A Home to Call Their Own

UM dedicates the Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Alumni Center.

Coral Gables (October 08, 2010) — A 1963 graduate of the University of Miami who stayed in historic Eaton Residential College as a freshman, Judi Prokop Newman remembers a UM that had no student center or swimming pool and where girls were forbidden to wear slacks and had to be in their rooms by 10 p.m.

Not long after she graduated, her alma mater evolved, building new campus facilities and changing its social fabric to coincide with the times.

But one thing was still always missing: a place that would bridge generations of alumni.

Now, UM’s graduates have a place to call their own.

In what was the biggest housewarming celebration in its young history, UM dedicated last Friday its new Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Alumni Center, cutting the ribbon to the recently completed four-story facility that is being called a home away from home for the institution’s more than 150,000 sons and daughters.

“Being a part of building this new home for alumni is the fulfillment of a commitment that brings me back full circle to where I started,” said Newman, a UM trustee who, along with her husband, Robert, provided the lead gift that made the center possible.

A crowd of more than a thousand strong—including donors, trustees, top UM administrators, faculty, students, and hundreds of alumni—turned out for the dedication of the 72,000-square-foot building, one of the first structures built as a result of the school’s $1.4 billion Momentum campaign.

Among its features, many of which were made possible by generous UM benefactors and alumni: a 7,273-square-foot ballroom with a 20-foot ceiling; the Dany Garcia and Dwayne Johnson Living Room, which includes an antique Steinway piano donated by a UM alum and a mural depicting the University’s evolution; a conference room with state-of-the-art audio visual and media equipment; the Gumenick Family Lobby, with its bronze Great Seal of the University; and the Bruce and Robbi Toll Alumni Library, which has a fireplace, alumni-authored volumes, and every copy of the UM yearbook produced since the institution’s birth.

There’s also the Arellano Construction Courtyard, donated by the president of the Miami-based construction company that built the center; the Sloane and Genevieve McCrea Business Center; and Sebastian’s Café, the idea for which originated from UM President Donna E. Shalala.

President Shalala presents the Newmans with a painting of the new Alumni Center. To browse more photos, click here
Calling the dedication ceremony the best day of her nearly ten-year tenure at UM, Shalala said the new facility “is the most important building that we have built during my presidency because our alumni are the past and the future of the University.”

Judi Prokop Newman described the facility as “stunning” and “architecturally distinct,” praising the design team of Boston-based Michael Dennis and Associates for “bringing our vision of an alumni center to life.” Dennis’s firm partnered with MGE Architects, whose principals are UM graduates.

The vision of creating an alumni center was first advanced in the late 1990s by Betty Amos, then-president of the UM Alumni Association, and Kathy Uitvlugt, the former assistant vice president for Alumni Relations.

“When we would talk about it, we actually would giggle,” said Donna Arbide, associate vice president of Alumni Relations and executive director of the Alumni Association. “But we knew that the alumni are the one permanent presence of the University of Miami.”

Arbide, an alumna herself, noted the hundreds of alumni and donors who helped raise the $23 million for the construction of the center, which is located in the southwest part of campus, across Hurricane Drive from the baseball stadium.

One of them, 94-year-old Audrey R. Finkelstein, who attended UM from 1934 to 1938 when the school was nicknamed the “Cardboard College” because of partitions that separated classes held at the Anastasia Hotel, called the center “phenomenal.”

“It will give our graduates a sense of continuity,” she said.

To browse more photos, click here.

Amos, who in her former role as president of the Alumni Association traveled around the country looking at the alumni houses of other schools to glean ideas, said building a center for UM was critical because such facilities attract students who can then be cultivated as future alumni donors.

“When I first started, this place was a distant dream,” she said. “Now, here it is. It’s a dream come true.”

After the ribbon cutting, the doors to the multipurpose building were opened, and those in attendance streamed in, touring the center and getting a firsthand look at its amenities. The center’s versatility will make it ideal for all types of functions, including conferences, meetings, and even weddings, said Newman Alumni Center Director Chalece Erixon, noting that an alumni couple will exchange their nuptials there this coming spring.

For the most part, the center is complete, save for the third and fourth floors, for which another $9 million is needed to complete, Jackie Nespral, NBC 6 anchor and former UM Alumni Association president, told the audience. She emceed the event with current UM Alumni Association President Pat Barron.

Robert Newman, Judi’s husband, owner of a venture capital firm, and an honorary UM alumnus, commended UM’s passionate alumni for committing to open up the center for use by the community.

The building, said Judi, will always be a place “to showcase our important memorabilia and to celebrate what it means to be a Miami Hurricane.”

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From left to right are Donna Arbide, UM associate vice president of Alumni Relations and executive director of the Alumni Association; Robert Newman; architect Michael Dennis; Judi Prokop Newman; and UM President Donna E. Shalala.

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