Photographs by Dorothy Hong and Barnard Archives
2014 Class Gift 2009 Class Gift
Mention “the runner” to a Barnard alumna, and you’ll likely elicit a nod of appreciation and recognition. “She’s always watching over us. She’s always lighting up [the] campus with her torch,” says Jennelle Fong ’14, of the bronze statue, which depicts a larger-than-life young woman sprinting as she passes a torch. The sculpture, by Chester Beach, known for his portrait busts and medallic art, was a gift to the College by the Class of 1905 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Greek Games in 1928. It now beautifies a shaded corner of the campus along the walk to Milbank Hall.
This iconic figure of College life, also known informally as the “the torch bearer” but officially named the Spirit of the Greek Games, has graced the glossy pages of Barnard brochures and magazines and appeared in countless alumnae photo albums. But over the decades, the bronze began to show signs of age, with a powdery-looking greenish tinge sweeping over it and seeping into its marble base.
Enter the Class of 2014, which came to the rescue with its class gift. “It’s the most prominent art on campus,” declares Fong, who was cochair of the 2014 Senior Fund, which paid for a facelift of the statue. The fund hired the renowned New York conservation firm Steve Tatti, which restored the patina on the Statue of Liberty and refurbished the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, among thousands of other monuments. The Barnard commission included cleaning up the sculpture’s base, filling in its gold lettering, and carefully restoring the bronze while leaving some of the discoloration of a weathered artwork.
This restoration was one of two gifts to the College from the Class of 2014, which achieved an impressive participation rate of 73 percent and raised a total of $26,000. The fund included challenge-grant contributions from Dean of the College Avis Hinkson, Senior Class Dean Natalie Friedman, the Athena Center, and alumnae. The Class of ’14 is also providing financial aid in the amount of $17,000 to a student in the Class of 2018. At their first reunion, the class leaders plan to unveil a plaque on the statue noting the contribution, and will invite the student recipient to join them.
The accomplishments of the Class of 2014 reflect students’ increasing involvement in the Senior Fund. The Class of 2009 fund also had a high participation rate—77 percent. Class leaders presented their gift, a decorative fountain in the courtyard of the Quad, at this year’s Reunion. This class fund raised $35,581, thanks to student contributions as well as income from challenge grants and gifts from parents and friends, according to Amy Leveen, Barnard’s director of annual giving. Two decades or so ago, a much smaller percentage of graduating seniors participated in their Senior Fund.
One of the 2014 challenge grants came from Mary Ann LoFrumento ’77, who recently finished a three-year term as president of the Alumnae Association of Barnard College. LoFrumento offered to donate $2,014 when the class participation rate reached 70 percent. LoFrumento says she didn’t often think about the Spirit of the Greek Games when she was a student. Now she sees it in a new light, as a sort of feminist image, “a strong woman running with a powerful torch upheld.” She adds, “When the senior class chose to restore it, I looked at it differently. I saw it as a link to the past and to the future. I was literally passing the torch as I left the presidency.”
The sculpture itself suggests two time periods. The woman depicted resembles a student of the 1920s, while her tunic recalls the clothing of antiquity. Margarete Bieber, who was teaching at Barnard at the time and was a consultant for the Greek Games costumes, likely helped with the design of the runner’s garments, according to Larissa Bonfante ’54, an emerita professor of classics at New York University.
Even before the runner’s recent restoration, the Class of ’14 established a special bond with the sculpture. The Greek Games, which the statue celebrates, flourished as a competition in athletic events and poetry between first years and sophomores every spring between 1903 and 1967. In 2011 and 2012, the Class of ’14 attempted to reinstate the games, albeit with a modern twist; on the rooftop of The Diana Center, “competitors” unwound in a session of “yoga in a toga.”
While the modern Greek Games didn’t carry on beyond those two years, some essence of the event endures in a new tradition known as Spirit Week, several days of parties and events celebrating all things Barnard, according to Malvina Kefalas ’14, cochair of the Senior Fund. She says that although “the tradition of the Greek Games has faded,” its spirit of community continues.
Kefalas, who is studying Greek in Greece this summer, says the restoration lent a buoyant tone to finals week, when the restoration work was completed. “There were so many excited text messages,” she says, with students writing, “OMG, I can’t believe this is happening.” Notes Kefalas, “It’s nice to leave the campus a little brighter than we when arrived.”