Salovey celebrates club's sesquicentennial with Cincinnati alumni

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Cincinnati alumni leaders gather on the lawn of the home of CYC founder Alphonso Taft, and the birthplace of William Howard Taft. Seated (left to right): Warner Off, Cedric Vogel, Barbara Wagner, and Charles Harte III. Standing: Michael Hurley, Susan Prince, and Alfred Shikany. Kneeling: Jonathan Lippincott.

President Peter Salovey ’86 Ph.D. joined with over 125 Yale graduates and friends in Cincinnati on Sep. 21 to salute the strong “sense of being at home, staying connected, and taking Yale with us wherever we go” that is a hallmark of the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) and its nearly 200 regional alumni groups across the country and around the world.

That tradition began with the founding of the Cincinnati Yale Club (CYC) in 1864. Salovey noted that the group’s founders began a lively tradition that has continued ever since whereby alumni maintain their connections “whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever their interests.”

His remarks came at a gala dinner that capped two days of celebrations organized by local alumni volunteers. Three of those volunteers — Isaac Selya ’08, Rick Vogel ’68, and Barbara Wagner ’73 — set the scene for the weekend and shared the history of the CYC on air with listeners of WVXU radio on Friday afternoon, Sep. 20. According to Jonathan Lippincott ’68, a co-chair for the festivities, “We Cincy Yalies had to decide whether to throw just an anniversary dinner or try for a blockbuster of a weekend. We decided to pull out all the stops in honor of our club’s history and continued vitality. After all, how many Yale Clubs have had a former president of the United States (Taft) serve previously as president of their club?”

On Friday evening, Sep. 20, Selya, artistic director of the Queen City Chamber Opera (QCCO), helped lead a special music program featuring the premiere of special fanfares for the sesquicentennial composed by Bryce Dessner ’98, ’99 Mus.M., an internationally recognized composer, founder of the MusicNOW Festival and co-founder of The National. The music was performed by the QCCO brass section and evoked the CYC’s founding time with themes of Lincoln and others hearkening back to 1864.

The Friday opening reception also featured selections of songs by Yale alumnus Cole Porter, performed by The Phil DeGreg Trio and vocalist Lynne Scott. DeGreg, a Cincinnati native and 1976 Yale College graduate, is professor of jazz studies at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. New Haven’s Ginny Bales provided commentary during the evening on Porter, Yale, and his legacy.

The next day, alumni and friends gathered for an anniversary luncheon symposium with talks by Jay Gitlin ’81, ‘74 Mus.M., ’02 Ph.D., associate director of the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders; Judith Schiff, chief research archivist at the Yale University Library; and Michael Morand ’87, ’93 M.Div., deputy chief communications officer at Yale, who grew up in the Cincinnati region. Their talks are among an extensive set of lectures by Yale faculty and leaders offered by regional alumni groups throughout the year by the alumni association.

Gitlin focused his remarks on the early days of the settlement of Cincinnati, known as the Queen City of the West. He also showcased the legacy and vitality of the study of the West and frontiers at Yale and how contemporary scholarship continues to shed new light on American development. Morand looked to contemporary Cincinnati, a city enjoying redevelopment, and what it, Yale, and New Haven can learn from each other about urban renaissance. He noted that both cities have a university as their largest employers, as do many other urban centers, and shared how Yale has engaged with its neighbors to promote downtown, economic development, public school partnerships, and neighborhood homeownership. He observed that Cincinnati’s public libraries and great local pride were things other cities, including New Haven, should emulate.

Schiff told stories of historic Cincinnati-Yale ties, with special emphasis on the role alumni had in Cincinnati and the impact students from the city had at Yale. Perhaps most prominent — in the community, on campus, and in the nation — are members of the Taft family, including Alphonso Taft, who moved to Cincinnati in 1839, after graduation from Yale College and the Yale Law School, becoming a successful attorney and active citizen, and later secretary of war and attorney general of the United States. Perhaps best known as the father of another Cincinnati Yale alumnus, William Howard Taft — the only person to serve as both president of the United States and chief justice of the Supreme Court — Alphonso Taft was one of the “fathers” of the Cincinnati Yale Club, gathering all the local graduates together in 1864 and resolving that “the common bond between them should be continued.”

