It’s traditional for each Saint Ignatius High School class to make a significant gift in honor of their 50-year graduation anniversary. The Class of 1969 is setting the bar high with new standards in gift giving. They planned to donate $100,000 and by July had collected nearly all of it in cash and pledges.
That money will be used to help renovate the permanent home of The Welsh Academy, the new middle school component of the Saint Ignatius apostolate. Conceived of nearly three decades ago when the late Rev. Robert J. Welsh, S.J. ’54 was president of the high school, the academy offers high-potential boys of modest economic means a chance to prepare academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually for the rigors of a college-prep high school like Saint Ignatius. Student tuition is funded entirely by donors.
In August 2019, 21 sixth grade students started in temporary locations, including Gibbons Hall and the Library Classroom. After a $6.5 million renovation, the Foursquare Church on West 32nd Street and Carroll Avenue will become the official home of The Welsh Academy beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.
Fr. Welsh started teaching at Saint Ignatius High School as a theology teacher in the 1968-1969 school year and, as his first class of students, the class of 1969 thought it appropriate to honor him with their 50-year reunion gift.
“Our reunion committee believed our class could leave a lasting imprint for these young students through a gift initiative,” says Greg Ondercin ’69, who was on the reunion committee and served on the Welsh Academy Ad-Hoc Committee of the Saint Ignatius High School Board of Regents. “We established a goal of $100,000 to support construction of the academy building.”
Garen Distelhorst ’96, Director of Alumni Relations, calls this a significant contribution. “This class was motivated and organized,” he says. “The idea bubbled up last fall. Since then the reunion planning committee has shown leadership in giving as well as encouraging participation by other class members.”
“They went above and beyond in trying to plan the most impactful gift and reunion weekend,” continues Distelhorst. “They forced us to reimagine what was possible through a reunion giving program. The Advancement Department intends to use their model for subsequent 50th reunion classes.”
“Our class takes pride in being leaders,” Ondercin says. “It goes beyond the money to include what other support we can provide using our time and talents.”
Because wellness affects the ability to be successful, two medical professionals from the class are volunteering their professional skills. Mike Dobrovich, D.O., MSW ’69, formerly chief medical officer at St. John Medical Center, and Jim Sanitato M.D. ’69, a retired ophthalmologist from Cincinnati, are working with Welsh Academy Principal Mary Ann Vogel to design health and wellness check-ups and support for academy students.
Ondercin attributes the fundraising success to the bonds and values formed at Saint Ignatius High School and continuing 50 years later. That was demonstrated in the significant number of alumni attending their reunion. “We had more than half the living class attend at least one event from the reunion weekend,” he notes. “We have a pretty close bond.”
John Zone ’69, who worked with Ondercin and other reunion committee members to develop and communicate the initiative, agrees. “I have friends I still get together with for breakfast every six weeks. We’ve developed a brotherhood. That strong relationship drives the fundraising success,” says Zone. “The commitment is there. Our class, for as long as we can, will do what we can for The Welsh Academy. It’s not going to be a one-and-done.”