lmost half the 461 seats in the $3.5 million, state-of-the-art Lecture Center have been snapped up since the launch of ICO’s Name A Seat campaign began last summer. Nearly 200 silver nameplates already have been installed, and every chair could be “booked” before the yearlong initiative ends June 30. If you’re hoping to get Seat No. 65, though, you’re out of luck. Stephen Mazur, OD ’97, called first dibs. As a first-year, Dr. Mazur staked a claim to the chair’s creaky predecessor, occupying it so faithfully that it became a running gag with his dorm mates in Brady Hall. “When the opportunity came to purchase a seat in the renovated lecture room there was no doubt Seat 65 had my name on it,” the Calgary, Alberta, optometrist says. “So I purchased Seat 65 to celebrate that memorable first year and to honor my friends in the Class of 1997! Let the memory live again.”
Every nameplate in the sleek, dove-gray hall tells a story. Together, they speak volumes about collective loyalty and affection for ICO.
“We’re truly amazed,” says Dwight H. Akerman, OD ’80, the ICO Board of Trustees member chairing the drive. “Often times, when an institution asks alums for donations, it’s viewed with skepticism. However, we’ve certainly not experienced that as evidenced by this campaign. We’re well on our way to our target of selling each and every seat.”
Just as gratifying are the stories shared by donors and alumni who signed up “for the opportunity to commemorate their years at ICO in a very positive way, or to memorialize or honor someone they care about,” Dr. Akerman says.
He chose to do both. Dr. Akerman, director of professional affairs at Alcon Laboratories in Fort Worth, Texas, purchased two seats next to each other in the center. One plaque is engraved with his name “to thank ICO for the outstanding education provided for me.” The other is dedicated to his father and mentor, Dwight M. Akerman, OD, who died at 91 in 2010. He was a 1944 graduate of Monroe College of Optometry, a predecessor of ICO.
“He was so proud of being an optometrist, so proud of his profession, and so proud that I became an optometrist and followed in his footsteps,” says Dr. Akerman, whose father practiced for more than 50 years in LaSalle and Streator, Ill. “He was my father and best friend. We’re together in the front row center, side by side, forever.”
That kind of sentiment is what inspired the campaign last June, and it’s what has driven seat sponsorship at a brisk pace. The front and back row chairs are the most popular, but there are still prime spots remaining at the platinum ($1,200), gold ($800) and silver ($400) levels. Supporters can request a particular or random seat.
Mark Colip, OD ’92, and vice president of student, alumni and college development at ICO, believes the decision to open the seats to sponsorships has made the Lecture Center even more of a campus centerpiece.
“As the oldest college of optometry in the United States, ICO has many traditions,” Dr. Colip says. “The Name a Seat campaign allows us to link the latest and greatest in technology for our current students with the generosity, stories and traditions of our most supportive alumni.”
Family ties are a recurring theme in the campaign. Even bittersweet back stories are tinged with a sense of legacy and unshakable commitment to the future.
Thelma Hottel, widow of Philip Hottel, OD ’48, reserved a chair in memory of her husband of nearly 60 years. Dr. Hottel, a longtime Iowa City optometrist, died in 2009 at age 83. For his wife, the engraved nameplate serves as an eternal valentine to her husband.
“He always joked that he married an older woman. I was five weeks older than he was,” Mrs. Hottel says, adding that she hopes her granddaughter will one day attend ICO.
ICO information clerk Anthony Barone – himself an ICO fixture at the main entrance – bought two seats: one for his late parents, Pasquale and Josephine Barone, and one for his late uncle and aunt, Carmen and Jenny Delabadia. He says the first-generation Italian immigrants raised him with love, and their devotion never wavered when he left school at 16 due to undiagnosed health issues.
“It’s just a way of not forgetting them and showing respect for them so their memory will stay alive,” says Barone, 74.
Alvin Zohn, OD ’49, “sat down and wrote a check right there” after touring the new Lecture Center during Homecoming 2011. The 86-year-old optometrist from Toledo, Ohio, commissioned one for himself and one as a tribute to his son and fellow alum, Michael R. Zohn, OD ’79. The younger Zohn lost his battle with cancer in 2008.
His son was the campus shutterbug during his ICO days, Dr. Zohn says. The gadget-loving Mike would have been “flabbergasted” by the high-definition TV screens, laptop and Wi-Fi friendly desks, and webcasts of lectures.
Like son, like father. The senior Zohn is very impressed with the tiered hall and its movable walls, ergonomic seats, and cutting-edge audio systems, pronouncing it “just marvelous.”
What’s in a Name?
By their nature, all inscriptions are meaningful. And some are enigmatic, none more than “The Four Horsemen of Optometry.”
Floyd Mizener, OD ‘48, DOS, PhD, confesses he came up with the Bible-inspired tag, a play on the nickname for Knute Rockne’s famous backfield players. The members of his quartet, all World War II vets, revised Illinois vision care guidelines instead of gridiron history.
He personally helped draft “Rules of the Road” vision requirements for then-Secretary of State Jim Edgar in the 1980s, Dr. Mizener says. Fellow “Horsemen” Lawrence R. Vogel, OD ‘48, and the late Floyd W. Woods, OD ’51, and Irving Kernis, OD ’37, backed him, teaming with him to spearhead laws ensuring schoolchildren receive comprehensive vision exams by eye doctors.
The surviving Horsemen and the Woods and Kernis families hope their chair will inspire today’s students to do the same – and form those same kinds of bonds that last decades.
His co-Horsemen “were always ready to listen on the telephone, ready to act, ready to do something,” says Dr. Mizener, 86, of Darien, Ill. “Age-wise, we were not all too far apart. We had the same common denominators: We came out of the services, got into the profession, and saw things that needed to be done for the better interest of the people.”