A jubilant, record-setting crowd converged upon the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel Event Center in Niagara Falls, N.Y. on Nov. 13, 2010 to attend Niagara University’s annual President’s Dinner. The event was headlined by the celebration of the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque’s 10th anniversary as president of NU and also featured the bestowal of the prestigious St. Vincent de Paul Awards upon members of the Gacioch and Williams families.
Jeff and Maureen (Hoag) Dann, 1974 graduates of Niagara University, chaired this year’s black-tie event, the proceeds of which benefit the university’s scholarship program.
Former Niagara University trustee Bill Gacioch, a 1961 Niagara graduate, and his wife, Nancy, received the St. Vincent de Paul Award, which is conferred upon individuals “whose vision, accomplishments and good works reflect the life and ministry of St. Vincent de Paul,” in recognition of their wide-ranging charitable endeavors. Following the recitation of the citation by Don Bielecki, Niagara’s vice president for institutional advancement, Bill humbly accepted the award, remarking that he and Nancy, while earnestly touched, are not interested in recognition of their efforts, but only wish to present future NU students with the opportunity to realize their own “Niagara Dreams.”
Also receiving the St. Vincent de Paul Award were the children of the late Harris and Mary Williams, business leaders in Niagara Falls who were instrumental in the founding of Our Lady of Lebanon Parish. The Williams family members, Joseph, James (Harry), Francis, of the Niagara University Class of 1965, and Martha Williams Bennett, have followed in their parents’ footsteps in terms of their business entrepreneurship and charitable works in Western New York as well as in other locations.
“This acknowledgment represents 70 years of a relationship between Niagara University and Our Lady of Lebanon Parish, and the Williams family,” commented Martha, who asked the family’s youngest generation to rise and be recognized for continuing their ancestors’ legacy of performing good deeds in their communities.
The formal program concluded with the recognition of Father Levesque’s milestone anniversary as Niagara’s president. Dr. Sharon Watkinson, chair of the university’s department of theater and fine arts, and Dr. Timothy Osberg, a psychology professor at NU, presented remarks honoring Father Levesque and all that has been accomplished during his tenure.
“Under Father Levesque’s leadership, the university has constructed new facilities, augmented training programs and bolstered student endowments,” reflected Dr. Osberg. “NU’s presence in the community has never been stronger, thanks to a president who leads by example and is widely respected and loved throughout Western New York and beyond. There has been a positive change in the general atmosphere of the university, where all strive toward his goal of making Niagara a Vincentian university that is in the forefront of higher education in the region.”
“Aside from the tremendous tangible accomplishments, Father Levesque has been infinitely more impressive as a person,” added Dr. Watkinson. “He possesses a warm, welcoming personality that encourages all members of the Niagara community to communicate with him, especially when he flashes that winning smile that makes you feel you are the only person in his world.”
Those comments were met with a standing ovation for Father Levesque, who responded to the tribute with sincere gratitude and several words of inspiration for the 550-plus attendees.
“I am both humbled and honored to have the opportunity to be associated with this great institution for 40 years, including the last decade as its president. Many of the best moments of my life have taken place on Monteagle Ridge and there will surely be more to follow,” said Father Levesque, who joined the university’s faculty in 1970 and later became dean of its College of Arts & Sciences and chair of its Board of Trustees. “What a great evening this is, to have a record number of people in attendance and take in our largest gross revenue since we started this event to increase scholarships. Let us now go forward with great boldness, creativity and risk. We do this together, all of us, Niagara University and the community, with God as our strength and hope.”