Toasting the Town

By Charles McKenzie, December 13, 2019
IC celebrates old friends and new spaces in downtown Ithaca.

More than 150 members of the community, including local business and government leaders, as well as friends of Ithaca College, came together Thursday night for the Ithaca College Winter Celebration.

 Tonight is about fellowship, about connecting, about just taking a deep breath and being together,” said President Shirley Collado, co-host along with Paula Younger, IC’s Executive Director for Government and Community Relations. The open house-style event was held at the Tompkins Center for History and Culture (TCHC), where IC has gallery and meeting space.

people mingling in front of an airplane

Guest mingle in front of the World War I-era "Tommy Plane," which was manufactured locally and restored by the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation.

The celebration was a part of the leadership team’s efforts to deepen IC’s engagement in the local community and thank partners for their support. Last year, Collado hosted the Ithaca College Community Honors event, which the leadership team reimagined this year, replacing a longer program with a winter social that allowed more networking and fellowship opportunities with longtime friends, like Frank Proto.

A county legislator for 29 years, Proto was the president of the Friends of Ithaca College when they raised funding to build the James J. Whalen Center for Music on IC’s campus. He remembers when South Hill had only athletic fields and a sign that read “Future Home to Ithaca College.” He said he was sad when IC moved from downtown Ithaca.

“But I’m so glad they’ve kept some continuity and contact downtown,” he said. “The college, the city and county have stayed in pretty close contact, and we’d like to see that strengthen even more. I would love to see them all integrated even more.”

Midway through the event, Younger welcomed the crowd in an emotional full-circle moment — and location — for her career and community.

Prior to coming to Ithaca College, Younger served for almost 12 years as deputy county administrator, a role where she had the official act of signing the paperwork that allowed the county to buy the former Tompkins Trust building, giving a home to the history center and all of its community partners, including IC and its gallery space.

people speaking

Paula Younger, IC’s executive director of government and community relations (left) speaks with Reginald White, human resources strategy director at Cornell University and Victoria White, executive programs leader in the Office of the President at Cornell.

“It’s an extra special pleasure because now one of my official acts as IC’s executive director of government and community relations is to invite you here, into the Ithaca College Gallery Room, to celebrate the importance of community,” she said.

She then introduced Collado, who noted the event also brought Ithaca College full circle, “With our roots downtown, we knew this was the perfect space to celebrate our community tonight, and I can’t think of a better way, especially with how IC started, than to do it in the presence of great artwork and music.”

She then thanked the Ithaca artist whose work currently graces the gallery, Terry Plater, and the student jazz trio, who played throughout the evening.

“There were a few times that the college almost didn’t make it, and thanks to this city and this town, and especially the Friends of Ithaca College, we made it. We prevail.”

IC President Shirley M. Collado

“We celebrate the sense of place here,” Collado said. “Our roots are here in Ithaca, a center for art and progress that we see mobilizing humanity in real time, whether it’s in climate action, social justice, race relations, civic engagement, voting or so many other areas.”

That was not always the case though. Collado recalled the darker days for the college, even existential crises, that activated the local community. Eventually, those true friends of Ithaca College officially became the Friends of Ithaca College.

“There were a few times that the college almost didn’t make it, and thanks to this city and this town, and especially the Friends of Ithaca College, we made it. We prevail,” she said. “We are a little bit of the scrappy little engine that could, and we couldn’t have done it without your fierce spirit and commitment to us, so we’re eternally grateful.”

That loyalty and support is exemplified in Jerry Dietz ’75, a member of the executive committee of the Friends of Ithaca College and the president of a local property management firm. Collado called Dietz both an advisor to her and a partner to the college, and she thanked him for leading the capital campaign for the TCHC and helping make the Ithaca College Gallery Room possible.

In the spirit of the season, Dietz recalled two holiday classics.

“I was really fortunate to see my alma mater, Ithaca College, ‘the little college that could,’ become a vital part of this community, to really mature and grow and make so many significant contributions (academically, culturally and socially),” he said. “I am so proud of how the college gives back to this community, which I have really adopted as my hometown. It may sound a bit hoakey, but Ithaca really is my Bedford Falls, and I am so very grateful for all of you and to the wonderful life that I have found in this town.” 

“To an incredible 2020 together,” Collado said in her toast, “and to community. Really. Thank you.”