Chapter IV: Aquinas Memorial Stadium
When Canada entered the war in September, 1939, I wrote to Father Carr, our Superior General, and asked permission to apply for a Chaplaincy in the Canadian forces. He replied that others had already applied and that I should forget it.
When the United States entered the war, I wrote again and asked permission to apply for a Chaplaincy in the United States forces. I had strengthened this appeal somewhat by asking Bishop O'Hara, who was Chief Chaplain of the United States forces in New York, if he would accept me. He said, 'Yes," but I would need my Superior General's permission. Father Carr wrote in reply that I was a science teacher, and, as such, sorely needed. He thanked me for volunteering, but I was not to be allowed to go. His directive settled my restless mind. There were many other things to do. Military service would not be one of them.
By 1945 almost 100 former students of Aquinas Institute had been killed in the war. The movement for a fitting memorial to these heroes started in our residence at 402 Augustine Street. I don't recall just who initiated it, but I do recall Father Dan Dillon and Father William Duggan, who were then Superior and Principal, respectively, involving me in the project. Perhaps the fact that I was Assistant Superior of the Community at that time was a contributing factor in giving me the job.
In the Christmas holidays of 1944 I worked to initiate and promote a city-wide campaign to build Aquinas Memorial Stadium for the boys from Aquinas who had made the supreme sacrifice. This was my first contact with the downtown crowd. I moved in and out of Columbus Civic Center almost daily, enlisting the help of Mr. Bill Nolan, who was then connected with the Catholic Charities Office located there. We were helped by a wonderful person, Jack judge, whose brother-in-law was Father Bo McMillan, an outstanding Franciscan and chaplain, to put together the Aquinas Memorial Stadium Campaign. Our goal was $100,000. Bill Lang, later president of the Rochester Transit Company, the Rochester Red Wings and the Automobile Club, became our publicity man.
The campaign was quite successful. We raised $127,000. Within a few months almost the entire amount was paid in. Ray Leinen, Vice President of Lincoln-Alliance Bank, was our financial contact man. He called me one day while our Special Gifts Committee was operating and asked that I come over to his office. I did and he showed me there the check for $10,000 which Eastman Kodak had given to us with no strings attached, with the information also that the brief which I wrote to present to the Board of Directors of Kodak was included in the minutes of their meeting. They thought the appeal was very well put. I have no copy of it, and I don't recall just what I said. However, it provided a pattern I would later repeat many times. Important also, is the fact that we had enlisted the support of Thomas J. (Jean) Hargrave, president of Eastman Kodak Company, who played an important part in the beginnings of St. John Fisher College, John D. Hayes, president of the Fanny Farmer Company, a Catholic, and Elmer Fairchild, a non-Catholic, were cochairmen of the stadium drive.
From the Aquinas Memorial Stadium Campaign I learned the mechanics of a campaign, and more, the thoughts and the ideas which appeal to givers.
After the Aquinas Memorial Stadium Campaign was completed, we were advised by Ray Leinen to turn our cash holdings into United States Bonds, which we did. I depended upon him for financial advice, and the bonds stayed in vaults in the bank we used for the campaign, the Lincoln Alliance on Main Street. Raymond N. Ball, a great Rochester figure at the time and a good friend of ours, was the President. Ray Leinen was the Executive Vice-President.
Here a word should be said about another activity at Aquinas that had a bearing on the St. John Fisher Campaign which was soon to follow. The school had had a great reputation for raising money for home and foreign missions. Father O'Loane appointed me the director of it in the fall of 1937. I struggled along with it, arranging paper-drives, some minor homeroom collections and other things. Then it suddenly blossomed forth when we founded a little paper called, The Aquinader. I coined the name from Aquinas Crusader, as we called the mission unit the Aquinas Mission Crusade. We became actively associated with the National Catholic Students Crusade. received their publications in each homeroom, conducted study clubs, and held Mission Mixers, which attracted the girls from Mercy High and Nazareth Academy to little inter-school dances in the later afternoon in Aquinas Auditorium.
About the same time I took over the crusade, Father John S. Randall had taken over the diocesan Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He was a born organizer and office man. Chiefly through his efforts the mission activity of the diocese took on a new vigor. We had no necessary connection with his office, as director of mission activities, other than the cooperation expected of all the schools sharing in mission activities. At the end of each year the mission funds collected by Aquinas were allocated by me to various foreign and home missions through Father Randall's office. Mary Leary and Margaret Larkin (later Mrs. Joseph McMahon, secretary to Father Lavery, president of St. John Fisher College) were his assistants about this time. Each year they would type out the letters to go to the beneficiaries of the missions according to my designation. I say "my" designation, because I had advised Father O'Loane early in this business that the designation ought to be made by the school authorities and that he ought to have a hand in it. He declined, saying, "No, you raised the money. You figure it out. I'll trust your judgment."
