Spirit of Vassar Award

By Corinne Militello '98

“I’m very honored but I’m also somewhat staggered by it,” Mary-Alice Hunter ’38 said when she learned she was this year’s recipient of AAVC’s Spirit of Vassar award. “It’s just so totally unexpected.” The award honors outstanding efforts on behalf of the college. It is presented to a person or group who has shown great commitment and given great service to Vassar or another community.

“Mary-Alice Hunter has a kind, sweet spirit that touches everyone she meets,” said Yolanda Sabio ’73, AAVC board member and chair of the awards committee. “She has tirelessly labored for Vassar and truly embodies the Spirit of Vassar.”

“I had a wonderful education at Vassar,” Hunter said, “and I cared enough about the college to be involved.” In her numerous volunteer roles since graduating, Hunter has been president of her class, reunion chairperson, secretary to the New Jersey Vassar Club’s committee to celebrate Vassar’s 75th birthday, and a member and chairperson of AAVC’s nominating committee. At her 60th reunion in 1998, she became vice president of her class, and co-chair of her 65th reunion, which will take place this June.

The scope of Hunter’s involvement with Vassar is most impressive. “Mary-Alice has given as a volunteer and VC staff member, selflessly. She is fondly known throughout the decades of classes,” Sabio said.

Indeed, Hunter joined Vassar’s administrative staff in 1960, working in what was then known as the vocational office, to pair up students with campus jobs. In 1966 she took on the role of director of financial aid, also working closely with students. Just two weeks after she retired in 1980, she got a call from Dixie Sheridan ’65, asking her if she would consider returning to work at the college, this time for Vassar College President Virginia Smith. She enthusiastically accepted the responsibility of planning “official entertainments for students, visiting lecturers, and trustees,” overseeing the upkeep of the president’s house, and managing the use of Pratt House (better known to many as Warden’s House).

For now, Hunter is finishing up her term as class vice president and putting the final touches on reunion plans. She manages to stay involved with cultural activities on campus and around Poughkeepsie, too. She said, “One wonderful thing about living so near the college is being able to go to the concerts and lectures and the art gallery.” Hunter also volunteers as a librarian at the Christian Science Church in Poughkeepsie.

Vassar College President Frances Fergusson said, “Mary-Alice Hunter is a true Vassar treasure. Her grace and intellect infuse everything she has ever done for the college. It was my good fortune to work with her for nearly 15 years. I could hardly bear the fact that she decided to retire at age 83. Mary-Alice is perennially young, full of curiosity, spirit, and deep love for Vassar and its people.”