Cocktail Parties and Capital: Cambridge Calls On Rochester

The Harvard Club of Rochester, N.Y., is feuding with the Harvard Club of Syracuse N.Y.

As Christopher D. Rider '57, president of the Rochester club, explains it, the two clubs collaborated two years ago to rent a tent for the Cornell game in Ithaca, N.Y. It poured the day of the game, and many expected guests failed to show--including the members of the Syracuse club. "They seem to be a very nebulous club; we couldn't find their core," Rider says, and the Rochester contingent was left with the rain, the tent, and, it seems, the tab.

Typically, however, instead of feuding, members of the Harvard Club of Rochester and similar clubs socialize, raise money for Harvard, and aid the College's admissions office.

In a metropolis like New York or Boston, where thousands of students apply for admission and thousands of alumni are concentrated in a small area, a network of committees constantly in contact with Harvard performs the University's local work. In rural areas, high school students apply on their own initiative and the quiet alumnus can remain happily off the fundraisers annual rounds if he wants to.

Smaller cities, like Rochester (population 300,000 or so), fall uncomfortably between--they have too many high school students and alumni to ignore, but often too few to warrant extensive ministrations from Cambridge. "It's unclear whether we're considered part of the big Northeast area or the boondocks--I guess we're the middling boonies," says Harry P. Trueheart III '66, chairman of the schools and scholarships committee of the Rochester Harvard Club.

That club, with a mailing list of about 1300 alumni and 250 dues-paying members, is Harvard's most visible intrusion on life in Rochester. The club holds parties for alumni and students, supports a $5000 scholarship for one home-town student, and acts as the admissions office's eyes and ears in the area.

"We see admissions and school work as our main reason to be," Rider says. The committee Trueheart heads interviews applicants and meets with interested students to answer questions about Harvard. "It's not exactly recruiting--if you recruited 50 applicants and only five were accepted, that wouldn't spread much goodwill," he says. The admissions office has no quotas for regions or cities, but Trueheart says there are general "traditions" that usually govern the number of applicants accepted from a city--recently it's been about seven a year from Rochester.

The admissions and scholarship work is serious business, but for most people, Harvard Clubs primarily mean cocktail parties. Rochester has no separate building for its Harvard Club like the New York City club's luxurious midtown quarters, so its alumni use prestigious local clubs like the Genesee Valley Club for their functions. The Harvard Club sponsors a getaway picnic," a freshman upperclassmen party, a Christmas luncheon, and a winter outing each year.

"We get 30 or 40 people at each of our functions, but they're usually a different 30 or 40," Trueheart says. "The club reflects Harvard--it's very plural. There are a lot of different, individual people, with very distinct interests."

The composition of the club hasn't changed much over the past couple of decades--it remains mostly lawyers, doctors and businessmen. The reasons one alumnus joins the club and another stays away are varied, but alumni in the area agree there is no tight-knit Harvard community. "Just because you're a Harvard alumnus doesn't mean you're any more likely to get to know, or to want to know, other Harvard alumni than you wanted to know the guy across the hall in Winthrop House," Trueheart says.

He adds that graduates of the College tend to be more active and interested in Harvard's local affairs than graduate school alumni.

Each local Harvard club has a character determined by the people most active in it. William D. Rice '56, a Rochester businessman, tells of his visit to the Harvard Club of Buffalo, N.Y. "Buffalo is supposed to be friendly, and Rochester, people say, is stuffy," he says, but when he walked into a Buffalo party no one spoke to him for 45 minutes. Finally he approached the one friendly-looking face in the crowd, but it turned out to belong to a visiting Princeton alumnus.

"I walked in here in Rochester expecting the same thing, but Russ Sibley [an active alumnus] was standing outside--he put a drink in my hand, got me talking to four other people, and was back outside again before I knew it," Rice says.

If alumni keep in only sporadic contact with each other, their contacts with the Cambridge campus are even more intermittent. Most receive all their Harvard news from Harvard Magazine; the officers of the club also receive the Gazette, and Rider travels to Harvard each October for alumni gatherings.

"Most of what I hear just confirms my suspicions that little has changed in the 15 or 20 years since I left," Rice says.