The Tufts Jumbo Club Celebrates 35 Years
Team uniforms, a new field house, a scoreboard in Cousens Gym,
new exercise equipment—over the past 35 years, these and
other improvements have steadily strengthened Tufts athletics
programs thanks to the hard work of the Tufts Jumbo Club.
“The Jumbo Club has meant more to the athletics department
than I can express,” said Athletics Director Bill Gehling,
A74, G79. “The generosity displayed by the time, effort,
and money that they have given is a vital force behind the
On April 3, the Tufts Jumbo Club celebrated its 35th anniversary,
with loyal Tuftonians turning out to mark the historic milestone.
Among them were Aryn Landau Barer, J91, Todd Romboli, A93,
and David Weiss, A82, as well as athletics staff members Don
Megerle and Janet Silva, honored with the annual Jumbo Club
Awards for their contributions to Tufts athletics. Additionally,
the 1986 women’s swimming and diving team, the 1994 baseball
team, the 2000 softball team, and the 2000 women’s soccer
team were saluted for achieving championship success.
The evening symbolized what 30 founding members had in mind
when the club was formed in 1969. With financial support, recognition
of teams and individuals, and annual social events, the Jumbo
Club has evolved into an institution essential to the athletics
experience at Tufts.
It all started when, as an undergraduate, John Baronian, A50,
H97, a two-way lineman for the Tufts football team who played
for legendary coach Fred “Fish” Ellis, reestablished
a varsity club for athletes. Baronian continued to organize
events after graduation, especially at Homecoming, but without
formal organization or income, interest faded.
Nearly 20 years later, Fred Nickless, A44, G49, the university’s
alumni secretary at the time, encouraged Baronian to form an
athletics booster club. On March 7, 1969, the Athletics Committee
voted to establish the Tufts Jumbo Club and elected William
G. “Johnny” Grinnell—who would later be enshrined
in the College Football Hall of Fame—as its first president.
With Baronian gathering members and Nickless writing the bylaws,
133 individuals each paid $10 in dues. Tim Horgan, A49, a popular
Boston sports columnist, helped promote the club.
The athletics budget was tight in the 1970s. The Jumbo Club
pitched in by donating essential items such as uniforms, scoreboards,
and ice machines for the training room. One of the club’s
first activities was a banquet honoring Clarence “Ding” Dussault,
the longtime coach of the nationally prominent Tufts track
team. Seven individuals were presented the first Jumbo Club
Awards on April 25, 1970.
“We wanted Tufts to be very respectable in athletics,” Baronian
said recently. “We were all very proud of our alma mater
and wanted to make sure that our sports teams were competitive,
properly equipped, and duly recognized.”
The club realized its true potential as a benefactor in 1986
when it funded a field house to be built at the Ellis Oval
and named in honor of Baronian, the “unquestioned stalwart
leader and supporter of Tufts athletics,” according to
Nickless. Members such as Bill Burns, A52, Ed Sullivan, A52,
and Dick Littlefield, A51, raised money with a phone campaign,
allowing the university to replace the dilapidated barracks
it was using for locker rooms with the new facility that included
a meeting room.
The Baronian Field House was the first of many facility enhancements
that the Jumbo Club has helped bring to life. Their contributions
to the Lunder Fitness Center have provided students with state-of-the-art
exercise equipment. The willingness of so many club members
to make significant donations for the Gantcher Family Sports
and Convocation Center earned praise from Tufts’ development
office. This decade the club has averaged $15,000 to $25,000
in special project gifts, such as the new Cousens scoreboard.
The group’s generosity has also been forthcoming at critical
times. That was especially the case in the early 1990s when
athletics faced a budget cut and had to consider cutting the
hockey program. The Jumbo Club, under President John Timmeny,
A72, made a substantial donation to set up an endowment fund
to help keep the team running.
“Without it, the hockey team never would have made it,” said
Ben Sands, the former hockey coach and Jumbo Club president
from 2000 to 2002. “We didn’t ask for it. They
gave it to us. That saved hockey at Tufts.”
In addition to its many financial contributions, the Jumbo Club
is about people. Recognizing Jumbo achievements and gathering
Jumbos from all eras are equally important parts of its mission.
Nearly 250 individuals have been presented Jumbo Club Awards.
Among the social events put on each year are a golf tournament,
the Distinguished Achievement Awards reception and ceremony
at Homecoming, seasonal receptions for athletes and their families,
and a year-end reception for senior athletes.
“It’s really valuable to stay connected to Tufts
after graduation,” said Diane Wilcox, J82, an integral
member of the club for over 20 years. “I’m good
friends with people who graduated 20 years before me and 20
years after me whom I would never have known if not for the
Women were invited to join from the start (Dorie Ellis, J31,
and Faith Heneghan, J54, were founding members) and took on
leadership responsibilities. Heneghan, Ellis’s daughter
and a versatile Jackson College athlete in her own right, was
the first female president, 1983–84. Norma Massarotti,
E82, led the club 1987–88. Joyce Furman, J87 (1993–94),
and Julie Monahan Brady, J89 (1996–98), would follow.
The Jumbo Club proved to be more inclusive than many organizations
from this era.
“They treated us like their daughters,” Wilcox
said. “They saw we had energy and wanted to contribute.
We were new blood for the club.”
New blood is exactly what the organization needs. With nearly
1,000 members, the Jumbo Club is the largest alumni group on
campus. More than 50 percent of the memberships, however, are
graduates from the 1950s or earlier. With the core membership
advancing in age, the club is facing a stark reality. It needs
to attract more recent graduates to continue making substantial
contributions to the Tufts athletics experience. They are hoping
that a recently launched new website (www.jumboclub.org), designed
by former football player Chris Christoudias, A99, will help
in the membership drive. The website allows members to renew
memberships, make special project donations, check upcoming
events, order Jumbo Club merchandise, and stay in contact with
alumni and friends.
“We’re at a point in time where the club is changing
cultures, so to speak,” said Matt Penney, A91, the club
president from 2002 to 2004. “It’s going from the
group of the ’50s who so nicely started it, ran it, and
did everything for it to a changing of the guard. We’re
hoping that with the website and getting some younger participation,
the next 35 years will be just as successful, if not more so.”
Gerry Topping, E00, the club’s new vice president and
membership chairman, said several factors make it difficult
to increase membership. Today’s generation isn’t
as fraternal, evident by the difficulty groups such as the
Elks and Knights of Columbus have with recruiting younger members.
Donors are also more wary of exactly where their money is going,
and graduates with young families are less likely to spend
money on club memberships.
With a trend developing in which high schools are cutting entire
sports programs to save money, a relatively small university
like Tufts that also feels a financial strain may eventually
have to look at athletics for cost-cutting measures. The Jumbo
Club is needed now more than ever.
“I’ve always felt that athletics in general is
a very important part of someone’s development of life
skills,” said Todd Driscoll, A96, the incoming club president. “It’s
something that I felt helped me tremendously at Tufts. So as
a graduate, giving back is just as important as what you got.”
That is the message the club wants to spread to recent Jumbo
graduates. Their involvement can make a difference. “I’d
be very happy if the Jumbo Club could make a gift that perpetuates
itself,” Driscoll said.
Over the past 35 years, the Jumbo Club has helped the athletics
department grow, while also preserving Jumbo spirit. The time
has come for the club to grow as well, with a new generation
of Jumbos picking up the ball and running with it.
“We want people who just love Tufts, who love the Jumbo
spirit,” Baronian said. “The warmth and friendship
in the club goes beyond sports. It’s an unusual bond
that for many of us founders has lasted to this day.”
For more information about the Jumbo Club, visit www.jumboclub.org.