The musical theme of the previous evening carried over into Schiff’s talk, not surprising given that both Cincinnati and Yale are considered centers of music and, especially, song. As she noted, it was a Cincinnati student at Yale — Henry Strong Durand of the undergraduate Class of 1881 — who wrote the words to “Bright College Years” in his senior year on campus.

Durand’s words — the most-sung of any Yale songs — were heard that evening at the end of the dinner that closed the sesquicentennial celebrations. The program that night featured an address by President Salovey, who was introduced by John Pepper ’60, former senior fellow of the Yale Corporation and former chairman and chief executive officer of Cincinnati-headquartered Procter & Gamble. Salovey opened his remarks with a tribute to Pepper, noting that his business career, his commitment to Yale, and his civic leadership exemplified the ideal of service to society cherished on campus and among graduates.

Noting that Yale football had begun the centennial season of the Yale Bowl that afternoon with an opening day victory against Lehigh, Salovey updated the alumni gathered on the highlights of his first year in office. He also shared his thoughts on priority areas for the years ahead, with emphasis on further strengthening efforts to make a Yale education more accessible and to grow the spirit and practice of entrepreneurship and innovation on campus. The latter theme, he noted, is the focus of this fall’s upcoming annual assembly of the AYA.

Salovey saluted the Cincinnatians of today for how they maintain “the common bond” of Yale and its graduates vibrant in the 21st century, keeping faith with their predecessors who were catalysts in 1864 when they established the first regional Yale alumni group in the nation. He remarked that then “innovative, creative, connected Cincinnati was the leader” and that it remains so, joined by 140 other local alumni associations in the U.S. and 40 internationally. Strong regional groups such as the CYC, Salovey said, make for a stronger university and they also support alumni in service their home communities.

Robert Bonds ’71, AYA assistant director for club and association relations, observed after the celebrations that the Cincinnati group had set an excellent example with its 2014 program, just as Cincinnati had set the example 150 years ago. “The officers of the CYC, led by President Warner Off ’02 and Treasurer Charlie Harte ’65, and the anniversary planning committee, led by co-chairs Lippincott, Wagner, and Vogel, did a truly remarkable job,” Bonds remarked. “There were great crowds at all the events and they included all generations of alumni, from the most senior to many younger alumni of the recent graduating classes, and the whole range of Yale degrees.” Bonds said the comments he heard over the weekend and the notes he received after were consistent in their enthusiasm, peppered words including “great,” “pleasant,” “cohesive,” “inspiring,” and “excellent.”

“These are exciting times for Yale,” Salovey said at the close of his address, and the consensus in Cincinnati seemed to be that these are also exciting times for their hometown Yale alumni group. “The Cincinnati Yale Club’s 150th anniversary weekend was an example of the best that Yale could bring to Cincinnati and the best that the CYC could bring to its members, guests, and friends,” according to Vogel ’68. “Going forward it is difficult to imagine how all those who participated won’t feel a renewed enthusiasm for alma mater and the CYC.”

Anniversary co-chair Lippincott concurred, observing after the weekend, “We were fortunate that an ambitious program generated a wave of enthusiasm from regional alumni of all ages. Yale alums and friends filled all three venues, from the Friday night concert to the Saturday symposium and Saturday evening gala. Peter Salovey and his wife, Marta Moret, couldn’t have been more enthusiastic and engaged.”

Looking forward, Lippincott says, “The sesquicentennial events generated a sense of fellowship and celebration that will long linger. Future Yale alumni activities here will be inspired by what we now know is possible. Why, Yale may even beat Harvard this November!”

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Michael Morand: michael.morand@yale.edu , 203-432-3056