The amounts raised through homeroom activities, mission bouts which I promoted, with the help of Abe Raff, into a city-wide annual affair at Edgerton Park Auditorium, and other activities, netted us several thousands of dollars each year. I believe that about 1945, our mission total was around $14,000 or $15,000. It climbed even higher than that, up to the $20,000 mark.
This work kept me in fairly close and frequent contact with Father "Pete" Randall, as he was called by all the clergy. Pete was to loom large in the St. John Fisher picture. He was also the head of the Catholic Courier, the diocesan newspaper.
Up to this time, toward the end of 1945, there had been no formulation of any plans for a college for men. Father McCorkell, the Superior General, on his visits to Aquinas would talk about it, but only in a very general way. The Basilian community certainly wished to have a college, but the old question always came up, "How would we finance it?"
Moving over into the spring and summer of 1946, the prospect of a college for men, established by the Basilians, took on a more definite hue. During several of his visits to Rochester, Father McCorkell and I looked over many vacant properties and possible sites for a college.-Among those we considered were the areas around Strong Memorial Hospital, Pinnacle Hill, the Brighton area (indeed the very site of the present Bishop McQuaid High School), and the Pittsford area. I don't think we ever thought of any sites other than in that general area out East Avenue in an arc swinging from East Rochester around through Pittsford, through Brighton, over t rough to the University of Rochester area. I don't recall ever making any tour with him, or any of the other General Councilors, to the other quadrants of the Rochester circle. We did look over some old buildings, for example, the old Colgate-Rochester Divinity School at the corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street, the new Colgate-Rochester Divinity School on a hill at the south end Of town, and others. Father McCorkell would say from time to time that perhaps we should start in an old building, perhaps a downtown spot, but have a suburban site to which we could later move. From the beginning I tried to discourage such a plan of operation. My thought was that we should have a fine site, of ready access, which would house a completely new set of buildings, and which would be a source of pride both to the Catholic and non-Catholic citizenry.
Football at Aquinas was beginning to take hold in a large community way. Father Bill Duggan had asked me to help locate a big-time coach. Several phone calls to Coach Frank Leahy at Notre Dame and Coach McKeever at Cornell finally resulted in turning up Harry Wright who was to initiate big time football at Aquinas. I reached him one day, tipped off by a phone call from McKeever that Wright was getting out of the Marine Corps. He was still at his demobilization station in San Diego, California. Father Bill Duggan got on the extension phone and we invited him up at our expense to see us. He came and the contract was settled.
A new era for Aquinas began with Harry Wright and the football team which then played in the Red Wing Baseball Park to accommodate the crowds of 10,000-15,000 and sometimes 20,000 people jammed into temporary bleachers. All the razzle-dazzle of football was a weekend attraction now provided by Aquinas. The schedule was restricted to outstanding out-of-town teams and proved to be an attraction of such magnitude as to compel us to do something about building the Aquinas Memorial Stadium. We had funds in the bank which had been collected for the purpose. The crowds were unable to get choice tickets for the Aquinas games at Red Wing Stadium. Baseball parks do not fit the football field layout. We had to start thinking about building a stadium. But where? Everyone and his brother had an idea, but inasmuch as I had directed the campaign, it was generally agreed that I should select the site.
Thus another chapter in this Rochester story revolves around this selection of the site for the Aquinas Memorial Stadium. Father McCorkell and I often talked over the idea of a college for men, but Aquinas was the top news in Rochester in the autumns of 1946, 1947, 1948, chiefly through football.
A new organization, I thought, was needed to back up the efforts of the Aquinas coach and athletes. Therefore, in the fall of 1946, 1 started a club called the Aquinas Men's Club which would include any men of the community who had the interests of Aquinas at heart. Solving difficulties in getting tickets for the games and aiding the football project financially would be its purpose. In general it was to be a countywide club. It was modeled on the very prosperous St. Margaret Mary's Men's Club, initiated by Father Charles J. ("Dick") Bruton. Father Duggan helped Father Bruton each Sunday at his parish and thus a new bond between their Men's Club and ours was forged. Art Bamann, Walter Rodenhouse and Jack Blackwood, all from St. Margaret Mary Parish, were among the founders of the Aquinas Men's Club. A prominent worker from St. Boniface Parish, George T. ("Mike") White, Monroe County Treasurer, was another I recall. Joseph J. Myler, John W. Jardine and Dr. Joseph L. Guzzetta, are names that come to mind.
It was an ordinary thing to have 800 men for a meeting in the Aquinas Auditorium for business, speeches, pep-talks and then proceed to the Gym and Band Room to quaff a few kegs of beer.