Alumni sink teeth into contest, raise record funds

There's a lot to be said for friendly competition, especially if it results in record-breaking fundraising for a good cause. For the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, that's exactly what happened during April's Reunion Weekend, which ended with a record $1.1 million in gifts from all 10 dentistry reunion classes.

Two classes were vying for the top-dollar Lyons Cup as the weekend unfolded, and their efforts didn't disappoint. In the end, John Svirsky, D.D.S. (D.D.S. '73; M.Ed. '79), led his 1973 classmates to victory but not before B. Ellen Byrne, D.D.S., Ph.D. (B.S. '77; D.D.S. '83; Ph.D. '91; H.S. 91), and her 1983 class gave them a valiant run for their money.

"The whole Reunion Weekend was remarkable," said David C. Sarrett, D.M.D., dean of the VCU School of Dentistry and associate vice president for VCU Health Sciences-Faculty Affairs. "Our alumni are unbelievably supportive. We manage to keep people connected to their school from the moment they walk into dental school all the way through the 50th reunion. That helps explain why our school leads the university in alumni engagement. I'm very proud and very grateful."

The key to success in this year's reunion giving efforts might lie in the power of memory. Both Byrne and Svirsky tapped into events and feelings of long ago to motivate their classes.

"For me, contacting people with a theme that brought back great memories was critical," Byrne said. "When we were in dental school, for example, we purchased our instruments and carried them with us everywhere. Now we look back and laugh about that. So we raised money for a cause we affectionately named the Winnebago Scholarship in honor of the storage containers we used to transport our dental instruments from place to place."

Byrne and classmate Ross Heisman, D.D.S. (D.D.S. '83), helped their class rise to the challenge by raising $236,000 for scholarships, meaning less post-graduation debt for students.

Svirsky's efforts also centered on a key memory — that of James Revere, D.D.S (D.D.S. '65; H.S. '89), whose temporary teaching job at the School of Dentistry has lasted 35 years and counting. Having also served as admissions dean, clinic dean and interim dean, Revere, now director of planned giving in the school's development office, has motivated many young students to consider a career in academic dentistry.

Svirsky's class raised $338,000 to support the Dr. James H. Revere Jr. Professorship for Faculty Excellence, which focuses on the development of new faculty through additional training. The professorship began as the Dr. James H. Revere Jr. Lectureship Fund, which Svirsky and his colleague Jim Burns, D.D.S., Ph.D. (D.D.S. '72; Ph.D. '80), established in 2010.

Both Byrne and Svirsky enjoyed the playful camaraderie of the reunion's festivities, especially surrounding their fundraising efforts.

"I knew I had Ellen beat, but I kept telling her it was real close so she'd go try and raise more money," Svirsky said. "And she did!"

To learn more about the VCU School of Dentistry, contact Gloria F. Callihan, J.D., associate dean of development and alumni affairs, at (804) 828-8101 or