Three CivMin alumni receive Arbor Awards

CivMin alumni received recognition for their service to the University

L to R: Barry Hitchcock (CivE 5T8), Robert James (CivE 5T8) and Andrew Wong (CivE 9T0). (Photos by Phill Snel, CivMin)

On January 16, the University of Toronto’s top volunteers in 2023, including thee CivMin alumni, were recognized for their service to the University. The 92 recipients, 11 of whom were Engineering alumni. were presented with the 2023 Arbor Awards at a celebration event held at the Carlu. 

Established by U of T in 1989, the Arbor Awards are presented annually to alumni and friends whose loyalty, dedication and generosity have added substantially to the quality of the University of Toronto experience. 

The evening ceremony was the first time the University has been able to hold an in-person awards ceremony since 2019. 

 Recipients from 2020, 2021 and 2022 were also invited and acknowledged at the celebration.  

Andrew Wong (L)receives his Arbor Award from U of T President Meric Gertler

Andrew Wong (CivE 9T0)
After joining the Engineering Alumni Network in 2016 as a board member, Wong was nominated as chair of the inaugural Nominations & Governance Committee. In this role, he oversaw the process of interviewing more than 80 alumni each year for leadership volunteer roles representing the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. 





Barry Hitchcock (L) receives his Arbor Award from U of T President Meric Gertler.

Barry Hitchcock (CivE 5T8) and Robert M. James (CivE 5T8)
Both 1958 graduates of U of T’s Civil Engineering program (the Civ Class of 5T8), Hitchcock and James have played an integral role in helping their fellow alumni stay connected over the past 65 years. After the class president passed away, they stepped up to continue his tradition of keeping the group united, including through regular video reunions during the pandemic, annual lunches and a regular newsletter. (Robert James could not attend the ceremony)





Hitchcock relayed the backstory of how he and classmate “Robbie” took up the torch to keep their class in touch:

Our class had 83 who graduated in 1958. I am now the oldest living member by a margin of about four years.

When our class President, Pat Falby elected in 1954, passed away in 2018, I attended his funeral service along with two of our classmates. They asked me to organize a reunion lunch. I then held one at the Yorkdale Holiday Inn in May of 2019. I used the email list from the notice Pat’s daughter sent to advise us of his passing.

Six of us attended the luncheon, including one member from Vancouver who was in Toronto visiting his son. When we discussed whether to continue reunions, there was consensus that yes, we should do so. Rob James, volunteered as our newsletter editor for a year, providing I would agree to be Class President. Of the six classmates who attended that luncheon, two have since passed.

I felt I was not the best fit for the role, as I had attended only two years of the course, am not well known among the members, and am the eldest. I asked two younger classmates if they would take it on, but they declined; so, by default, I became it.

I was scarcely acquainted with Rob, because his career was with a U.S. firm and he only occasionally attended our reunions. Rob, now retired and living in Toronto, has two sons and a sister.  Betty and I had dinner with him, but did not socialize with him prior.

Then the pandemic came, putting an end to future in-person reunions. Phill Snel, Communications Officer for the Department who interviewed me the summer of 2019 for an article, offered to set up Zoom meetings for us. The was we didn’t have a current email list. I visited Pat’s widow, Jane, to obtain to big containers containing 60 years of files. Rob, in turn, did an amazing job of condensing them into one smaller container of records, including contact information for our members. From this, Rob prepared a list divided into Deceased, Living and Active; the Living category included those we did not have current contact information for and/or did not respond to our emails.

We successfully started the Zoom meetings spaced every four months, or so, with about 15 participants. They included classmates from all around North America, such as Vancouver, Moncton, Toronto, Ottawa, San Francisco and Atlanta. Often joining us, besides Phill, were Nelly Pietropaolo, Brent Sleep, Sonia DeBuglio as well as other staff and faculty.

Rob regularly prepared newsletters, sent via email, for our Class of Civ 5T6. He just sent out newsletter number 16 in the fall of 2023.

After the pandemic we had two in-person lunches hosted by the University. One in May 2022, during Alumni Reunion week on the patio of a local restaurant by campus, was attended by six members and a spouse or family member. After the lunch, we were welcomed as guests at the Faculty Club and our class was recognized by Engineering Dean Prof. Christopher Yip, Chair of Civil & Mineral Engineering Prof. Brent Sleep and head of Engineering’s Alumni Relations Sonia DeBuglio.

The second luncheon, held May 25, 2023 and attended by 10 members and spouses, was held at a date to suit Betty and myself as we were not available during Alumni Week. It coincided with our 66th wedding anniversary on the patio of the Faculty Club, where we were treated like royalty. Betty and I were presented with 24 long-stemmed yellow roses and other gifts. I think it had something to do with Rob and I being in our advanced years to have such a good crowd turn out.

In summary, Rob and I have clicked together to do what we have done. I could not have done this without Rob, and I don’t think he could have done it without me. It was fate that brought us together at that Holiday Inn luncheon in 2019 when Rob spoke up about volunteering to be our newsletter editor. It was not as if we were buddies who planned this together, as we hardly knew each other. And it was Phill who kindly offered to set up our Zoom meeting; we wouldn’t have been able to set them up ourselves without his help.

Through working together, Rob and I have developed a close friendship; we keep in touch with phone calls and emails.

A word about our class history, in our post-graduation years:
Under the leadership of Pat Falby as President, and Bob Pillar as newsletter editor, we began in 1963 by having reunions every five years. These included weekends at the Sheraton Centre with a dinner/dance and more. Once, we enjoyed a week in Aruba hosted by one of our classmates (all costs covered including airfare, accommodations and meals for classmates and spouses). Our benefactor arranged it through a third party, remaining anonymous, and did not attend himself. We also, as a group, enjoyed a week in Las Vegas.

As our numbers dwindled, we started having the reunions annually with dinners at the Faculty Club. Outside of reunions, we had golf days at Collingwood and Alliston. As numbers dwindled further, our reunions because semi-annual lunches at the Yorkdale Holiday Inn each spring and fall. This eventually fell apart due to the illnesses and deaths of Pat Falby and Bob Pillar, and the passing of some of our regular attendees.

See the full listing of Arbor Award recipients: