It’s a challenge that all high schools face. As the years pass, graduates often drift away from their alma mater. As we all know, alumni, particularly their time, talent and treasure (financial support), are the foundation of successful private schools.
When Benedictine Military School graduate Tom Hagan, a member of the BC Class of 1975, read the school’s 2018-19 Annual Report, he thought the class should be better represented by more than just nine people from his class who contributed to the Benedictine Fund.
“Some of us were together last fall talking about a reunion. I brought up that as the Class of ’75, we’ve not been very active in our giving, in terms of the number of participants,” Hagan said. “I don’t know what people give, individually, but we can do better than that. So the beginning of the year comes, and I raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll be the point person.’”
In January, Hagan was eager to begin tracking down the email addresses of his classmates, who graduated 45 years ago … but did nothing.
“And then came Coronavirus,” he said, laughing. “Before, I had no good excuse. Now, I’ve got a good excuse because I assumed nobody is doing anything with the fund drive because of the pandemic. And then (BC Director of Annual Giving Allison Demere) sent out an email at the end of May that said BC has raised $450,000 out of $600,000. And in that email, I think it said we had nine people participating. And my response to that, pardon my French, was ‘Oh, (shoot), I need to do something.’”
Hagan, a retired IBM executive living in Tampa, Fla., enlisted the help of two classmates: Atlanta resident Walter Muller, the retired Chief Investment Officer of Bank of America, and Savannah resident Tom Hussey, Senior Vice President of Investments at Raymond James.
“It was really Tom and Walter using their connections, chasing email addresses, and feeding them to me,” Hagan said. “We literally started in June. After we spoke in the fall, I received the email list from (BC Director of Advancement) Greg (Markiton ’92). I think that out of 84 email addresses, a third of them were good. It was, obviously, out of date. So we started with that. My first email that I sent out goes to about two dozen valid addresses. The key for us was reconciling that list and being able to reach people. And we’re still doing it right now. I think we’re at 72 out of 84. We provided the updated list to the school, which will certainly help with future communications to the Class of ’75.”
Hagan, Muller, Hussey, and their classmates did well enough to help the BC Class of 1975 earn “Class of the Year” with 47 donors to the 2019-20 Benedictine Fund. Second place went to the BC Class of 1976 with 42 donors. The BC Classes of 1980 and 2001 tied for third place with 38 donors.
Starting with nine donors, Hagan never imagined the Class of ’75 would end up with 47 donors. When he first sent an email to his classmates in June the response was rather quiet. “I thought I’d get a rise out of somebody,” he said. “But there wasn’t much of a response. And then I figured out the way to do this is to reach out to people individually.
“And then I thought to myself, ‘OK, well I know 40 people pretty well,’” he continued. “I’m going to go make some calls. And I know Person A knows Person B, and they’ve got a good relationship, so I said, ‘Look, I want you to go encourage/persuade them because their name is not yet on the donors’ list. I used that a couple of times and it worked. So there was a flurry of email. I would harass Greg (Markiton) weekly and I probably had him send me four updated donor lists to monitor our progress.”
Hagan said he figured an increase from nine donors to 25 would be respectable, especially during the financial uncertainty of a pandemic.
“After 10 days I thought, ‘We’re not going to get to 25,’” Hagan said. “And then with two days to go in the fund drive, (BC Headmaster) Fr. Frank (Ziemkiewicz) sent out an email – much to my surprise – that said the Class of ’75 had 40 donors. We were tied with the Class of ’76. At that point, I thought we might just be able to pull it out and we did.
“It looked like the Class of ’76 would be No. 1 this year but we managed to nip them at the finish line,” Hagan continued. “It was good fun. I was very happy to do it for the school. I’ve always had a soft spot for the school. I was good friends with a number of the priests, in particular, Fr. Albert (Bickerstaff). He and I were lifelong friends.
“We got a late start, and there was a mad dash to get it all done. It was encouraging as we went through it,” Hagan continued. “A lot of friendships were renewed. It was an activity that allowed a number of people to talk to each other who haven’t spoken in a long time.”
Finishing with 47 donors, the BC Class of ’75 was recognized for its victory during BC’s Annual Alumni Association Dinner & Social on Aug. 19.
Hagan said he called Hussey and asked him to represent the BC Class of ’75 at BC’s Annual Alumni Association Dinner & Social. A tour of BC’s new Athletic Plaza and new turf field, Fr. Albert Field, was among the highlights of the evening. The Class of ’75 was recognized for its fundraising efforts.
“(BC) is in our blood,” said Hussey, whose grandfathers, brothers and son attended BC. “For anybody that grew up Catholic in Savannah, Benedictine is the mecca. I’m very proud of those guys (the BC Class of 1976), too. They’re all our best friends. When you go to BC, you become friends with people at least in the next two classes. If you’re a sophomore, you’re buddies with freshmen and you’re close with juniors and seniors. All those guys from ’76, they’re all my best friends to this day. I have as many great friends from ’76 as I do ’75.”
Muller and Hagan were unable to attend the Annual Alumni Association Dinner & Social but they recently had lunch with Ziemkiewicz and Markiton, after which they took a guided tour of BC to rekindle memories and experience the new Brown STEM Wing.
“It’s just very impressive what Fr. Frank and the team have done,” Muller said. “I tell you, I am just thrilled with the progress they’ve made and they’re going to continue to make. And we’ve shared a lot of that in the emails that we’ve sent out to people.”
Despite a pandemic, BC began the 2020-21 school year with 412 Cadets, its largest enrollment in 20 years. This is the third consecutive year that BC has started a school year with more than 400 Cadets.
“It’s a testament to the way the school has responded to the crisis,” Hussey said. “I am such a fan of the current administrative team. I think Fr. Frank, in my lifetime, might be the best thing that’s ever happened to BC. I am a huge fan of the clerical leadership and the lay leadership. It’s the finest I’ve seen in my Benedictine experience.”
As BC continues to grow, Muller said his shared goal with Hagan and Hussey is to continue to grow the number of donors within the BC Class of ’75.
“We’ve had 10 classmates pass away,” Muller said. “The number we look at is 96. I’m still working on it. I’m up to 72 good addresses and emails. There are a couple we know that we’re never going to get. But I want to get to 80. I want to get to as many of them as I can. I just got another one the other day. I think we’re down to 13 that we think we might get, that we could get. But we’re still working on it.”
Said Hussey, “We all end up all over the country and you get an effort like this going, and the momentum that you build, and the enthusiasm that you build, and the level of excitement about reaching back out and having these group emails where people are teasing and cutting up, it’s been a great experience for us as organizers.
“The challenge is going to be carrying the enthusiasm over to next year as well,” Hussey continued. “It’s a high-energy effort. It’s hard for one person to keep that level of commitment and enthusiasm so you have to be able to spread the burden out. Tom’s a very unique guy. He’s a phenomenally successful, retired IBM career guy and was in middle management at IBM. He just knows how to get things done.”
Throughout the process, Hagan said he reconnected with at least two dozen classmates whom he had not spoken to in 30-plus years.
“That was good fun and very rewarding,” Hagan said. “People have broken the ice. If somebody sends an email there’s a fair number of responses now. At BC, you build a community of lifelong friends. That’s what it has proven to be. And this exercise reflects that friendship.”
What is the greatest lesson Hagan learned from this endeavor?
“Get a good email list,” he said, laughing. “That should be an activity for every class.”