by Walter Villa, Special to STU
All of that – plus the dedication of the Bobcat sculpture – was a part of St. Thomas University’s Homecoming Week and its culmination of events on Saturday.
“There are certain days on the academic calendar that are more special than others,” said STU President David A. Armstrong, J.D. “We love every day here at STU, but Convocation when the school year starts, Commencement … and Homecoming is one of those special days.
“Bringing people back to campus – I just got chills when I said the word ‘Homecoming.’”
Indeed, this special day included a 50th-year anniversary reunion of STU’s Class of 1973, the 25th-year reunion of the Class of 1998, and the 10th-year reunion of the Class of 2013. All those Bobcats met at 3 p.m. for some tasty food and thirst-quenching beverages at STU’s new on-campus bar, Schooner’s Mast Pub.
It was there at Schooner’s where old friends became reacquainted and – by the looks of the conversations that were being had – new bonds were forged, too, including some that crossed generations.
Don Dresback, STU Class of 1969, was one of those who made it to Schooner’s on Saturday.
“I get to see a lot of old friends,” Dresback said when asked about Homecoming. “It’s important to get as many alumni as possible back on campus so they can see the dramatic changes that have taken place since President Armstrong joined the team as our leader.
“There were a lot of people who were here this weekend who hadn’t been back to campus in several years, and they can’t believe all the changes. And I think they will be amazed when they see the other plans for the university going forward.”
Dresback knows about those plans because he is on STU’s Board of Trustees.
But back when Dresback went to school, STU was known as Biscayne College, and it was an institution of higher learning for men only. Dresback was the only math major in his class, which meant he benefited from a lot of individual instruction.
Dresback, who still runs an insurance agency in Boca Raton, met his wife, Patricia, at a Barry University bridge class, and they recently celebrated their 54th anniversary.
Jim Cox, STU Class of 1968, was also at Schooner’s on Saturday. He is part of STU’s first resident class.
“Our first semester,” Cox said, “we lived at the Kimberly Hotel on Miami Beach. A lot of us had cars (eventually), but, in the beginning, they bused us back and forth from the hotel to campus.”
Asked about STU now, Cox said he is proud of his school.
“They say you can’t go home again,” Cox said. “But that’s a bunch of bull. This is home for us. (Going to school here) was the best four years of my life.”
Certainly, STU’s athletes and their fans had the time of their lives on Saturday as three Bobcats teams had games on campus.
All three teams emerged victorious.
First, at noon, STU’s women’s soccer team, ranked 18th in the nation in the NAIA, dominated Warner, 3-0. The Bobcats improved their record to 11-2-2, and it was their eighth shutout victory of the season.
Next, at 2 p.m., STU’s 23rd-ranked women’s volleyball team swept the Southeastern Fire, 25-22, 25-11, 25-14. It was STU’s 13th sweep of the season. The Bobcats have an overwhelming 19-2 record, including 10-0 in the Sun Conference.
Finally, at 6 p.m., the STU football team, ranked 21st in the nation, disposed of Ave Maria, 73-10, in the largest margin of victory for the Bobcats this season. The Bobcats scored in just about every way possible – a fumble return, a blocked-punt return, a long pass, a long run … and that was just in the first quarter.
In the middle of that cornucopia of sports dominance came the artistic expression part of the day.
Namely, the walls of STU’s library were covered with framed photographs and mixed-media art, and it was all part of the Archbishop John C. Favalora Archive & Museum.
Another noteworthy event on Saturday was the dedication of the Bobcat Sculpture in front of the Fernandez Family Center.
The sculpture, masterfully crafted by artist Mike Fields, used to reside in North Miami on the campus of Johnson & Wales University. But when that campus folded operations in 2021, President Armstrong swung into action.
President Armstrong said that when he became president of STU in 2018 there were no “Bobcats” symbols anywhere on campus.
That was clearly not acceptable.
“When Johnson & Wales announced their closing, I went down there to visit,” President Armstrong told the crowd that had gathered for the sculpture dedication on Saturday. “We were in a growth mode. We wanted to start new programs – Hospitality, Fashion Merchandising … We have our big Sports Administration program.
“I thought that maybe we could buy (Johnson & Wales’) campus, which is 6.5 miles away. It was perfect. They had dorms and all kinds of stuff that we needed.
“But the price was too high – it’s Miami.”
President Armstrong then figured he could lease the campus, but that price tag was also prohibitive.
Instead, President Armstrong hired several members of the Johnson & Wales faculty, figuring that the people are actually the most valuable resource.
“But when I was on that campus, I saw this statue,” President Armstrong said with a twinkle in his eyes. “And they were the Wildcats.”
Ever respectful of accuracy, President Armstrong took a picture of that statue and sent it to the STU science department
“I didn’t tell them where I was or what I was doing,” President Armstrong said. “I just said, ‘Tell me what this is.’ So, I got two responses from our science faculty, Jeffrey Plunkett, and Luis Fernandez Torres, and they said: ‘That’s definitely a bobcat.’”
President Armstrong said he then made it his “mission in life” to get that sculpture onto STU’s campus.
“It ‘only’ took two years,” Armstrong said with a healthy dose of sarcasm. “Politicians, buyers, sellers, craziness – all kinds of things had to happen.”
President Armstrong credited two groups of people for finally making it happen, starting with John J. Dooner, Jr., Chairman of STU Board of Trustees, who wanted the sculpture on campus.
“He said, ‘Dave, we’ll do whatever it takes,” President Armstrong said of his conversation with Dooner.
But President Armstrong also expressed his gratitude toward the co-donors of the sculpture, the Tate and Rok families.
The late Natan Rok was a Cuban exile who built a real-estate empire in Miami. His son, Sergio Rok, played a large role as a co-donor in bringing the sculpture to STU.
In addition, Stanley Tate, who is a former chair of the Board of Trustees at STU, was the other half of the donor equation, along with his sons Jimmy and Kenny.
“The beauty of this is that Stanley Tate is Jewish and yet he loves this Catholic university,” President Armstrong said.
“That’s who we are at STU. We are all about Miami. We are all about diversity.”
When President Armstrong found out that Tate’s sons had purchased Johnson & Wales, he knew right away that he could convince them to let STU have its majestic Bobcat sculpture.
As it turns out, it did not take much convincing.
When President Armstrong spoke to the Tate brothers on the phone, they immediately said yes to donating the $400,000 sculpture to what is surely its rightful place on STU’s campus.
“Our father is a man of integrity, faith, belief, incredible business ethics and acumen,” Jimmy Tate said. “He was also a great philanthropist.
“He always taught us that it’s great to be successful, but it’s more important to give back to your community.
“It was in that spirit that when Kenny and I got that call, it took us two seconds to make this decision to donate it back to them.
“With that, we just want to say, ‘Enjoy it and appreciate it, and when you look at this statue know that a great man and a great family was behind this.’
“Perhaps some of his business acumen, his character and spirit will transcend onto each of you when you go by and touch (the sculpture).”
From there, the plaques honoring the Tate and Rok families were unveiled, the football game was played – and won – and then fireworks fittingly put an exclamation point on a day full of bright sparks.
“I spent so many years of my life as a student-athlete, a coach, and then as an administrator and educator, and I know that Homecoming always brings back the best memories,” President Armstrong said in summation.
“Why? Because you get to bring people home. They come back to us after they spent their formative years here, and you get to see how successful they are and how happy they are, and how much they miss this place.”