Avi Amon of the Class of 2008 with fellow UD Honors Program alumni.

Hen generations

Alumni celebrate the past with a commitment to UD's future

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8:52 a.m., June 19, 2014--There were those who hadn’t been here in decades and those who never left. 

There were members of the University of Delaware’s newly minted Class of 2014 and “Gold Guard” graduates celebrating their 50-year anniversary — and alums from every decade in between.  

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Some made the five-minute walk from their Main Street apartments, while others carpooled, boarded buses — one couple even flew in from Puerto Rico — to come back. 

From June 6-8, the University celebrated its sixth annual Alumni Weekend, and as any of the 5,000-plus Blue Hen attendees can attest, Newark, Del., was the only place to be. 

Tim Dalby, a member of the Class of 1999 who also received a master’s degree in 2011, and Mary Pinkston, a member of the Class of 1991 who received a master’s degree in 1995, kicked off the weekend at the College of Education and Human Development’s alumni reception. Both graduates have received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching — the highest honors bestowed by the United States government to K-12 STEM teachers — and both alums credit UD with an exceptional education. 

“I was prepared as a ‘highly qualified teacher’ before that was even a term,” says Dalby, referring to the federally designated title that concerns the number of courses, types of courses and amount of credits a teacher received in college. 

He and Pinkston spent their Friday evening meeting former professors and classmates. “My heart bleeds blue and gold,” Pinkston adds. “Some of my best memories here are of the people.” 

Indeed, the weekend was rich in the diversity of UD’s people — Blue Hens from different backgrounds, different ages, different experiences, all with one shared bond — time spent at their beloved alma mater. 

Alumni Weekend is an annual tradition for the Class of 1983’s Lance Kaufmann. From Mug Night, to the Wall of Fame induction ceremony, to the 5K race, the entire weekend serves as an opportunity for him to meet new alumni and expand his Blue Hen circle. “Every year, I make new friends and new connections,” he says. 

Then there are alums like Avi Amon, who graduated 25 years after Kaufmann and comes back to UD to reconnect with classmates and colleagues. “This is my favorite weekend of the year,” he says.

Amon, of the Class of 2008, began his festivities at the Honors Program Alumni Reception, alongside more than 150 fellow Honors alums, professors and advisers. 

“This was my team,” says Amon, a dual economics and history major who sang in the Deltones and UD Chorale, served as a Blue Hen Ambassador, and traveled to Madrid on an alumni enrichment award to learn the tango. He attended the University on a DuPont Scholarship and now makes gifts to support the Honors Program. “These were the people rooting for me,” he says, “and I’m rooting for them, too.” 

It was a sentiment echoed throughout the weekend — attendees who celebrated the past but remain committed to UD’s future. 

Bob Parsons of the Class of 1964, for instance, is a member of the Delaware Diamonds Society, the University’s leadership giving society. As a student in the early ’60s, he worked for a local laundromat, washing, drying and ironing clothes. He calls the job his scholarship — and it allowed him to graduate debt free. “That,” he says, “is a debt you pay forward.”

As the weekend kicked off, Parsons sat on the side portico of Memorial Hall, waiting to reconnect with a former Kappa Alpha fraternity brother. The last time he had seen Terry Girdon, also of the Class of 1964, was after a Temple-UD basketball game the night before Girdon was to fly to Asia to serve in the war. Girdon would spend the next 30 years of his life in the Army. The two reunited for the first time in 50 years at Alumni Weekend.

“It’s wonderful to be back,” says Girdon, who spent his time on campus attending the College of Arts and Sciences reunion, walking through The Green, getting inducted into the Gold Guard, and attending the President’s State of the University address. “So much has changed,” he added, “but the KA house is still there!” 

Other alums with strong ties to Greek Life commended the recent cultural shift by UD administrators to strengthen support for fraternities and sororities. 

Lyman Chen, of the Class of 1993, and Caroline Chen, of the Class of 1990, for instance, were both active in Greek organizations, and Lyman attributes his first job on Wall Street to his strong fraternity ties. 

“I would have never, in a million years, have gotten that job were it not for UD,” he says. Now, he works to partner UD’s Lambda Chi Alpha alums with current fraternity students in a program that is being modeled by the national fraternal organization.

It is that palpable gift back to UD — of time and talent and treasure — that helps propel the University forward, says President Patrick Harker, who addressed UD alums at the annual State of the University address.

“This is a University operating from strength,” he said. “And with your support, we’ll have everything we need — right here — to take UD from great to even greater: the people, the brilliance, the relationships and the will.”

He began his presentation by welcoming the six reunion classes to the stage, along with “newly hatched” alumni from this year’s class. Together the classes of 2014, 2009, 2004, 1999, 1994, 1989 and the newly inducted Gold Guard members of 1964 gifted $1,082,370 to the University. 

“We’re good to UD because UD was so good to us,” says William Gamgort of the Class of 2004, whose class raised more than $53,000 and increased their total giving from the previous year by more than 51 percent. “Now that we’re in positions to give, we want to give back.”

Of course, that spirit is not limited to UD alumni.

Jan Seitz calls her nine years as director and associate dean for Cooperative Extension in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources “the most wonderful time of my life.” She had long sought to establish an endowment to support the Extension Scholars Program in her estate plan. 

“But then I woke up at 2:30 one morning and thought, ‘Why not do it now?’” she says, speaking to one of her colleagues at the President’s Champagne Brunch (a new event during Alumni Weekend to recognize leadership donors and supporters). 

“It’s all about the feeling,” Seitz adds. “And making this gift, supporting UD, being such a strong part of this community — it just feels awesome.” 

Article by Artika Rangan Casini

Photos by Duane Perry, Evan Krape and Kathy F. Atkinson

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