inside all these years.”