HughE Dillon: Girard College’s Good Friends Gala

Alums gather to honor the school's work and this year's honoree, Peter Shoemaker.

On Friday night, Girard College hosted its annual Good Friends Gala. Each year, they honor an alum with the Corinthian Award, which recognizes exemplary good deeds done by a person in the spirit of Stephen Girard, the college’s founder. This year’s honoree was Peter Shoemaker (class of 1960), pictured here with Autumn Graves, president of Girard College. Shoemaker is EVP of Global Imaging Systems. In a video tribute, many of his classmates thanked him for his generosity shown with his time, talents and resources.

Before the awards ceremony, a cocktail party was held in the foyer of Founders Hall. Catering was by Cescaphe. The event was a big draw for friends and family of Peter Shoemaker, as well as a reunion for Girard College graduates, like Leon Visnov, a 1942 graduate of the school, pictured below with his son, Stewart Visnov, and wife, Ruth Visnov. Girard provides free education, room, and board to low-income boys and girls in first through 12th grades on its 43-acre campus.

Below: Tanisha Jenkins is a graduate of Girard College (class of 2000). She tells me that the Girard College experience taught her discipline and the rewards of hard work. Today, she works as an electrical engineer. Omar Woodard graduated in 2001 and is a principal at Venture Philanthropy Partners in Washington, D.C. He was just recently asked to be on the Girard College board of managers, where he will be the youngest to serve. Both Girard graduates tell me they have fond memories of their school, and remain close to their classmates.

Below: Gabe Canuso, Brown Hill Development, and Jan Shaeffer, executive director at St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children. The duo reminded me that the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center’s “13th Annual Roundup” is right around the corner on June 1st.

Below: Beryl and Chet Basher, with Peter and Roz Shoemaker. In Mr. Shoemaker’s speech, he emphasized that his motto for living is the three phases of life: “Learn, Earn and Return.” Shoemaker paid tribute to many Girard College graduates who went on to very successful careers—all owe their success to the “Girard Opportunity” and ran with it as he did.

Below: Eve Walker, Billy Walker and Meredith Antik. One of the highlights of the evening was the live auction conducted by the very talented Jeffrey Hammond, who was able to raise a lot of money through his humor as well as professionalism. A good auctioneer really does make a difference in funds raised as you have to keep the crowd entertained and in a good mood as they part with their money, even if it’s for a good cause and for great experiences. One of the items sold was packaged as “Off to the Races,” where the winner and friends could watch the races at Parx Racetrack in Bensalem, and have one of the races would be named after the winner. The winning bid was $1,200.

Below: Leon Tucker, Monique Castillo and Bernard Smalley, head of the Board of City Trusts’ Girard College Committee. Smalley will be busy the next several months helping to search for the next president of Girard College as it’s been announced that Autumn Graves is stepping down in June.

Below: Barbara Cermele and Dominic M. Cermele. Dominic, a graduate of the class of 1989, retired as president of Girard College in 2009 and has been enjoying retirement as well as acting as a consultant for various companies. I asked if maybe he’d like to return to his old position, but he told me life is good, that wonderful chapter is behind him, and the Board will find a suitable president to succeed Autumn.

As I mentioned, the president of Girard College, Autumn Adkins Graves, here with husband R. Vann Graves, is stepping down in June in order to focus on her family life in New York City, where her husband has been commuting four hours a day for work. Autumn became the new president of the school in 2009. One of her goals was to get national attention for the school, to let the world in on all the good things that Stephen Girard’s legacy does for the students. This past January, Girard College hosted an event on Martin Luther King’s birthday that brought the national media to the school. Guests included Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Michael Nutter, and former PA senator Harris Wofford. Thank you, President Graves.