Fiat Gratitude and Giving

This Thursday, millions of people across our nation will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving and count their blessings. The love of friends and family; good health; a job that helps put a roof over our heads and food on our tables: there are so many reasons, big and small, for which to be grateful.

During this season, when we give thanks for what we have, we can also take time to recognize those who provide hope to others through selfless acts. We need look no further than our Alfred University alumni and campus community for such examples of generosity and kindness.

Richard ’63 and Martha Widdicombe sponsor a program in which faculty and staff welcome students into their homes for dinner. The Widdicombes’ generosity is inspired by Richard’s experience as a student here, when professors and community residents routinely invited him into their homes for meals. For example, the late Fred Gertz ’82 HD, a longtime professor and administrator at our University, would regularly invite students who could not make it back to their families for Thanksgiving to come to his home for a holiday dinner.

Last Thursday, we had the pleasure of hosting 11 students, along with vice president for Student Affairs Kimberly Guyer, for a Widdicombe dinner at our home. Other members of our faculty and staff will have the opportunity to host students as well, and in doing so, inspire in their student guests the spirit of giving that will build on the legacies of Fred Gertz and the Widdicombes.

Mark Zupan and vice president for Student Affairs Kimberly Guyer pose with 11 students who attended dinner.
Yours truly entertaining a group that included 11 students and vice president for Student Affairs Kimberly Guyer (front, third from left) for a Widdicombe Dinner.

The parents of one of our current students, marketing major Victoria Cramp ’20, have been channeling their inner Fred Gertz for 15 years. Since 2004, Victoria’s parents, owners of Billy Schu’s restaurant in Hornell, have provided free Thanksgiving meals to residents of Hornell and the surrounding communities who do not have someone to eat with, cannot afford a holiday meal, or are homebound. Each year, the Cramps provide meals to hundreds of people, including students from Alfred University and Alfred State College who cannot make it home for Thanksgiving (Hornell Evening Tribune feature on Billy Schu’s 2018 Thanksgiving Dinner). The Cramp family has connections to both Alfred University and Alfred State College. Victoria’s father, Ian, attended Alfred University; her mother, Lori, is an Alfred State alumna; and her older sister, Amber, earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2017 and an MBA in 2019 from our University.

There are other recent examples of our campus community giving of themselves for the good of others. Our Athletics Department responded to a devastating fire in Hornell on November 16, by quickly organizing a fundraising effort to help the 23 people (nine children among them) displaced by the blaze, including a current student in our education program. Our Student Affairs unit is collecting winter apparel to give to students who arrived on campus in August unprepared for the coming cold weather. A “Polar Plunge” at Foster Lake this past Sunday, organized by Michele Hluchy, professor of Environmental Studies and Geology, and Jeff Sluyter-Beltrao, associate professor of Political Science, raised money to help build a water well in a Puerto Rican community devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Our Institute for Cultural Unity, Student Activities Board, and Brother to Brother, working with our Student Affairs staff, have organized an inaugural Charity Dinner and Ball on Friday, December 6, to benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Southern Tier.

In one more gratifying example, last Friday evening I was honored to attend a gathering of the family of Brockport High School senior Ashton Howlett, who has applied to Alfred University for the fall 2020 semester. The family gathering was planned to present Ashton’s paternal grandfather, Roger, who is color blind, with two pair of EnChroma glasses, donated by our management team for his use. Developed by Alfred University alumnus Don McPherson ’84 MS, ’88 PhD, ’18 HD, EnChroma glasses correct most forms of color blindness.

A group including Ashton’s parents, his sister Molly, and both sets of his grandparents gathered at a Rochester area restaurant for dinner, which I attended under the pretense of letting Ashton know he had been accepted to Alfred University. Before dinner was served, Ashton surprised his grandfather with the real reason for the gathering: to present him with the EnChroma glasses. Ashton had asked family members in attendance to wear vivid colors to the dinner. When Roger put the glasses on, he was overcome with joy. Prior to donning the glasses, he had not been able to distinguish the colors on the Alfred University sweatshirt that he wore to the dinner. Afterward, Roger was imbued with wonder at the opportunity to learn, for the first time in his life, about purple and gold as well as the other vivid range of colors being worn by his surrounding family members.

Coincidentally, a recent NBC Nightly News clip showed a Minnesota boy’s emotional reaction to wearing a pair of EnChroma glasses and seeing colors for the first time. These are but two examples of how the inventiveness of our alumni is bettering our world.

As Thanksgiving approaches, let us keep in mind Thornton Wilder’s observation that “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Let us be thankful for all those in the Alfred University community who have contributed to our treasures and resolve to follow their example. As Anne Frank so eloquently stated, “No one ever became poor by giving.”

Fiat Gratitude and Giving!

P.S. My own family will be converging on Columbus, Ohio, to be with my 87-year-old mom who recently had knee replacement surgery. We are committed to preparing the entire Thanksgiving meal for her…provided that she is willing to relinquish her kitchen for the occasion!