Descendants of the Stevens Founding Family Unite on Campus for Unforgettable Reunion

10/10/2012

Approximately 75 descendants of Stevens’ founding family returned to campus on Oct. 5 and 6, 2012 for a special reunion celebrating their ancestors’ tremendous contributions to innovation throughout history.

Stevens, founded in 1870, is named for a distinguished family of engineers who are responsible for some of the nation’s most influential maritime and railroad systems innovations. For the past two centuries, descendants have held prominent positions in industry and society. Notable members include a former member of U.S. Congress, a U.S. Ambassador to Spain, and a member of the first class of the U.S. Naval Academy.

“The Stevens family was a dynamic force of technological innovation in the industrial age and their legacy continues to inspire our students and guide our alumni in the information age,” said Stevens President Nariman Farvardin.

For all in attendance, the weekend was one to remember. It began with a Friday evening cocktail reception at the New York Yacht Club, which was founded by John Cox Stevens. Cox Stevens – who will soon be inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame – built the America, the sailing yacht which inspired the renowned sailing competition now known as the America’s Cup.

At the cocktail reception, Stevens Professor Alan Blumberg, the director of the Center for Maritime Systems, spoke to attendees about the many linkages between Stevens and the maritime environment throughout its history.

Saturday brought the family to the Stevens campus for a tour of the university that bears its name, during which family members viewed significant mementos and artifacts collected over the years and learned inspiring facts about their ancestors’ roles in America’s scientific and technological progress.

The tour included visits to the Davidson Laboratory, the Financial Systems Center, and three special collections in the S.C. Williams Library, including the Leonardo da Vinci Collection. A 1509 first edition copy of De Devina Proportione, a famous book of mathematics illustrated by da Vinci, is one of the prized items in the collection, and it was recently restored by a master bookbinder. Video of the restoration project was on display during the reunion.

Another memorable item was a 1900 Panhard Lavassor, the oldest operating 4-cylinder car in the U.S. The remarkable antique is owned Stevens alumnus John Hovey ’57, and was previously owned by Stevens. A video of the car being raced around the Stevens athletic complex in the 1920s also played during the reunion.

Also on Saturday, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer officially welcomed the Stevens descendants to the founding family’s hometown and presented them with a plaque designating “Edwin A. Stevens Avenue” along the Stevens campus. She shared her vision for a boathouse in Hoboken which would teach people how to sail in the tradition of the Stevens family.

Other talks informed family members about what Stevens is like today, with remarks from Farvardin; Stevens Board of Trustees Chairman Larry Babbio ’66, Chris Ferreri ’77, managing director of ICAP, and Victoria O’Connor ‘11, a law student and young alumni member of the Stevens Board of Trustees.

Family members also had the opportunity to meet Assemblyman Ruben Ramos, Jr., who issued a Proclamation noted by the New Jersey General Assembly saluting the Stevens family. Ramos, a Hoboken native, shared his own personal memories of Stevens and recognized the Stevens family’s long tradition of excellence.

New Jersey Congressman Albio Sires also entered statement in the Congressional Record recognizing the Stevens family’s legacy of innovation and the university’s many contributions to society. In addition, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued a letter extending greetings to the Stevens family and outlining their ancestors’ inseparable ties to the Garden State. Later this month, an American flag will also be flown over the U.S. Capitol commemorating  the family.

The reunion concluded with a reception in which Stevens presented the family with a one-of-a-kind cake prepared by Carlo's Bakery, Hoboken's world famous bakery featured on the popular reality television series, "Cake Boss." The distinctive cake featured an authentic replica of the America, commemorating the Stevens family’s many contributions to the nautical industry as inventors of pioneering models of sailboats, steam boats, ferries, warships and naval weaponry.

One particularly noteworthy Stevens descendant – Jonathan Reckford, the current CEO of Habitat for Humanity International – closed the evening with remarks reflecting on his family’s legacy of innovation and service.  

“I really appreciated the chance to get to know Stevens better, learn more about other branches of the family, and to better understand the Stevens legacy in shipbuilding and hull design,” said Reckford. “I was favorably impressed with the students and staff who provided such enthusiasm and hospitality during our visit.”

Reckford was especially interested to learn about Stevens’ recent successes in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a national competition which challenges collegiate teams to design solar-powered houses. In the 2011 competition, a team from Stevens designed a zero-energy dwelling which will become an affordable home for a Habitat for Humanity family.

“What a nice example of the Stevens legacy of using technology and innovation to contribute to society!” Reckford said.

Miguel Escobedo, whose wife is a descendant of the Conover line of the Stevens family, travelled all the way from Mexico with his four adult children to attend the reunion.

“I am extremely proud of my family’s connection to Stevens and our ancestors’ tremendous legacy of technology, invention and education philanthropy,” Escobedo said. “This truly remarkable event not only allowed my children to meet their relatives from across the United States, but reinforced the fact that they are part of an incredibly important heritage.” 

Another descendant, Sam Reckford, also enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with distant relatives and exchange knowledge about their historic genealogy.

“We all recognize the shared bonds that we have with each other, Stevens and Hoboken,” he said. “I was very impressed with President Farvardin and his goals for Stevens. It is clear Stevens is on the upswing and I can only imagine that the future will be brighter still.”

Stevens last hosted a reunion for the Stevens family 32 years ago. This weekend’s reunion was spearheaded by Richard Widdicombe, a longtime Stevens library director who organized the previous reunion in 1980.

“Richard’s contribution to this unforgettable weekend was substantial,” said Farvardin. “We will certainly not wait another 32 years to reunite with the Stevens family,” said Farvardin.

“We really enjoyed bringing the Stevens family together on our campus,” added Stevens Vice President for Development Ed Eichhorn ’69. “We learned a great deal about the family and they learned a great deal about the Stevens of today. We look forward to many more reunions in the future.”

Stevens and the founding family’s descendants are continuing to collaborate. Soon they will loan the original plans of the USS Monitor, the first ironclad US warship, to the US Mariners’ Museum.