Santa Claus made an appearance last December at Fordham’s annual Christmas party, just has he has done for two generations. The party, a tradition for nearly 40 years, is one of the most beloved events hosted by the Fordham University Association (FUA).
Like Fordham itself, the Christmas party has evolved over the years.
“Twenty-five years ago, we hosted it in the Administration Building, on the second floor next to a little kitchen and reception area,” said Georgina Calia Arendacs, co-president of FUA. “There were about 15 children; then it increased to 30, so we moved it to McGinley Commons. Today, more than 100 children participate, so we host it in the McGinley Ballroom.”
FUA has likewise changed over the years. When it started in 1963, the group was known as Fordham Faculty Wives (FFW). Today, it stages 10 events annually that are open to all Fordham employees.
Jo Ann Himmelberg, whose husband, Robert, is a member of the Department of History and interim dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration, remembers the early days.
“With Fordham in a large urban setting and its faculty, staff and administrators living in the tri-state area, the idea of creating a typical university community seemed quite challenging,” Himmelberg said.
“The goal of FFW was to create an organization that would welcome new faculty members and their families, provide information about the University, housing, schools, medical resources and the like. And after that, provide ongoing opportunities for social exchange and activities.”
The first event, a Welcoming Tea held in the fall of 1963 in the faculty lounge of McGinley Center, drew about 50 women, according to Himmelberg.
She credited Vincent T. O’Keefe, S.J., president of Fordham at the time, with authorizing the club. “He approved the Faculty Wives with one condition—that it had to cut diagonally across University lines and could not be relegated to only a few departments,” she said. “He gave us $200 to start; we made it work through determination, cooperation and creative efforts.”
Each school year ended with a picnic at Mohansic State Park, now known as Franklin D. Roosevelt Park. The highlight was a softball game played by Fordham families with George McMahon, S.J., in charge of the batting order and occasionally serving as relief pitcher and umpire.
“No one got hurt—well, maybe a few feelings were hurt when the children could play better than some of the parents,” Himmelberg said.
Fordham Faculty Wives lasted about 10 years, she said. Though the group had always welcomed women faculty members, by the mid-1970s, it became clear that more and more spouses of male faculty members were pursuing careers, that the faculty itself was becoming increasingly balanced between men and women, and that a change of focus was needed.
Thus, the Fordham University Association was born.
Georgina Hoar, a professor of modern language and literature who led FUA in the 1980s, said that the group was tapped to host prestigious University events.
In addition to Christmas and welcome back parties, FUA organized a dinner attended by 500 guests for James Finlay, S.J., when he stepped down as president of Fordham in 1983. The group was subsequently asked to host a sendoff dinner for Paul Reiss, Ph.D., who left Fordham in 1985 to become president of St. Michael’s College.
FUA now encompasses all of Fordham’s campuses. While many of the functions it once provided—such as supplying newcomers with housing and school data and hosting faculty lectures—are now overseen by the administration, forging community remains integral to its mission.
For example, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is set for April 22 on all three campuses. The event involves educational and fun programs sponsored by the faculty, such as a scavenger hunt in the computer lab, a demonstration in the robotics lab and a tour of the animal behavior lab and the seismic station.
“This is a group in which volunteers from all three campuses join together in a spirit of community. It is a group of people who always say ‘yes’ to every task, whether large or small,” said Arendacs.