Saint Mary’s College celebrated its sesquicentennial on November 3 with about 600 of its closest friends and supporters at a glittering gala on Treasure Island unlike anything in the college’s history.
“I’ve been around the college since the 1970s, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dick Callahan, announcer for the Oakland A’s and Saint Mary’s basketball, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening.
The party generated a total of $641,000, with the proceeds benefiting student scholarships, and highlighted the college’s central place in the Bay Area along with its historical roots in San Francisco, Oakland and Moraga.
“We’re excited to have this event on Treasure Island, in full view of the first home of Saint Mary’s College, San Francisco,” said Brother Ronald Gallagher, the college’s president. “Behind me is a skyline that’s not quite the skyline the first Brothers saw when they came in 1868. It has grown more resplendent, and Saint Mary’s has become more resplendent than its beginning in 1863.”
The evening began with a lively cocktail party in historic Building One, a striking semicircular Art Deco building constructed for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition that was featured in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and boasts extraordinary views of the San Francisco skyline. Below colorful murals, the walls were decorated with giant reproductions of posters from SMC’s glory days as a football powerhouse.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said senior Patrick Kenny, who came to the gala with Sierra Smith ’10, an employee of one of the event sponsors.
The guests included many of the college’s most steadfast supporters who have worked quietly behind the scenes for years to create opportunities for students, fund buildings, and make Saint Mary’s what it is today - people like Trustee Emeritus Bernie Orsi ’65, a trustee of the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation, which funded the School of Education and the Athletic and Recreation Corridor; John Macken ’62, a trustee who underwrites the Macken Speech and Debate Team; and Louisa Garaventa Binswanger, a trustee whose family has given generously to the college over the years and boasts 14 SMC alumni.
They were entertained by the SMC Chamber Singers and the SMC Dance Company, who swept into the reception room in flowing gowns in a dance number choreographed to the tune of “Africa” by Toto, and by soloists Angelica Estrella and Angelica Whaley. At the end of the evening, they danced to the music of the Dick Bright Orchestra, one of San Francisco’s premier society bands.
As guests enjoyed a sumptuous dinner, a number of them spoke about how the college had helped them in times of need and shaped their lives. Dr. Louis Geissberger ’53, a former regent who helped to build the Geissberger Observatory, recalled a time when one of the Brothers came to his assistance, and said, “I would not have had the life, I would not have had this wonderful family, if it had not been for the Christian Brothers.” His four sons, daughter-in-law and a niece – all SMC alumni – were in the audience.
Senior Carlos Bermudez said it was only because of a scholarship that he was able to attend Saint Mary’s and later be accepted for a prestigious internship at the Stanford School of Medicine. He lauded the college for “the warm embrace the Saint Mary’s community offers to students.”
Regent Lauren Speeth MBA ’89 and Jim Wood ’70, vice president of the Board of Regents, emphasized the importance of the President’s Emergency Fund, which has provided nearly $350,000 to students who have run out of funds and would have been forced to leave the college. He and Speeth then announced a joint $10,000 gift to the fund and invited others to join them. Several responded generously, pledging a total of $50,000 on the spot.
Brother Ronald thanked the guests for giving students the opportunity to attend Saint Mary’s College, saying, “I know they will make a positive impact on the world as you many alumni and friends have already.”
View a slide show of the evening.
By Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications
-Photos by Drew Altizer Photography