Alumni Association Mission & History

Our Mission

The mission of the Alumni Association of the University at Albany is to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between the University and its alumni ... to perpetuate a sense of pride in and commitment to the outstanding qualities of the University and the education it provides, and to promote, in partnership, a positive image of the University and its alumni through communication, service and leadership.

Our History

The first Normal School graduation ceremony was held on August 27, 1845. Within four years, William F. Phelps, Silas T. Bowen and William W. Clark, graduates of that first class and by then school faculty, had spearheaded the formation of "The Association of Graduates of the New York State Normal School." The first meeting was held September 26, 1849, at 8 a.m. As originally conceived, the Association was set up to track the educational employment of its members and to provide a job clearinghouse as well as provide social occasions for literary and musical works by the graduates. The Association convened its first Jubilee on July 30, 1851, with 152 graduates in attendance. In addition to socializing with fellow alumni, the Jubilee was designed to formally dedicate the so-called "permanent" building on Lodge and Howard Streets.

The Association met biennially, except for the period of the Civil War, for about twenty years. Various changes in meeting dates, changes from biennial to annual meetings as well as changes in the expressed purpose and program marked the Association's history during this period. However, by the late 1860s and early 1870s, attendance had dropped as interest in the Association waned.

A reorganization and revitalization was undertaken with the appointment of Dr. Edward P. Waterbury, a dynamic graduate of the Normal School Class of 1849, as president of the school. Sherman Williams, Class of 1871, and Sumner H. Babcock, 1877, among others, worked with President Waterbury and Andrew Sloan Draper of the Executive Committee (trustees), both of whose names are immortalized in buildings on the Downtown Campus, to recharge the faltering Association. They planned an alumni reunion for December 1883, which was an enormous success attracting more than 600 alumni and forcing the planning committee to hold the literary forum in the chapel of the Albany High School.

A quote from the 1967 Alumni Handbook well describes the themes running through the history of the Alumni Association after this reorganization. "A history of the Alumni Association would include the areas of: Socializing; Orating; Reminiscing; Eating (you should see the menu of the 1892 dinner!); Singing, Stunts and Parades; and Service." (1)

The 1883 reunion marked the beginning of a more purposeful alumni association for, as the school grew in size and the "permanent" building was outgrown, President Waterbury began to need alumni assistance with fund raising. To do so, he compiled the addresses and achievements of every graduate of the school and authored the first history of the school and its graduates, "A Historical Sketch of the State Normal School ... A History of Its Graduates for Forty Years (Albany, 1884).

1883 saw the initiation of plans to move the college to a new home on Willett Street, across from Washington Park. It was at the alumni meeting that year that Dr. Waterbury suggested the alumni donate a memorial stained-glass window for the new college. The project was proposed and adopted, and a committee was formed with Waterbury, both alumnus and president of the school, as chair and treasurer. Subscriptions of "not more than $10 each" were solicited from Association members to collect a purse of $5,000.

A description of this window designed by Ezra Prentice Treadwell of Boston and, at 14' x 321/2', the largest single stained-glass window in the United States at that time, can be found on page 109 of the French college history listed above. By the time the window was completed in 1891, the Normal School had been re-designated a Normal College.

The famous statue of Minerva, presently in the University Library foyer, was purchased in 1888 with student fines. This statue stood for many years in the Draper Rotunda where it provided a convenient landmark, as in "I'll meet you at Minerva," for generations of students. The statue has needed refurbishment over the years and is now in the care of the Class of 1967, which calls itself the Guardians of Minerva.

The late 1880s also saw the beginnings of the Greek era. Delta Omega (1890) was the first of the sororities. Eta Mu was founded in 1896, Kappa Delta in 1897, Psi Gamma in 1898 and Chi Sigma Theta in 1906. The first fraternity, Phi Delta, was founded in 1892. Kappa Delta Rho, Gamma Chapter, was established in 1905. They flourished for sixty years and then began a gradual decline. One factor was the action of the SUNY Board of Trustees in 1953 in which they decreed, in keeping with a new age of equalitarianism, that no organization could exist on a SUNY campus which barred students on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, or other artificial criteria, nor could any Greek organization have national affiliation. (This ban was later (1976) lifted if membership policy could be determined on the local campus.) A further factor in the decline of the Greeks was the 1963 decision to abolish sorority and fraternity houses and to compel all students to move to the new campus then under construction.

THE 1900s

Class of 1933 at their first reunion.

The new century was marked by many changes forced by the needs of the enlarged student body, more modern curriculum and the successful implementation of graduate study. Anna E. Pierce, an alumna of 1884, was hired as a secretary and substitute in 1887, beginning her life-long professional association with the college. She served as an instructor and principal of the practice teaching school until 1913, when she was named first Dean of Women. Many alumni have fond memories of "Dean Annie," a gracious presence and strong influence for generations of graduates.

The decade of the 'Teens saw the beginnings of student traditions, most of which lasted throughout the undergraduate life of that campus. Moving Up Day began in 1914 followed in 1917 by Myskania, charged to control and to administer to student activities. Freshmen beanies were first worn in 1919. The Alumni Association held a contest for original songs composed by students and alumni, the winning songs to be published in a Song Book, sold to raise money for projects. One winner, in 1916, was the easily sung "College of the Empire State," which promptly replaced as alma mater the more difficult (and dated) "Alma Mater, Beloved Dear College."

