It started in Newport Beach, in the dining rooms of the very first settlers on Spyglass Hill. It spread to dens, libraries and backyard parties in Dover Shores and Emerald Bay. Walter and Darlene Gerken, Muriel Reynolds, Louise Turner Arnold, Jean and Daniel G. Aldrich Jr., and James and Mary Roosevelt cajoled their friends, and an idea took root: a support group for a fledgling and not very popular institution – UC Irvine.
“UCI was controversial then,” recalls Mary Roosevelt, who sat down recently to reflect on the 40-year history of the university’s Chancellor’s Club. “There were conservative people in Orange County who saw a state-funded campus as too liberal, and they were worried that students living on Balboa Island were going to cause a ruckus.”
Backing from Newport Beach movers and shakers helped transform those misgivings into enthusiasm for a campus that would become a catalyst for research, business and growth in south Orange County.
Today, Chancellor’s Club gifts support undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and other areas of critical need as determined by the chancellor. Members promote academic excellence, participate in campus activities, and build community and business partnerships. And as UC Irvine’s 50th anniversary draws near, club co-founder Roosevelt is among those determined to ensure the group’s vitality, aiming for 500 members by 2015.
The effort is dear to her. She and her husband, the late James Roosevelt – eldest son of former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt – both worked at UC Irvine. He was a lecturer in the School of Social Ecology, and she served for 28 years in numerous capacities in what is now the School of Education before retiring in 1999.
Equally important were the personal relationships. The Roosevelts and the Aldriches were friends, in good times and bad.
“It was such an intimate community in those days,” Mary Roosevelt says. “Everyone knew each other, and Dan Aldrich was the perfect first chancellor for UCI. He was a visionary, and he never wavered in his ideas about the interdisciplinary structure of the campus. He was able to hire extraordinary people – Nobel Prize winners. We wanted to create a town-and-gown group that would introduce him to Orange County.”
She recalls the Chancellor’s Club retirement party for Aldrich, held on the lawn at the corner of Campus and University drives, as the county’s first special-occasion tent party.
“I had to fight with Dan over that,” Roosevelt says with a laugh, “because the sprinklers had been turned off while the tent was set up, and the grass was turning brown. He told me, ‘Mary, I’m turning the sprinklers back on.’ He attended to every detail on campus, even picking up trash.”
Over the years, the Chancellor’s Club has provided more than 100 student scholarships and fellowships worth in excess of $1 million. It’s often called the “front door of the university” for giving members access to the many resources UC Irvine offers.
The group is currently participating in a joint UC Irvine-alumni capital campaign to support the newly constructed Newkirk Alumni Center, which serves as a gateway to the campus.
As much as Roosevelt stays involved, she says it’s time for a new generation to build and maintain a bridge to the community and keep the Chancellor’s Club relevant.
“When we started, the campus was still a dream,” she says. “Now it’s a dream realized, and it’s up to the younger people to be informed about the university and to speak out about its prestige.”
To learn more about the Chancellor’s Club, contact Diane Lamperts at 949-824-8663 or firstname.lastname@example.org.