Celebration was the operative word Friday as threw itself a party at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.
The annual Trustee Award Dinner had a three-fold purpose: It was the 50th award dinner in the 70th year of the college's existence and the 17th and final year for Brother James Liguori, the college's seventh president.
Liguori is retiring from the position in June and will be succeed by Iona's first lay president, .
"I'm honored to be here this evening," Liguori said during one of two cocktail receptions before the night's main event: dinner, dancing and entertainment.
"Gratitude" was what came to his mind when he thought of having people toast his years of service at the college.
Liguori, a 1965 graduate of Iona, said one of the things he was most proud of during his 17 years was holding onto the school's mission statement of committing to providing a quality education within the tradition of the Christian Brothers and the Catholic church.
"And strengthening it," he said.
Of his successor, Liguori had two pieces of advice.
"He should be himself and have a thick skin," he said, quickly adding that he was sure Nyre "will do a fine job."
Nyre said he and his wife, Kelli, will be moving to New Rochelle in June and that he takes over the job July 2.
He said the gala evening was a great opportunity for everyone to acknowledge what Liguori has accomplished over 17 years.
"I'm grateful to be a part of it," Nyre said.
Marilyn Wilkie, the acting vice president for advancement, said attendance at Friday's gala was approximately 725.
She said 50 percent of the alumni base was from the tri-state area. Attendees came from as far away as the District of Columbia, Chicago and California.
Among the notable guests at the gala were former U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt, Edward Cardinal Egan, the former archbishop of New York, Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino and Iona alum and New Rochelle native singer/songwriter Don McLean, who performed after the dinner.
Chef and author Lidia Bastianich created a special menu for the dinner, and author and television personality Dick Cavett was the emcee.
Egan said he has known Liguori since 1985. He said Liguori's work as headmaster of and the associate superintendent for the archdiocese put him in good stead for succeeding as president of Iona.
"He is absolutely an outstanding educator," Egan said, "and a wonderful example of high-school level and college-level leadership.
"He did a magnificent job at Iona," he said.
For his part during the evening, Liguori either shook every hand or kissed every cheek, sometimes both.
Someone joked that he must be blind from the number of flashes that went off each time a picture was taken of Liguori and one of his well-wishers.
As guests filed into the Waldorf Astoria ballroom for the dinner, the Iona College Bagpipe Band serenaded them, with Liguori, Egan, Cavett and other college officials shaking hands and greeting person after person.
James Hynes, the chairman of the board of legal trustees, said it was good to see every seat filled in the ballroom.
He said it showed gratitude for a "splendid treasure of an institution.
"This institution, this community, this family is giving what the country needs," Hynes said: young people who are talented, well-trained and spiritual.
Hynes said the proceeds of the evening will go to the newly established Brother James A. Liguori Endowed Scholarship Fund.
There were gasps and applause when he said over $1 million was raised from the gala evening alone.
For his part of the evening, Cavett was droll and witty.
He decried hearing that one was "deeply honored" to be asked to such an occasion, that it was an overused cliche.
"We need some new cliches," Cavett said, adding "but I am deeply honored to be here. There's no other way to say it."
He spoke of his four years at college—not at Iona, but at Yale—as the best years of his life.
Cavett equated education with magic.
"The magic of education was the magic of music and arts and literature," he said, "and then there's the magic of magic."
Cavett, who started doing magic tricks at 13, then performed several "simple rope tricks," to the audience's amusement and delight.
To conclude, he said he was often asked when speaking at colleges to say something inspirational.
"I use this as a guideline," Cavett said, acknowledging that someone else said it first. "We learn that it is not enough in life to succeed. One's friends must fail."