Alvernia University's 2021 President's Dinner

From left: Conor Delaney, Kate Ecke, Kyle Levengood, Karen and Gary Rightmire, Sandy Solmon and Doug Messinger, Nadine Blair, Timothy J. Daley, John R. Loyack


Alumni and community leaders earn prestigious honors


Alvernia University bestowed five of its prestigious awards on alumni and community leaders with ties to downtown Reading at its annual President’s Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton Reading, presided by John R. Loyack. Honorees include Sweet Street Desserts, Karen and Gary Rightmire, Timothy J. Daley, Nadine Blair, Kate Ecke, Kyle Levengood, Conor Delaney and Brandi Burns.


“The Reading CollegeTowne story is one of partnership and leaders working together selflessly to improve our community,” said Alvernia University President John R. Loyack. “Tonight’s honorees are tremendous ambassadors that provide service, leadership and commitment and represent the storied past and bright future within the Alvernia and greater Reading communities.”


During his closing remarks, Loyack shared how the model of education at Alvernia is evolving into an outcomes-based, experiential learning model as well as some examples of student success, the early successes of the CollegeTowne initiative, as well as university’s plans for the next phase of the project. Plans for the second phase of CollegeTowne include the addition of a physician assistant program, a refresh of the nursing program, the addition of a community clinic, additional engineering tracks, expansion of downtown housing and the continued progress of replicating the CollegeTowne strategy in Pottsville.


Sweet Street Desserts accepted the CollegeTowne Awards (formerly Pro Urbe Award) for their significant community service and contributions to a higher standard of living for the Reading community. Founder and CEO Sandy Solmon has led the dessert manufacturer from a two-car garage startup to an international dessert powerhouse that bakes for restaurants in over 60 countries on every continent.


“The magnetic field cast by Alvernia has aligned so much entrepreneurial energy in this town;it seems we have found our shared compass: a belief in the revival of our beloved Downtown Reading,” said Solmon. “This is a marvelous city, and we have to shout it from the rooftops letting the world and our neighbors know Reading is back.”


Longtime Berks County residents and local servant leaders Gary and Karen Rightmire earned the university’s coveted Franciscan Award, given annually to a person who selflessly gives their time, talents and resources for the betterment of others and is presented for exceptional service to Alvernia.


“We are old enough to remember when Alvernia was just a tiny college,” said Karen Rightmire. “Just look at it today; it’s a university. The campus is unrecognizable, the enrollment has exploded and our community is incredibly impacted by its mission and leadership. Someone once said happiness is having something to do, something to love and something to hope for. Gary and I are so blessed to have our family and friends to love, our community work to do and hope for the future that brings health and civility to our world. We are so very grateful to John and his team for this much-appreciated recognition.”


Daley, a longtime Reading police officer and current Executive Director for the Habitat for Humanity of Berks County, was honored with the distinguished alumni award that recognizes a person who demonstrates valuable contributions to their profession, community and nation. Daley has spent his life committed to providing safe neighborhoods, opportunities for families to thrive and empower others.


“When I graduated from Alvernia, I walked away with a diploma, which for me at the time was a resume builder for a job and, equally as important, something to hang on a wall to make my mom happy,” said Daley. “But the true value of that diploma was a reminder that my real education was about to begin. A reminder that I was not a finished product but a sprout that would seek nourishment to grow, and that is when I discovered what my years at Alvernia really taught me, to have a life-long respect for knowledge and a love for learning. I stand before you tonight not on a stage but rather on the shoulders of all those people in my life that showed me kindness and were gracious enough to lift me up so I could reach for my star.”


Blair, an alumna and longtime Alvernia volunteer and Alumni Council member, received the Ellen Frei Gruber Award, given to an individual who has performed outstanding service to Alvernia, exemplified continued commitment and support of the Alvernia University mission and reflects the university's core values of service, humility, peacemaking, contemplation and collegiality.


“These last 19 months have been marked with challenges of the pandemic; however, in the midst of these challenges, there is hope for a bright future,” said Blair. “Alvernia University has given the community great hope by building its footprint in Reading CollegeTowne. Ellen Frei Gruber also was a beacon of hope as she exhibited commitment to serving others and reflected the values of service, love, commitment and self-discipline. Like Ellen Frei Gruber, Alvernia University and the Bernardine Sisters provided me an opportunity to grow in my faith spiritually as well as grow in a commitment of service and charity to others.”


The university also awarded its second class of Four Under Forty winners, including Delaney, founder of The Good Life Companies; Ecke, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in eye movement desensitization reprocessing; Levengood, partner with Herbein + Company and Burns, a pediatric physician assistant.