A handful of speakers Thursday at Union College's Founders Day ceremony admitted they didn't know much about the event.
The annual ceremony marks the anniversary of the college's charter and offers an opportunity to honor alumni for their contributions to society.
The college honored Dr. Ira Rutkow, an author and surgeon specializing in hernia repair, with the Founders Medal along with others, at the 212th anniversary of the school's charter.
First-year Union President Stephen C. Ainlay said he had to research the event. Founders Day had been suspended in previous years, most recently in the 1970s, and was reinstated in 1986.
Ainlay wanted this year's event at Memorial Chapel to put the focus on the success of graduates. Rutkow's presentation focused mostly on well-known doctors with roots in Union College.
The college no longer offers premed as a major, but does offer a six-course minor and a 16-course interdisciplinary major in science, medicine and technology.
Ainlay and other speakers joked that they had to research Founders Day but said it was important to take time to honor the school's history and alumni.
“Today, I'm glad to say we're focusing on worthies,” he said. “I hope it serves to inspire us all.”
Rutkow is a member of the class of 1970. He earned his medical degree from St. Louis University and a master's and doctorate in public health from Johns Hopkins University.
He is also the author of many books, including the most recent biography “James A. Garfield.”
Rutkow was choked up when he started his speech, holding back tears when talking about the Founders Medal.
“It's always an honor to come back to Union,” he said. “It's is sort of surreal. … The last time I was on this stage, the Four Tops were playing.”
The doctor spent much of his time talking about famous doctors with roots in Union. Theodric Romeyn Beck, an 1807 graduate, wrote the first and pre-eminent book on medical jurisprudence. Frank Hastings Hamilton, an 1830 graduate, founded medical schools at the University of Buffalo and Bellevue Hospital Medical College, now the New York University School of Medicine.
Levi Cooper Lane, class of 1849, founded the Cooper Medical School, now Stanford Medical School.
Also honored at Founders Day was Kenneth G. DeBono, who was given the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching for his work in behavioral sciences. DeBono is an active promoter of undergraduate research.
Laurence P. Brown, a 1974 graduate, was given the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award.
Brown, a Scarsdale High School teacher, is a former labor lawyer and businessman. He now teaches American history, public policy and criminal justice.