Chapter IX: Organizing the Campaign

Father Randall arranged for a campaign office in the Columbus Civic Center on the same floor as his own office, almost directly across the corridor. A genius at organization, Pete had in a day or so lined up the steps we must take. The first concern was to secure the best secretary we could. He thought of Miss Zelda Lyons who had a fine position at the Hotel Seneca, and he and I walked over to see Zelda in the hotel office. She listened to our pleas for help. I included the promise that should she join us, we would assure her employment at the college, likely as its Registrar. Thus it came about that Zelda Lyons was the first Registrar of St. John Fisher College. I recall her statement that day: "I am flattered and honored. Would you give me so me time to think about it and pray over it?"

All three of us evidently prayed over it and in a day or so she called to say she would accept the position. With Bishop Kearney and Father Randall, Zelda Lyons filled out the triumvirate that would help to launch the campaign.

We opened our office at Columbus Civic Center, 50 Chestnut Street, with Zelda Lyons at one desk, I at another, in the same room. I charged Zelda to select furniture, curtains, rugs in a manner fitting an executive office, with the added injunction to buy only high class accessories that could continue in use at the college. As late as 1966, I recognized around Father Lavery's offices several chairs and desks that were among our first purchases.

We soon outgrew the one-room office and added the one next door. This layout would comprise the hub of operation for St. John Fisher College for the next two years.

About three floors of the building were devoted to the Chancery, Education, and the Propagation of the Faith offices. We soon became a quasi-diocesan project. The facilities were ideal. When we needed extra secretarial help, Zelda recruited several of the Nazareth College graduates working in the building to help after five o'clock. Among them were Mary Leary and Margaret Larkin from Father Randall's office, and Mary Agnes Doyle from Father Charlie Mahoney's office. All were of tremendous assistance . They were intelligent, efficient, dedicated girls. A type of family spirit developed. With Father Randall and Zelda fostering it, it could not be otherwise. It must be remembered that we were not employing professional fund raisers. Pete Randall was superior to any I had ever met.

William A. Lang was then Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety for the City of Rochester, having been in newspaper work prior to that. We employed him as Publicity Director. Always smiling, thoughtful and creative, he was also demanding on deadlines f or news notices. We reimbursed him in some measure after the campaign, as we did all who helped secretarially.

The inner core of the structure and the mechanics of the campaign were set up early in September 1947. Timetabling it was a thorny item. We studied the schedules of the Community Chest and other fund appeals, considering the tax deadlines involved. It appeared that we simply could not arrange the appeal to the parishes that fall. The Special Gifts part should and could get under way in October or November. The general public and parochial campaign would be kicked off in February of 1948.

Some kind of confirmation by civic and diocesan leaders was essential. We were only four or five persons who were convinced of the righteousness of our cause. We had to extend this awareness. Therefore in mid-September we invited several leaders of business and industry, and chancery officials to a luncheon at the Hotel Seneca. Some 12 or 15 persons attended, including Bishop Kearney, Monsignor William Hart, Vicar General of the diocese, Emmet Finucane, Joe Myler, Otto Shults, Dan Macken, John Boylan, Louis Langie and Harold Coleman. Frank Wolfe was present to represent the garment industry. I recollect that Maurice Forman of the B. Forman Company store, Jack Jardine and David Shearer were also with us. Dave Shearer was the genial attorney for the Diocese of Rochester, a bachelor who lived at the University Club and whose client, Sarah M. Ward, later left St. John Fisher College a bequest of $450,000. The Gannett Newspapers were represented by Joe Adams. Joe became a tower of strength for me. I still regard him as the Original Positive Thinker. For him, everything was "fine," "splendid," "great." His words were tonic to any tiring entrepreneur. Monsignor William Bergin, Chancellor of the diocese, was also present to help us in steering the discussion. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the spring campaign get underway.

At this opening luncheon, Bishop Kearney presented the case in his usual winning way. He made it clear that he wanted the campaign. The group bought the idea only after exploring the problems we might encounter. We agreed that $1,000,000 would be the goal. A major problem was the timing of a general appeal. It was decided we would have to have it in the spring. The Special Gifts phase should start at once.

Back at the office Pete and I set up the division of labor. I would direct the Special Gifts section with a goal of $500,000. He would direct the diocesan-wide parish appeal for the half million dollar balance. Already I had given myself the title o f Executive Director of St. John Fisher College. Father McCorkell had agreed to this. Roughly it meant I was the Boss Man, Charge d'Affaires, Chief of Operations. Despite these high-sounding titles, I was in reality somewhere between a messenger boy and a president. There was too much to do here and now to bother about titles. Since I was the overall operator of campaign and college, I became also the treasurer of the campaign. Checks for gifts would be made out to Rev. Hugh J. Haffey, C.S.B., Treasurer. The campaign literature would carry this notice. Deposits and withdrawals at the banks would carry my signature.

