As hundreds of alumni converged on campus for Saint Mary's annual Gaelfest homecoming celebration on Jan. 17, the Alumni Association held its 49th Annual Awards ceremony in the Soda Center to acknowledge six individuals for their enduring commitment to the College.
Friends and family gathered to offer tributes to honorees, who've served the College as teachers, trustees and ambassadors to the broader community. Signs of appreciation took a variety of forms, including a poem by Joe Casalnuovo '50 for classmate and Signum Fidei Award winner Bob Kozlowski, a former winemaker at Kenwood Winery and organizer of the Gaels in Wine Alumni Chapter.
Award winners offered heartfelt accounts of the ways Saint Mary's has shaped their lives. Alumnus of the Year George Schmitt '65, who went from washing pots in SAGA cafeteria to leading several mobile phone companies in a 40-year telecommunications career, said his success would not have been possible without a $2,500 scholarship he received from thenâ€“Brother President Michael Thomas Quinn.
"Without Saint Mary's, I never would have gotten where I am," said Schmitt, whose wife, Clare, was named an honorary alumna of the College at the awards ceremony. "We have to remember that Saint Mary's made us who we are and to pay it back."
For Michael Johnson '87, a Southern California lawyer who received the College's Certificate of Merit, being honored by the College where Christian Brothers helped him become the first in his family to earn a bachelor's degree brought forth an outpouring of emotion.
"I'm usually more composed in front of a judge," Johnson said. "But this is family."
Emotions were also on display during the presentation of the De La Salle Award, which is given to a faculty member for commitment to students. This year's award was given posthumously to Dr. John Dennis, a beloved teacher at Saint Mary's from 1979 to 2008 and a former director of the College's High Potential Program for first-generation college students. Dennis was killed at his home in Oakland last February.
"He loved his time here at Saint Mary's and was dedicated like no other man I've met," said Dennis' nephew, Joshua Dennis. "I know he misses you as much as you miss him."
During a first-half timeout the Gaels' 96-46 victory over Pepperdine, Brother President Ronald Gallagher invited Alumni Award winners out to center court of McKeon Pavilion, where they received an ovation from the capacity crowd.
Several members of the extended Saint Mary's family were among the fans cheering the team onto victory. As Courtney Carmignani '05 explained in her speech honoring Erin Gilbert-Coates '02, winner of the young alumni award, people like Gilbert's husband, Scott, have married into the College family.
"While they're not technically Gaels, they're covered in Saint Mary's gear and rooting for the team," Carmignani said. "Before long, they can't remember where they actually went to school."
Office of College Communications
Read more about this year's Alumni Award Winners