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Celebrating Vincentian Service, 17th Annual President’s Dinner Raises Over $2 Million for Scholarships

Friday, October 31, 2014

St. John’s University’s 17th Annual President’s Dinner drew nearly 900 alumni, friends, faculty, students, and administrators on October 30, raising $2,004,500 in scholarship funds while honoring those who embrace the Vincentian mission of service.

The dinner was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria New York, its traditional venue. Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., who became St. John’s 17th president in July, hosted the event.

Sharing his plans for strengthening the quality of a St. John’s education, Dr. Gempesaw thanked guests for their contributions to the effort. “Your support has been a major component of our growth and reputation, and for this, I am deeply grateful,” he said. “We are, indeed, a major presence in the world of higher education, and we should be proud of the role we have played in the lives of thousands of successful alumni.”

Since the dinner was established in 1998, it has generated more than $26 million in support from alumni and friends. Proceeds strengthen the University’s General Scholarship Fund.

At every President’s Dinner, the University’s Spirit of Service Award is presented to those who demonstrate a commitment to Vincentian values throughout their lives. This year’s honorees were Anthony Butler, executive director, St. John’s Bread and Life; Kevin F. Reed ’75C, retired managing director, Citigroup Asset Management; and James P. Riley, Jr. ’74CBA, ’75MBA, ’03HON, retired partner and managing director, Goldman Sachs and Company.

Lesley H. Collins ’83SVC and William L. Collins ’76C, ’12HON served as the dinner cochairs. Addressing the guests, William Collins observed that, after 144 years, struggling families continue to depend on St. John’s to educate their children. “Your support of the President’s Dinner is helping to make those dreams come true for the young men and women who benefit from your generosity,” he said.

The support of friends and alumni, Lesley Collins added, reflects their shared regard for the University. “For me,” she said, “the President’s Dinner is an affirmation that St. John’s well-deserved reputation for excellence has struck a responsive chord in so many hearts. Your presence here tonight is an indication that you feel the same way.”

Dignitaries included  Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of Brooklyn; Most Rev. Robert Brennan ’84C, auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, NY; and Very Rev. Michael J. Carroll, C.M. ’09HON, provincial superior, Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, and vice chair of St. John’s Board of Trustees. Bruce Beck ’09HON, lead sports anchor at WNBC-TV New York, served as the master of ceremonies for the seventh consecutive year.

Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M. ’70C, executive vice president for mission, offered the invocation. St. John’s talent provided the musical entertainment. Patrick Casey ’15C and Anna Misleh ’15C led the guests in singing “God Bless America.” Clark K. Oler, director of Mixed Chorus, played the piano, and Nigel W. Gretton, director of performing arts, led the Voices of Victory.

With the presentation of the Spirit of Service Awards, dinner guests watched biographical videos that A&E Networks created about each recipient’s achievements. Honoree Anthony Butler expressed gratitude for the University’s partnership with Bread and Life—one of New York City’s largest providers of food and other services for those in need. “It’s given us the freedom and inspiration to try new things,” he said, including the organization’s immigration clinic and assisting clients with their taxes.

Kevin Reed noted that 45 years have passed since he matriculated at St. John’s.  “Much has changed at Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway,” he said, “but one thing that has not changed is the goal of a St. John’s education—supporting causes that are greater than ourselves.”

Twenty-five years ago, James P. Riley joined his wife, Ellen, and their daughters—Kerry-Lynn, Shannon, Courtney, and Brigid—to establish the Riley Family Foundation, which provides scholarships for worthy students. The example of St. Vincent de Paul, he said, provides alumni with a sound model of using resources to the benefit of others.
Supporting education is a goal that many of the dinner’s guests said they share. “I benefited significantly from my St. John’s education—it built the foundation for my career, and provided me with a network of alumni and colleagues,” said Kori McDowell ’10TCB, an accountant at Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts (KKR). “Attending the President’s Dinner allows me to give something back, to provide opportunities for future leaders.”

James Fenton ’90CBA, chief financial officer of the Americas at TBWA Worldwide, is a member of the Dinner Committee who has attended the event for the past four years. “I try to come every year to support it,” he said, adding that he has “come from a long line of St. John’s alumni. My grandfather graduated from the Lewis Avenue campus back in the forties. My parents met at St. John’s, and I met my wife during my freshman year here. We have four kids, and they all want to go to the University. It’s a great school, and it provides a solid education.”

Pointing to the symbolism of Dr. Gempesaw’s hosting his first President’s Dinner, Fr. Tracey said the occasion reflects alumni confidence in the University’s future. “I believe from the bottom of my heart,” he said, “that he is the right person at the right time to move St. John’s forward, allowing us to continue to meet our mission. As (former men’s basketball coach) Lou Carnesecca would say, ‘if there wasn’t a St. John’s, someone would have to invent it,’ because it’s done so much good.”

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