When John Pettenati, FCRH ’81, was young, his great-uncle Edwin Silk, FCRH ’32, LAW ’34, would sit him on his knee and tell him stories about Fordham and the Jesuits.
“He was essentially a grandfather to me,” Pettenatti said of Silk, whose stories led the young Pettenati to consider Fordham his “ideal of what a university should be.”
That feeling stayed with Pettenati, who went on to become the first in his immediate family to attend college. “I don’t want to sound sappy,” he said, “but there’s a little bit of pride about being known as a Fordham person. I like being defined by that in my professional life and in my personal life.”Now Pettenati will also be known by his fellow Fordham alumni as the first chair of the newly formed Fordham University Alumni Association (FUAA), the dues-free, University-wide alumni group represented by an advisory board of 24 alumni.
“The broad idea here is to identify how we—as alumni—can help the institution, and also help identify and understand how Fordham can help its alumni,” Pettenati explained. “It’s a great two-way street, and I couldn’t be more overjoyed or honored to represent the 175,000 living Fordham alumni.”
Ted Clarke, FCRH ’82, assistant coach of the men’s squash team at Fordham, has been friends with Pettenati since they took a history class together in college. He isn’t surprised his friend has taken on this role. “He’s a very outgoing guy,” Clarke said, “and he’s always supported Fordham.”
What did surprise Clarke was the size of Fordham’s alumni population. For Pettenati, that’s one of the most exciting aspects of his new volunteer position.
“It’s nice having the chance to get a new perspective of the University, especially since many of the people I meet will be younger than me,” he said.
This intergenerational connection is especially important to Pettenati given that the FUAA is starting up during Fordham’s Dodransbicentennial—its 175th anniversary.
For years, Pettenati has been captivated by his alma mater’s past. In fact, he owns quite a large collection of Fordham memorabilia. “When my Uncle Ed passed away, I inherited a bunch of his old college yearbooks. And all of a sudden eBay came onto the scene,” giving Pettenati easy access to more fascinating objects. He was immediately hooked.
“Fordham has a rich history and, for me, it’s very relaxing and a lot of fun to really dig deep into the history of the school in order to be better acquainted with it in this way,” explained Pettenati, who leads the wealth advisory and business development efforts for Rockefeller & Co., a global wealth and investment management firm in New York City.
After 12 years of eBay hunting, Pettenati jokes that his wife “has had it up to her eyeballs with Fordham glassware.” The plates, mugs, event programs, and more are spread throughout their home, but his favorite piece lives in the garage. It’s an old clock—most likely from the late 1970s—shaped like a football helmet, made of maroon fabric, and sporting a big Fordham seal right underneath the arms. “It’s one of the stranger pieces I have,” Pettenati laughed.
His choice is fitting given his family’s love of the Fordham football program. He and his wife attend every home game, and they often travel for other big events. Fordham football “has a long, proud history of its own,” said Pettenati, who never played the sport himself but has always been a fan.
The Pettenati family also supports Cristo Rey and the Gregorian University Foundation of New York. “We’re big believers in social justice,” Pettenati explained, citing yet another connection to the Jesuit tradition that first drew him to Fordham.
“Fordham is an organic place; it constantly changes and grows,” Pettenati said. “But it still has that Jesuit, Catholic identity. It’s got this wonderful history, and it’s also dynamic and exciting.”
As chair of the new alumni association, Pettenati hopes to represent his fellow alumni in the best possible way. “Fordham gave me a lot more than I can give back to Fordham,” he said.