What I love most about my UConn experience is finding the numerous traveling opportunities that UConn offers to students. UConn is not limited on the different opportunities they offer, so every student can definitely find something to match their specific preferences. I’m a member of the UConn Pre-Vet Club, as well as the UConn Yoga-Sangha Club.
Your financial support has made a major impact on my life because it has helped me follow my dream to study abroad in a country where I can learn about wild animals. I have a huge passion for animals, and my study abroad experience in South Africa has inspired me to pursue my dreams of traveling to learn more about the wildlife around the world. My long-term goal is to become a vet for exotic animals, and my experience in South Africa has expanded my knowledge about animals in a great way. I truly believe having this knowledge about African animals will make me an amazing veterinarian in the future.
Without the financial support from you, my generous donor, my dream of studying abroad would not have come true. I am forever grateful! Thank you so much!!!
Caron Butler earned All-American honors and was the Big East Conference Player of the Year and the Tournament Most Outstanding Player in 2001-02, and led the Huskies to the NCAA Elite Eight. After that season, Butler was an NBA Draft lottery selection with the 10th pick by the Miami Heat. He is a two-time NBA All-Star, 2011 NBA Champion as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, and is in his 14th season in the NBA, currently as a member of the Sacramento Kings.
Butler returned to campus in February and was inducted as a member of the Huskies of Honor, which recognizes the great players in UConn history.
“Andrea and I met at UConn, and it has always held a special place in our hearts,” stated Butler. “Being recognized in the Huskies of Honor event brought back so many incredible memories and emotions. Coach Jim Calhoun and all the coaches—Karl Hobbs, Dave Leitao, George Blaney, and Tom Moore—have played a critical role in my life, and Andrea and I are blessed to be able to give back in this small way.”
“We are extremely grateful to Caron and Andrea for their support. We have raised more than $33.5 million in private support toward this project with another $3.5 million needed to complete it. Caron and Andrea’s commitment is meaningful as we work to complete the fundraising for the Center and hopefully provides an example that others will follow,” said Joshua Newton, UConn Foundation President and CEO.
Butler, whose gift amount remains private, hopes that his act of giving inspires others. “I want everyone who values UConn and its student-athletes to understand that every gift matters, small or large,” Butler added.
“Any time a former student-athlete makes a gift we are grateful, as it shows how much UConn still means to them,” said Rachel Rubin, Interim Director of Athletics. Butler’s Husky pride does run deep. In fact, he recently said that he is “elated that UConn has been loyal to the Husky Brotherhood” by hiring former UConn and NBA player Kevin Ollie as head coach of the men’s team.
“We truly appreciate Caron and Andrea’s commitment to the project,” Rubin continued.
The 75,000-plus square-foot Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center facility features two separate wings for the men’s and women’s basketball programs. It includes common areas for academic support, sports medicine, and strength training areas, as well as separate practice gyms, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, and video analysis theaters.
Cheering for our men’s and women’s basketball teams is just one of many great UConn traditions. Thanks to alumni like Nick Zaharias ’85, we also have traditions like OOzeball and the Husky mascot—you can find his story in this issue. But I think one of the greatest traditions is how, since the beginning of the university, we come together in times of growth, change, and adversity as one UConn family.
On a final note, stay tuned for a brand-new UConn Alumni website, set to launch this spring, as well as a slate of spring and summer events just for you—whether you’re a recent grad, a transplant to a new city, or an alum looking for a unique travel opportunity.
Ted Lunney ’92, a loyal alum and Husky basketball fan, will be one of the first donors to have a locker named after him in UConn’s new Werth Family UConn Basketball Champion Center.
Lunney says he wanted to contribute because of the strong connection he feels toward UConn, where he majored in business and formed lifelong friendships.
“This is a chance to give back to a place that had a big impact on me personally and professionally. Hopefully, this will have a positive impact on the university,” Lunney said. “I have incredibly fond memories of UConn. It’s been a great experience.”
The new 78,000-square-foot basketball practice facility features common areas for strength training, academic support, and sports medicine as well as separate practice gyms, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, and video analysis theaters. Fundraising is ongoing for the $40 million facility, the first and only building on campus funded completely by philanthropy.
“Seeing major supporters like Dan Toscano ’87 and Mark Shenkman ’65 give both their time and money over the years planted the seeds for me to make my own donation. Hopefully it will have a meaningful impact,” Lunney said. “The perfect opportunity presented itself in the locker naming at the Werth Family Champion’s Center.”
Lunney’s donation will assist UConn Athletics’ Drive to 5K initiative to raise funds for scholarships, facility expenses, and other related costs to support UConn’s 24 teams. To date, nearly 4,000 donors have contributed to support our 700 student-athletes and help keep UConn’s teams nationally competitive. UConn is competing with universities such as Kansas, which has 6,050 athletic donors, Maryland, which has 6,500, and Rutgers, which boasts 7,460.