Any question as to who owned the bank funds or the college site was thereby eliminated, Never once did the chancery office or the Bishop, or any citizen, lay or clerical, demand an accounting of our funds. I cite this now to document the fact of complete cooperation on the part of the diocese and the general public in the beginnings of the college.

Movement on all fronts began. We persuaded Otto Shults to be Special Gifts Chairman. He was rated by the business elite as the most astute individual in the areas of taxes, money sources, and corporation worth pertaining to the Rochester scene. Otto 's home was the site of several meetings of our Special Gifts Committee; I believe we had our first meeting there. His tall, impressive bearing was joined to a sharp mind and a winning personality. I recall one instance of a potentially large donor who could not quite follow the tax deduction intricacies. Otto solved his problem for him in five minutes.

At the same time Pete and I arranged with the Bishop to persuade Joe Myler to be General Chairman. Joseph J. Myler was general manager of the Neisner Stores chain. A staunch Catholic and civic leader, he had worked with me on several projects. His sons, Joseph Jr. and Eugene, had been students at Aquinas Institute. Young Joe was killed in World War II. When one is recruiting personnel, especially unpaid workers, it is customary to underplay the duties and responsibilities expected in the person sought. Joe's chief duty would be to preside at the general meetings, introduce guests, and perform other ritualistic roles. Madison Avenue would call it the "soft sell." It generally involves much more. So it was with Joe Myler, but his generous, gallant spirit never complained.

As General Chairman, Joe was more Pete's responsibility than mine. Yet when I needed someone to canvass the large stores for my Special Gifts Committee, Joe went with me to Sibley, Lindsay and Curr; to Forman's; to McCurdy's; and the others. He had a commanding presence at a meeting whether at his home, where we sometimes met, or at the Chamber of Commerce where we had over 2000 people at the kick-off and concluding dinners.

In the files of the local press there must be documentation of the various events of the campaign. There is little purpose in repeating them here. I am trying to recall those affairs, journeys, and persons that structured the matrix of the undertaking. Often some things went unreported because they had little news value. They did, however, contribute to the final product.

One such instance was a trip to Buffalo that Father Randall and I had made in the fall of '47. We had learned that Cardinal Spellman was to be present at a religious conference of some kind. Into his busy schedule we intruded and asked him to come to Rochester at a later date and preside at a large rally in the Eastman Theatre. It would mean a great deal to the church in our area, but especially it would be a great boost for our campaign. It was the first time I had seen him since Archbishop Vachon had arranged for me to visit him in New York. When I walked Madison Avenue with him (as I've reported earlier), I had no notion that we would be asking him to do us this favor. He agreed to come.

We built his appearance into something civic, eventful. First, Pete arranged a citizens' welcome for him at the old New York Central Station. Then Bishop Kearney, Pete and I went to Syracuse where we boarded the westbound Empire State Express carrying the Cardinal. All of us huddled in his drawing room where, in his shirtsleeves, he kept working away at the speech he was to give that night at the Eastman. A large crowd greeted us as we got off the train. The Cardinal pressed some bills in my hand and told me to buy two return tickets to New York. I said I would turn it over to Mr. Courneen, the manager of the Rochester station, who, I was sure, would arrange it. Determinedly he replied, "I want you to do it." Another item he insisted on was the quick retyping of his manuscript for the evening. "Can you find some efficient, trustworthy person? Will she be able to follow all the corrections, arrows here, deletions there?" "Oh, of course," I replied. "I want you to take personal charge of it," he insisted. The Cardinal, for some reason, pounced on me to get with all these details.

Bishop Kearney arranged a superb evening meal in his 947 East Avenue residence. Again, in the table talk the Cardinal kidded and jested with me as a selected target. It bothered me not at all. We had brought him to the city for a specific purpose and the purpose was realized. Some 2500 to 3000 people flocked to the Eastman Theatre. Father Randall had done his best in arrangements as he always did. Across the stage in the front line were the Cardinal and Bishop Kearney. All were in formal dress, the papal knights of the diocese in white tie and sash, monsignori in their colorful robes, and at one end I sat in a borrowed cloak. Father Randall sat at the other extreme with a cloak similar to mine, Behind all of us ranged the band of Aquinas Institute.

The program came off well. just before its conclusion, Cardinal Spellman, with no notice given the chairman, strolled over to the rostrum. He declared that he usually carried two speeches just in case his first speech (which was most laudatory of everything in Rochester) was not a success. Then he reached into the fold of his robes and pulled out a check. It was for $25,000 to the campaign. "It is," he said, "from the priests and people of New York." The applause was deafening. It came as a complete surprise and I soon forgot the badgering he had given me earlier.

Go to Chapter X
Back to the Table of Contents

Map & DirectionsA-Z Site IndexPeople Directory

Copyright © St. John Fisher College • 3690 East Avenue, Rochester, New York 14618 • (585) 385-8000
Questions/Comments? - Email the Webmaster Website Terms of Use