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From the Beach Boys to the Fab Faux: Five Questions with Dennis Ruppel

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In early June, Dennis Ruppel will return to Fordham for his 50th Jubilee, and he’ll be bringing a Beatles tribute band with him. It won’t be the first time he’s brought a band to campus.

In 1966, when Ruppel was a sophomore English major, he booked both the Beach Boys and the Lovin’ Spoonful for a concert in the Rose Hill Gym. Managing the tension between the two groups—who were mistakenly placed in the same dressing room—turned out to be harder than getting them to campus in the first place.

“I remember walking into George McMahon’s office,” he says, referring to the Jesuit priest who was then dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, “and telling him that I had this contract for a group called the Beach Boys to come and perform. And oh, by the way, I need a check for $3,750 to make the deposit,” Ruppel says, laughing.

Father McMahon gave him the check after Ruppel assured him that the concert committee would sell enough tickets to reimburse the dean’s account.

“I don’t know that I would have done that if I was him, quite honestly,” says Ruppel, who is now a Fordham trustee. “So when I say Fordham was nurturing, I mean it in a big way.”

Rockin’ Rose Hill Again

Ruppel’s love for the classic rock hits of the ’60s is one of the things he has carried away from his time at Fordham. He and his wife, Patricia, who Ruppel says has “adopted Fordham,” are both big fans of the Beatles, and are looking forward to sharing their love of the Fab Faux with Fordham during a private concert for alumni, faculty, and staff on Friday, June 1, to help kick off Jubilee Weekend. “In our opinion there’s nobody who plays Beatles music more faithfully,” Ruppel says, “and they don’t try to look or act like them.”

Ruppel is also looking forward to reconnecting with his classmates during Jubilee (June 1 through 3), including those who helped him plan his class’s memorable sophomore spring concert.

“It’s been my experience that when you see a classmate, even if you’ve not seen them since the last reunion, you just pick up where you left off,” he says. “You have the same affinity as before. Friendships from that era are very special because of that shared formative time.”

Sharing the Experience

Ruppel says that he has felt “really fulfilled by my college experience,” and that’s why he and his wife started the Dennis and Patricia Ruppel Endowed Scholarship Fund at Fordham.

“I know Fordham has changed, and I’ve changed, and times have changed, but I still believe there’s a core that persists,” he says. “And I would really prefer that anybody who wanted to attend Fordham would not be prevented from doing so because of money.”

Ruppel’s history of supporting education dates back to his two-year stint as a social worker shortly after he graduated from Fordham. As a registered conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, he deferred his law school acceptance and was assigned to work for the Department of Families and Children’s Services in his native St. Petersburg, Florida, where he still resides.

“It turned out to be an absolute blessing,” Ruppel says of the experience, which exposed him to a level of poverty he had not been fully aware of while growing up in the area. “It became very clear to me that education was really the only path out of that economic deprivation, and if the youngest kids were not prepared for school before they got there, there was little chance they would succeed.”

While he now juggles multiple professional roles—as a lawyer, a chairman of both a bank and an insurance company, and a co-owner of a hotel in Maine—he has remained committed to educational causes.

“We’ve been fortunate enough in our lives that we have the resources to make contributions,” Ruppel says, “and one of the things we care about is helping provide students with a high-quality education.” 

 

What are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about quality preschool education, especially for the economically disadvantaged. Our future and their future is highly dependent on their school readiness. Studies show that quality in this arena makes a material difference.

Some of this passion stems from my own experience as a single parent of two preschoolers while I was attending law school. I vowed then it was a cause I would support for my lifetime. I have been fortunate to do so. For 30 years I have served on the board of directors for R’Club Child Care in St. Petersburg, Florida, a local nonprofit that currently cares for more than 4,000 children per day in highly educational and nurturing settings.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My dad, who was an incredible mentor, told me that the most important decisions in life are picking one’s partners—whether that be your spouse, friends, law partners, or business partners—and that there is no more important activity in life than nurturing those partnerships.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
In New York City, the New York Yacht Club. Its architecture, art, and nautical artifacts and models collectively make it the Sistine Chapel of sailing. It is our home when my wife and I are visiting New York; I discover something new on every visit.

My favorite place in the world is Maine in the summertime and early fall. We are fortunate to have a summer home there and make it our base from June to mid-October. Our family and friends share time with us there. I love the people, the environment, and climate. It’s a thoroughly restorative place.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.
The entire Bob Dylan songbook. I remember clearly the first time I heard his music in the dorm room of a friend near the beginning of my first year at Fordham. I was immediately captivated by Dylan’s mastery of words and moments. To this day, at times of quiet, it is most often his words and lyrics that come to me. It’s a lifelong love for sure.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
John Costantino—who was recently and justly honored at the Fordham Founder’s Award Dinner—is the Fordham grad I most admire. A true Fordham man, always gracious and thoughtful, a lifelong learner with the courage to take well-thought risks and who always shares his wonderful sense of humor. I admire his loyalty to family, friends, and Fordham.

And Nicholas Loprete was the English literature professor who opened my eyes to the depth and wonders of fiction and poetry. He loved what he taught. He taught me to love it too.

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