Lunney was raised in Meriden. His parents divorced early and he was raised by his father, Bob, an elementary school teacher in North Haven. After graduating from Maloney High School, Lunney headed to UConn. A lot has changed on campus since then. He remembers watching the basketball team play in the old fieldhouse and the Hilltop residence halls had just opened and were considered the “cream of the crop” in dorm living. UConn’s transformation through the UConn 2000 construction program was just starting then.
His fondest memories are of the great friendships he formed at UConn, particularly during his junior year on his floor in Hale Hall. He remembers the day it all started when three guys down the hall were trying to watch a game on an old TV with a rabbit-ear antenna in their room. They were frustrated because they couldn’t get any reception.
They walked by Lunney’s room and noticed that he was watching the same game. They asked if he minded if they watched it with him.
“I had cable TV,” Lunney said. “That was a big deal then.”
After that, every day he came home from class he’d find them in his room watching cable.
They became and have remained good friends over the years. All three were in his wedding party and they still get together, though not as often.
“What I remember most about UConn is the great relationships we created, the lifelong relationships you establish going through university together,” he said.
Lunney married his high school sweetheart, Melissa, and they live in Westport with their two daughters, Alexa, 11, and Taylor, 8, whom he calls his “mini Huskies.” Lunney has worked on Wall Street for the past 23 years. He currently runs the high yield trading desk for the Bank of Montreal, BMO Capital Markets, in New York.
UConn has a proud tradition of excellence when it comes to its student-athletes—and the new athletics director would like your help in growing that tradition.
This month UConn Nation welcomes David Benedict to Storrs after current Athletics Director Warde Manuel heads to the University of Michigan. Benedict, currently the Chief Operating Officer at Auburn University, has previously served for institutions such as the University of Minnesota, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Arizona State University.
Benedict was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.
Welcome to #UConnNation! We have a spirited alumni base of more than 241,000, and for many people who grew up in the area, being a UConn fan is part of the deal. Any message you’d like to send to those who bleed blue?
I’m honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to lead this athletic department, and I look forward to engaging with our alumni, donors, and fans.
With that large an alumni base, it should be our goal to fill our venues and support our student-athletes when they compete and represent UConn. We want to include you in the game-day experience conversation. We want to make sure that when you attend our events, that you have a great time. So it’s important that we have dialogue and learn about what you like and don’t like. This will provide a starting point for us to begin to make changes that will hopefully positively impact our fans experience.
This is your program, and we need everyone’s support if we want to compete for championships—not just in men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, and field hockey, but in all of our sports.
You’ve served with several institutions throughout your career. With that perspective, how important are athletic facilities to attracting the best student-athletes? How will the new facilities we are planning to build at UConn impact the overall landscape?
They’re critically important. The new facilities that have been built here recently, like the Burton Family Football Complex and the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center, are examples of some of the best in the country. So if we can continue to invest in facilities comparable to that for soccer, baseball, softball and other sports, we will be able to recruit nationally and attract prospects that want to come to a nationally ranked university and athletics program. It makes a statement when you bring prospects and their families on campus and they see a university that invests in best-in-class facilities. It means we’re committed.
You’ve lived all over the country—Arizona, California, Alabama, Virginia, Minnesota. What are you most looking forward to exploring here in New England?
There are a lot of things we’re looking forward to seeing and experiencing. We’ve not yet had the opportunity to take our sons to Boston or New York City, some of the best cities in the country that have a lot of culture and incredible sporting activities. I’ve been in the mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the Southwest and up and down the West Coast, but we’ve never been to the East Coast. We really like spending time around the beach, when we have the opportunity, so were definitely looking forward to exploring what the East Coast has to offer.
You and your wife, Lisa, are both former student-athletes. Does your family have any game-day rituals or superstitions?
My wife has a very difficult time watching games when things get tight. She likes to be at the game and know what’s going on, but when it gets close she’ll pace and walk around and not necessarily watch. Lisa grew up in Buffalo, which is a great sports town—people rally around their teams there, and I’ve learned a lot about hockey in particular from her family. Lisa’s brother is the head athletic trainer for the Dallas Stars and has worked in professional hockey for a long time.
Like any coach, there are probably times where if things are going really well, I might start to mimic routines—wear a certain tie or shirt. But I don’t have any particular rituals or superstitions. I grew up in Arizona, and when you’re a kid and starting to form those bonds with local teams we only had the Phoenix Suns. By the time the Cardinals and Diamondbacks and Coyotes came in, I was already past forming those allegiances. So instead I’ve found myself rooting for the student-athletes at places I’ve worked. As they’ve gone on and competed professionally, I root for them as opposed to individual teams.
But my dad is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, so I did grow up a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers as they were winning all of their Super Bowl trophies in the ’70s.
OOzeball is one of UConn’s longest and most beloved campus traditions. The muddy volleyball tournament, run by the Student Alumni Association (SAA), attracts thousands of students every spring.
But how did OOZEball come about in the first place? We interview Nick Zaharias ’85 (CLAS) for some answers—as well as his role in several other UConn traditions.
On behalf of many Huskies, we’d like to thank you for your part in creating OOzeball. So what’s its origin story? How did this muddy pastime come to be?