"Scholarships, Fellowships, Loan Funds, and Awards have been alumni projects through the years. Collecting for the Husted Fellowship Fund was started in 1905, but it took until 1949 to reach $10,000 and make the first biennial award. Loan funds were started in 1917 to honor Mary McClellan '68 who was retiring from the faculty, and in 1920 by the Half Century Club of 1870. The VanDerzee Fund came into being in 1956 with the sale of VanDerzee Hall [which had been purchased originally with Benevolent Association funds.]

The Risley History Award was first made in 1947. The Bertha E. Brimmer award to an outstanding teacher was first made in 1954.''(2) Bertha Brimmer (1900) was the tireless Executive Secretary of the Alumni Association who maintained the Alumni Office, virtually single-handed, for many years. In more recent years the Theatre Alumni Association was founded, raised $10,000 to honor Agnes E. Futterer, the College's first Drama teacher and director, and disbanded itself. Undergraduate Dramatics awards, called "Aggies," were established with the interest from this fund.

Service, one of the themes for the history of the Alumni Association, is exemplified by the Albany Branch project to build the first residence halls at a state-funded college. The Branch launched its "dorm drive" in 1921, led by Dean Anna Pierce and John Sayles '02, head of the Benevolent Association's fund-raising arm. It consumed the energies of countless dedicated alumni for the next decade, the "Boom and Bust" years of the Great Depression.

The pride was great and well-earned when the cornerstone of the Women's Residence Hall was laid in 1935, and when Sayles Hall, the men's dorm, was dedicated in 1941. That year the Women's Dorm was renamed Pierce Hall, as a tribute to "Dean Annie." All told, the alumni and local friends had paid $600,000 into the Benevolent Fund for dormitory construction. The successful running of these dormitories on a firm financial footing became a model for the State Dormitory Authority, which would construct all future public and private dormitories in New York.

Another historic alumni contribution to the campus, headed by Janice Friedman Keller '40, was the purchase of the Symphonic Carillon, which sits upon the tower above the Lecture Center. The drive was initiated in 1964 and culminated in the June 1966 presentation. The Carillon Tower looms 200 feet over the Lecture Center complex from where the songs and chimes can be heard all over the campus.

The most recent major fund-raising effort, and most directly applicable to the needs of the alumni, was that which culminated in the construction of the Alumni House. In 1972 the Albany Fund was created with Paul G. Bulger '36, a long-time University professor and Association director, as chairman.

To arouse the interest and support, especially of the alumni, in contributing to the fund, it was suggested that the initial phase be a capital fund effort to build an Alumni House. An Alumni Association Building Committee was appointed, initially chaired by William Floyd '54 and later by Henry Madej '67. The University leased to the Alumni Association a secluded woodland plot on the campus for the construction. In two years, the fund raised $200,000, winning the U.S. Steel Alumni Giving Incentive Award of $1,000 and a trophy for increasing the amount of funds raised (in 1972-73) by a staggering 265%.

The building was architecturally avant garde for the 1970s, especially in its engineered use of solar heating for which the committee was successful in obtaining a $25,000 demonstration grant from Niagara Mohawk. Niagara Mohawk and the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center conducted the test of the experimental heating system which was judged first in a state-wide contest by the American Consulting Engineers Council. The design went on to be ranked in the top ten on a national contest.

The Alumni House, which provides offices for the the Alumni Association and staff from the Office of Development, is also used as a conference center. Its second floor meeting room was named the Bertha E. Brimmer Room to honor the woman who had served the alumni so well and for so many years. In 1980, the Alumni Association deeded the Alumni House to the State University of New York, but the alumni continue to contribute generously to its care and upgrading.

The organization of the Alumni Association, as well as its name, has changed several times over the years. In 1964 the University at Albany Alumni Association was incorporated, under Education law (501(c)(3), as a non-profit education corporation. In 1966 the Office of Alumni Affairs was created. A far cry from President Waterbury's list of 3,000 graduates or Mrs. Brimmer's drawers of handwritten 3"x5" cards, the Alumni Office now counts an alumni population of more than 125,000.

The role of the Alumni Association has, over the past 150 years, changed from a pleasant, largely social organization, to one of partnership with University's administration in assuring the viability and future excellence of our alma mater. The menu of services and other benefits offered to alumni has grown dramatically, including a comprehensive package of career services, and online alumni community, and much more.

Communication with alumni comes in many forms, including UALbany magazine, a monthly electronic newsletter and the alumni Web site. Constituent groups, which are alumni groups with a special interest or common bond, have multiplied rapidly, providing alumni with important business and personal connections. Chapters continue to reconnect many alumni as do a variety of special events, including reunions, Homecoming and the Big Purple Growl.

The Alumni Association has been built on a strong foundation of alumni leadership and tradition. The Association staff and board are committed to helping build an outstanding alumni program while supporting the mission and goals of the Association and the University at Albany.

Updated 9/98 by MAS/GW

1. 1967 Alumni Handbook, p. 7
2. 1967 Alumni Handbook, p. 8