by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
On Nov. 2, 1923, roughly a dozen Dickinson alumni convened at a hotel in Harrisburg, Pa., to imagine a new way to get involved with their alma mater. In true Dickinson style, by day’s end, they’d hashed out a structure, mission and constitution for the General Alumni Association of Dickinson College, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
The founding goal, explained in a contemporary item in Dickinson Alumnus magazine, was to make “Old Dickinson a better Dickinson” through outreach, advocacy and “intelligent support of measures beneficial to the college.” That directive remains central. And, notably for a century-old organization, now known as the Alumni Council, continues to innovate and grow.
At the start, annual dues were $2 ($40 for a lifetime membership), and the dozen group members met twice annually. L.T. Appold, class of 1882, led the association of multigenerational alumni who, like the student body at that time, hailed nearly exclusively from Pennsylvania and neighboring states.
Today, there are no association dues, membership has grown to more than 30 and there are more than 300 living members and former members worldwide. Nominees are Mermaid Society members from several generations who’ve held volunteer roles with Dickinson. They work to create a strong sense of community within a global, rather than regional, college community.
Leading up to this centenary year, members developed an updated mission and strategy to create valuable, reciprocal relationships among alumni and among alumni and members of the campus community. This includes connections between alumni and students, beginning during the students’ first year on campus.
The new John M. Paz ’78 Alumni & Family Center will provide an ideal space to do this cross-generational work. Plans are to develop Alumni Council program sponsorships that further strengthen past and current councilmembers’ impact on the college and to connect alumni with areas of interest within Dickinson.
During Alumni Weekend, past and current Alumni Council members gathered on the Weiss Center for the Arts patio to celebrate the centenary. They also marked the election of the council’s newest president, Eric Fennel ’92.
As President John E. Jones III ’77, P’11, noted, none of the council’s past or future successes are possible without nimble Alumni Council members who, like the group’s founders, are future-focused and unafraid to roll up their sleeves.
“That’s not the norm with most alumni associations,” Jones said. “But this is a working Alumni Council that gets into the meaty work as partners with Dickinson’s board and leadership. … You are some of the finest ambassadors we have. We’re better and stronger because of you and your good work.”
Published August 21, 2023