In 1982, as the Student Alumni Advisory Board (SAAB)—the precursor to today’s SAA—was created, our advisor Nancy Amols Gingras ’81 was looking for a unique and cool event and fundraiser for our new student group. She saw a TV clip of a school in the Midwest sponsoring a small mud volleyball tournament. Our board quickly appointed Bob Rajtar ’84 as the first “Wizard of OOze” and the UConn tradition was born.
The beginnings were quite inauspicious, since we had almost no budget for the event. In fact, we could not even afford properly screened fill the first couple of years, so Nancy and the SAAB members raked the nearly free dirt by hand for days, pulling out rocks, tree branches and even some garbage. That first year we had only a handful of teams, so they all played in the single mud court.
The event quickly exploded in popularity, and in OOzeball’s second year we invited Jonathan the mascot to play in the mud for the news crews. Jonathan unveiled himself publicly for the first time ever—and it was then-UConn President John DiBiaggio inside the suit!
We “old timers” are so proud of today’s Student Alumni Association and the current OOzeball Tournament, which has become one of the largest and best in the entire country!
We have also found out that you were once Jonathan the Husky mascot yourself. Without divulging too many secrets, what’s it like to don the costume? Any stories you can share about your time as Jonathan?
Being the UConn Husky back in 1982-83 was one of the highlights of my life. I had so many fun and unique experiences as Jonathan. I was one of the first mascots to ever use props—which included eye charts for refs, Super Soakers, and Silly String. I was even named a co-Homecoming King as the Husky.
The old suit was heavy and not well-ventilated, so it served as a fantastic weight loss program. On a hot, humid day, I could lose five or more pounds of water weight in a couple hours, so hydration was the key to survival. The gifts for Jonathan from friends and fans were hilarious: I received actual fire hydrants and the Dog Lane street sign, among others. The kidnapping attempts by schools like Yale and UMass were more common than anyone might imagine, but my Russell D floormates served with honor as my personal security force in this regard.
Unfortunately, I’m probably most well-known for the infamous brawl with the Seton Hall Pirate, with this photo (at right) ending up printed prominently in the Hartford Courant. I just love the expressions of the people in this photo as they realize this play-fight was just becoming real. The Pirate initiated the fracas, and he cracked the Husky head with the pole of his pirate flag. I had no option but to end the scuffle with a knockout on our home court—at which time the undergrad running the sound system played the Rocky theme as I tossed the pirate flag into the crowd. I’ll never forget that ovation from the Husky faithful with the Pirate lying on the court (although the closed door meeting the next morning with Athletic Director John Toner was not quite so enjoyable).
How did creating and participating in UConn traditions and activities impact your life after graduation? Did your on-campus activities open any doors for you after college?
When I was picked as the Husky Dog (which was sponsored by the Alumni Association at the time), I got to know the Executive Alumni Director Roger Thalacker very well. This led to my involvement in the founding of the Student Alumni Advisory Board, of which I later became President. I was active as a student volunteer in the Alumni office for two years, which eventually lead to me becoming the Assistant Director of the Association, then later the Director of the UConn Annual Fund. Thus, student activities at UConn led directly and unexpectedly to my 30+ year career in advancement.
What makes me most happy is that I’ve raised over $80M so far for hospitals, colleges, universities and independent schools across New England, which means I’ve impacted and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of othersؙ—and this all started as a UConn undergraduate.
Best of all, I met Patty Ellis ’84 through these student activities. She served on the Board of SAAB and later became Patty Zaharias. Fast forward a few decades, and today we enjoy a great life with a son who is a highly successful attorney. So we are truly blessed, and everything professionally and personally for us is tied back to our experiences in Storrs.
You clearly showed a lot of school pride during your time at UConn. What’s your relationship with the university now? What’s your vision for UConn—and how can alumni help their alma mater grow?
We live in New Hampshire now, but we still feel well-connected to my alma mater. Social media is wonderful for informal reunions and keeping in touch with former dorm-mates, SAA alumni, cheerleading alumni, and other former mascots and coworkers from our UConn days. So in addition to the formal alumni events and programs, there is a LOT of informal UConn Alumni networking, tailgating and fun that goes on around the world.
We are Life Members of the Alumni Association, and make an annual gift as our way of saying thanks for all UConn provided us. I try to get back to speak to and meet with the current SAA members whenever I can—they are amazing, welcoming and gracious when we talk about the SAA’s humble beginnings.
Patty and I recently added UConn to our estate plans in a significant way so that we’ll be able to leave our legacy in Storrs, and help future Huskies enjoy terrific learning and life experiences too.
Our good friend Bobby Hopson ’83 is a senior officer in the UConn Admissions Office, so we hear plenty of stories about today’s students. The academic prowess and abilities of today’s undergraduates truly boggles my mind. UConn is now a top dog in athletics, academics and a top-ranked public institution in the country. We can all be very proud of these amazing accomplishments, and in the progress the university’s made in such a relatively short period of time.
Our thanks to Nick, Patty, and others who played important roles in the founding and keeping of UConn’s traditions. We’re grateful to have you all as members of the UConn family!