For Siena Alums, a Chance to Own a Bit of History

Lisa Witkowski Around the Province

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — When Siena College replaced the front steps of its signature building last summer, the development office had a clever idea for how to use the old bricks.

For a gift of $100 or more to Siena, donors would receive one of the original bricks – a literal piece of Siena history. Each brick was numbered – only 100 were made available – and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity reading “From the Steps of Siena Hall” signed by F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, president of the college.

“I hope that this humble brick, which was once part of the flagship building of Siena College, will serve as a reminder of where we came from and where we hope to go in the future,” the certificate read.

The fundraiser was the brainchild of Michael Utzig, ’07, associate director of the college’s Annual Fund. It helped propel Siena to a record-breaking Giving Day.

“We put up a post about it on social media at 9 a.m., and the bricks were all spoken for by 10:30,” said Utzig. “We had a good cross section of people who responded – some were our regular donors, some hadn’t given to the college since their graduation years ago. Some were current students, some were parents or grandparents who wanted to give a brick to a graduate this May.”

The lucky recipients of an original Siena Hall brick are putting them to creative uses – a couple have made their way to glass cases in a business office, one person used a brick when remodeling his home, and another is now part of a garden walkway.

Graduate Kate Better, ’10, specifically asked for brick 46 when she made her donation. Her grandfather, Joseph Lapetina, is a member of the class of 1946, and she gifted him with the brick for his birthday.

“Siena has been a part of my family for over 75 years. I’m proud to be a third-generation graduate,” she said. “My grandfather is now 95 years old and he’s still an active alum, keeping in touch with friends and professors in the Siena community. This special piece of the school’s history is a symbol of my grandpa’s longtime commitment to Siena.”

Siena’s friars noted the special resonance of this fundraiser with Siena’s history.

Daniel Dwyer, OFM, chair of Siena’s history department, recalled the early photos of Siena Hall – because funds were so limited, only half of the hall could be built initially.

“It’s a very evocative image for me,” said Dan. “When they built it in the 1930s, they could not build it all at once, so there is a picture of half a brick building. It always reminds me of what a challenge there was for those first friars to create a school during the height of the Great Depression. Using these bricks in this way is a great way to remember those early days.”

Julian Davies, OFM, former philosophy professor, said the bricks brought to mind the Franco Zeffirelli film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” which chronicled the early days of St. Francis of Assisi.

“If you want your dream to be, build it slowly,” was the message of the film, and as it was for St. Francis, so it was for the friars who founded Siena College.

“St. Paul also spoke of the Christian community being built of living stones – perhaps he might say bricks today,” said Julian. “The Siena community is living bricks.”

Lisa Witkowski is associate director of communications at Siena College.

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