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Alumni christen Marvel lobby in memory of great teacher

Von Tornow Lobby Dedication with Diane Kricheldorf
Dianne Kricheldorf, '54, spearheaded the campaign to name the Marvel Lobby after Georgiana von Tornow, an 'extraordinary teacher." The poster above was unveiled at Homecoming, but a permanent plaque has been ordered for the lobby.
Every time they walk into Marvel Theatre, new generations of SUNY Fredonia students will be introduced to the legacy of Dr. Georgiana von Tornow, who is recognized as the founder and driving force behind the university’s flourishing theatre and dance programs.

The lobby of the 400-seat theatre in Rockefeller Arts Center was christened in the memory of the former speech and drama teacher during a busy Homecoming weekend before a gathering of her former students who returned, amazingly so, a half-century after Dr. von Tornow’s untimely death.

Dedication of the lobby was possible by the success of the Daring to Dream

Georgiana von Tornow
Georgiana von Tornow established the Mummers at Fredonia State Teachers College. In 1952, more than half of the student body belonged to the drama club.

Her supporters raised $50,000 to name the lobby outside Marvel Theatre, and create scholarships, in her honor.

campaign spearheaded by Dianne Kricheldorf, a 1954 Fredonia graduate, and generously supported by more than 100 alumni from the class years 1951 to 1961 who continue to cherish their memories of Dr. von Tornow. She passed away in the summer of 1958 at the age of 53.

A total of 160 separate gifts, from 112 individual donors and one corporate matching gift, raised the $50,000 needed, according to SUNY policies, to name a public space on campus in recognition of generous philanthropy.

SUNY Fredonia President Dennis L. Hefner praised Ms. Kricheldorf as a “wonderful fundraiser and an inspiration to other alumni” during opening remarks at the Saturday dedication that drew alumni from across New York State and as far away as Hawaii.

Ms. Kricheldorf’s initial effort to honor Dr. von Tornow began during her success in establishing a Class of 1954 scholarship. At the planning meetings for the Class of 1954 reunion, Ms. Kricheldorf and others talked fondly of Dr. von Tornow and the idea of creating a named scholarship for their beloved faculty member began. Once the initial scholarship was established, support she attracted from fellow classmates, measured in both dollars and words of encouragement, served to inspire Ms. Kricheldorf to aim for a more ambitious, public and permanent way to recognize Dr. von Tornow. At that point, the fundraising program to raise enough funding to name the lobby was launched.

Ms. Kricheldorf expressed appreciation for the way many individual members of SUNY Fredonia departments rallied behind her efforts, including University Advancement, Theatre and Dance and Rockefeller Arts Center.

At Saturday’s dedication, Ms. Kricheldorf praised Dr. von Tornow as “a fabulous teacher” whose love of theatre inspired scores of students to become engaged in numerous theatrical productions during her all-too-brief Fredonia tenure.

Dr. von Tornow was of another era. Fredonia State Teachers College, as it was known, consisted largely of Old Main, a sprawling structure at Temple and Central Avenue, and about 800 students. Dr. von Tornow established Mummers, a theatrical student organization that produced two major productions and several one-act plays every year and hosted 10 high school spring drama festivals that brought hundreds of high school students to the college to present their plays. By 1952, 60 percent of the student body belonged to Mummers, making it one of the largest student organizations at the school. On numerous occasions she used a college station wagon or her own automobile to shuttle students to New York City or Toronto to see plays.

A native of Buffalo, Dr. von Tornow earned her doctorate and master’s degrees at Cornell University and taught 12 years at Fredonia, beginning in 1946.

Naming the theater lobby would not have been possible without the involvement and support of fellow alumni, Ms. Kricheldorf told the audience that witnessed the dedication.

“The person that some referred to a the ‘Mother of the Theatre Movement at Fredonia’ would be honored by naming of this lobby and would be absolutely delighted with the scholarships being awarded in her name,” Ms. Kricheldorf said.

Also sharing memories of Dr. von Tornow at the dedication were Dr. James Lyke, from New York City, who taught music at both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Georgia State University in Atlanta; and Cecilia Fordham, from Honolulu, Hawaii, who has enjoyed a dual career in education and theatre spanning more than 50 years.

In addition to financial gifts for the scholarship and lobby naming, alumni also donated photographs, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia from their theatre experiences with Dr. von Tornow. Those items have been mounted in two large books that can be viewed at the Alumni House.


posted @ Monday, December 22, 2008 12:03 PM by Christine Davis Mantai

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