UM Citizens Board Hosts Kick-Off Luncheon

New CB president urges members to build relationships that can result in "impactful gifts."

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 19, 2013) — Noting the 67-year, $380 million philanthropic impact of the organization he now leads, the newly minted president of the University of Miami’s Citizens Board encouraged more than 170 of its members Tuesday to identify key contacts within their network that can make significant contributions to the institution that helped educate three generations of his family.

“The magic of the Citizens Board is in our members’ ability to help the University of Miami build relationships with individuals, foundations, or corporations that can make impactful gifts,” Albert Vara said at the board’s annual kick-off luncheon. Held in the grand ballroom of UM’s new Student Activities Center and sponsored by the law firm Greenberg Traurig, the event serves as a springboard for the CB’s yearly fundraising activities and events.

A Citizens Board member for 26 years, Vara told members to work with the University’s Advancement Division to “create a roadmap of how to bring these individuals closer to the University in ways that are meaningful to them.”

His comments came as he took the reins of a Citizens Board whose more than 250 business, professional, and civic leaders are charged with supporting UM’s philanthropic efforts and promoting its programs. Vara, along with his brother, Carlos, owns Tropical Trailer Leasing, one of the oldest transportation leasing companies in South Florida. He will serve a one-year term as president of the CB.

In his opening remarks at the luncheon, the Cuban-born Vara, who moved to the United States with his family when he was 2, wasted little time in explaining how UM has influenced his life, noting that he, his wife, and two children all have degrees from the University.

“Thanks to this institution’s vision, my father learned English within months after migrating to this country,” he said.


The Citizens Board's annual kick-off luncheon was held in the grand ballroom of UM’s new 119,000-square-foot Student Activities Center.

Countless others have also benefited from UM’s efforts, he said, recalling former UM President Henry King Stanford’s efforts to help exiled Cuban physicians obtain their licenses to practice medicine in the U.S.

Current UM President Donna E. Shalala updated CB members on the State of the U. Among some of the developments she shared:

• The 2013-14 freshman class has an average SAT score of 1329, making it the best in UM history.
• For the fifth year in a row, the University is ranked in the top 50 (No. 47) of U.S. News & World Report’s list of America’s Best Colleges.
• Not only have new facilities such as the Student Activities Center and the Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence opened, but others will soon be unveiled, including a new neuroscience annex, a new home for the Toppel Career Center, and the Rosenstiel School’s Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex.
• The University is strengthening its partnership with Jackson Memorial Hospital, supporting the $830 million general obligation bond campaign for Jackson Health Systems that will fund improvements such as a new UM/Miami Project to Cure Paralysis/Jackson rehabilitation center, partly funded by a lead gift to the University.
• UM is well on its way to achieving its $1.6 billion Momentum2 campaign goal by 2016.

President Shalala called the Citizens Board’s commitment to the success of Momentum2 instrumental, congratulating its members on raising $37.7 million for the fundraising effort thus far.

But challenges remain, she told them. While UM has significantly improved its freshman retention and six-year graduation rates, continued progress in those areas is directly tied to getting more scholarship resources for students. As such, Momentum2 has set a $210 million goal for student support, she said.

UM’s strategy to obtain AAU (Association of American Universities) status includes recruiting more faculty who are members of the National Academy of Sciences, Shalala said.

She praised the CB for its role in helping UM improve the South Florida community. “There’s no doubt that our community’s quality of life is made better in countless ways by the amazing work taking place at the U,” she said, “and the Citizens Board is a fundamental part of this.”

UM Honors Longtime Citizens Board Members

When Richard Bermont, Richard Mead, William Pruitt, and Robert Traurig joined the University of Miami’s Citizens Board, a first-class domestic stamp cost 8 cents, and a gallon of gas was 39 cents. On Tuesday at the CB’s annual kick-off luncheon, UM honored the four for their 158 years of combined service, bestowing upon them the 2013-2014 Citizens Board Ambassador Award.

“A remarkable milestone” is how President Shalala described their achievement.

Bermont and Pruitt, who have served on the board for 38 and 40 years, respectively, were in attendance and accepted their awards. Mead and Traurig, who were not in attendance, have served 40 years each.


Richard Bermont, left, and William Pruitt, who have served a combined 78 years on the UM Citizens Board, were presented with the inaugural Citizens Board Ambassador Award from President Shalala.

Robert Jones can be reached at 305-284-1615


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Albert Vara, the new president of the University of Miami’s Citizens Board, addresses the more than 170 CB members who attended the organization’s kickoff luncheon September 17.

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