Rev. William B. Neenan, SJ, presides over the recent Iowa/Nebraska Luncheon Club meeting. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Fr. Neenan, vice president and special assistant to the president, and proud son of Sioux City, has hosted the luncheons for students from his beloved Midwest each semester since 1981. Last month, he presided over the 50th Iowa/Nebraska gathering, an anniversary celebration that drew about 25 students and alumni plus several administrators and faculty members, all with roots in America's Heartland.
Dining at a table under the red, white and blue state flag of Iowa and festooned with the respective state flowers ("The lovely wild rose of Iowa; the ragweed, er, goldenrod of Nebraska," cracked Fr. Neenan), the group chatted excitedly about Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers, caught up on high school happenings "back home" and shared the observations and queries about academics that abound whenever upperclassmen and younger students get together.
Fr. Neenan said he launched his luncheon gatherings shortly after arriving at Boston College from the University of Michigan. The turning point, he said, was hearing another Jesuit say that he was planning a trip "out west" to Springfield - Massachusetts, that is, not Illinois.
"I figured maybe it would be good to get together with some people who spoke English as a first language," he said, "where you didn't have to translate 'Bostonian.'"
He invited two undergrads from Nebraska to join him for lunch in St. Mary's Hall and the "Omaha Luncheon Club" was born. That group eventually became the Iowa/Nebraska Club and also served as the prototype for 18 other regional social groups Fr. Neenan helped start at BC, ranging from the "Lone Star Club" for native Texans to the "Salmon Club" for BCers from Alaska, Washington and Oregon.
All of the luncheon clubs meet once per semester and offer the same congeniality, friendship and tasty repast as the original.
Kathy Lorenz Kruk '83 was one of the first Boston College students to attend Fr. Neenan's luncheon club. "I can remember how nice it was to see people who came from the same background as you," recalled Kruk, a native of Omaha now living in Andover, Mass. "Fr. Neenan was so warm and down to earth, it was a wonderful experience."
Senior Bob Burke of Omaha said the luncheons help ease the transition for students from the Midwest into the bustling Boston lifestyle. "When we have the freshman sendoff party in Omaha, this is something I tell people about," he said. "Whenever the incoming students ask how hard it is to make adjustments, I always mention this," Burke said.
As the luncheon ended, Fr. Neenan offered a variety of raffle prizes to those in attendance, including two containers of Sue Bee Honey - "direct from Sioux City, Iowa," he said, beaming.
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