Reveling in all things F&M

Ron Sirak ’72

Soon after I arrived on campus for Reunion Weekend 2012, the F&M emergency siren alerted us that Lancaster County was under a tornado warning. It served as a metaphorically whimsical wake-up call.

I have visited Franklin & Marshall College many times since the Class of 1972 departed—most recently in March, to watch the Dips defeat Amherst College in the Sweet 16 of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, and often when my daughter, Rachel ’04, was a student. But I had never attended a Reunion Weekend.

That is a mistake I will not repeat. It was a memorable experience that deepened my pride in and appreciation for all things F&M.

In attendance the weekend of June 1–3 were classes with years ending in “2” or “7.” In some cases F&M was virtually all we had in common. Yet the cross- generational bonding was extraordinary and made the weekend quite special.

Sharing a college is a big deal. College is where personalities are formed and where the foundations of deeply held beliefs are laid down. The people who know me best now are the friends

I made at F&M. I might go years without seeing them, but after five minutes together it is as if no time has passed.

Seeing familiar faces from my class—Larry Shadek; Bob Byelick, who was on my freshman dorm floor; and Denise Miller, a member of the first group of women when the College went coed in 1969—was certainly enjoyable. But equally exciting was the chance to take in new campus buildings, learn about the latest educational programs and hear plans for the future.

Photos by Nick Gould. View more photos on Flickr.

From Greens to Green Berets

The weekend was full of opportunities to re-engage with fellow alumni at class meetings and dinners. It was also a time to learn. Saturday afternoon’s Alumni Forums were exemplary of all that is wonderful about a liberal arts education—and how that education has launched leaders in every field.

For my part, I presented on my job as executive editor of Golf World and senior writer for Golf Digest. I chose as my topic “Chasing Tiger/ Changing Times: How an F&M Education Prepared Me to Cover the Rise and Fall of Tiger Woods.”

F&M was life-changing for me. My father was a steelworker, as was his father, a Hungarian immigrant with a third-grade education. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I have no doubt that without F&M I would not have made it from New Castle, Pa., to New York City.

I certainly would not have had the skills or the nerve to be a writer. For both I owe thanks to professors such as Solomon Wank (history), Sidney Wise (government) and Mike Roth (philosophy). They challenged me, educated me, taught me how to reason and changed my life.

In my session I talked about how F&M taught me to examine new situations, think my way through stories and express myself clearly. As a sportswriter who started on a typewriter and now tweets from a smartphone,

I have relied on my F&M education countless times in countless ways over the past four decades.

I am not alone. I learned that firsthand when I attended the enlightening—and frightening—session on “Cyber-Operations: The Emerging Threat,” delivered by my classmate Lt. Gen. Richard P. Mills ’72. Mills, deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration and commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., was a dynamic speaker. He is also an inspiring example of how F&M prepares men and women for the most demanding tasks.

Did I mention that Gen. Mills is my classmate? So are hundreds of others in the Class of 1972 who are lawyers, doctors, business and nonprofit professionals, community leaders and government officials. That broad spectrum of professions and expertise is one of the things I love about the liberal arts.

A Shared Worldview

Every class thinks its own time was special, and the Class of 1972 is no different. The tumultuous point in history at which we arrived in Lancaster forged unshakable bonds.

Consider the forces that shaped our worldview in the eight months leading up to our arrival for freshman orientation in 1968. In January the Tet Offensive made clear the war in Vietnam would not end quickly. In March President Johnson announced he would not run for re-election. In April Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. And on the night of my high school graduation in June, Bobby Kennedy was killed.

I’ve always felt I grew into adulthood during a unique time. But one of the interesting realizations of Reunion Weekend was that all the classes had their own stories and their own experiences that made their time special.

My favorite part of the weekend was Saturday morning at the Alumni Celebration, where classes presented their class gifts and read class reflections. Some reflections were funny, others poignant and one or two dangerously close to irreverent. All were appreciative of their time at F&M.

As I listened to the speeches, I realized we all had shared F&M experiences that bonded us together. That is why Reunion Weekend was so important for me and for so many others. It was a reminder of a special time in our lives when lasting relationships were forged and abiding worldviews came into focus.

Don’t make the mistake I did and wait 40 years. You shouldn’t need a warning siren to tell you to re-establish ties with old friends and experience what’s new on campus. F&M changed our lives. Reunion Weekend might just do the same.

Award Winners

The F&M Alumni Board votes on four awards that it presents at Reunion Weekend to those who can attend. The winners of the Alumni Citation, Alumni Medal and Alumni Development Volunteer Award become members of the Society of Distinguished Alumni. The board also presents a GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) Alumni Award. This year’s recipients were:

Alumni Citation: John F. Burness ’67, Paula T. Dow, Esq., ’77, James R. Stengel ’77 and Allan Tasman, M.D., ’69

Alumni Development Volunteer Award: Neil Davidowitz ’72, Jody Haller Drake, Esq., ’77 and Morris “Maury” L. Garten, Esq., ’89

Alumni Medal: Catherine Jasons, Esq., ’76, Bill O’Leary ’77 and Charles “Chiz” Patterson ’54, P’79

Nevonian Medal: Sidney Dickstein, Esq., ’47 (at right) and Karl G. Klinges, M.D., ’52, P’77, G’11

GOLD Alumni Award: Justine Freisleben ’07, Brady Loeck ’05, Kate McDevitt ’09 and Ryan McGonigle ’11

Pictured after the awards ceremony are (l-r) F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield, Stengel, Dow, Alumni Board President Amy Francek ’97, Tasman, Burness, Rider, Drake, Jasons and Garten.


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