University switches up Party on the Plaza theme

PARTY ON PLAZA raised around $145,000 last year for Newman and student scholarships. Courtesy photo, Newman Advancement

On Saturday, guests attending Newman University’s largest fundraiser of the year got a taste of Tuscany. 

This was the first year Newman tried an Italian theme for its annual Party on the Plaza, a departure from the German “Oktoberfest” of previous years.

Vice President for University Advancement J.V. Johnston said the theme switched to “A Night in Tuscany” after he heard several attendees suggest that a change would be refreshing and exciting. He said the change of theme helped encourage more people to attend.

“I think it’s important to change things up and keep things fresh and new,” he said.

Johnston also said that he believed Italian cuisine is more appealing than German food. The tortellini and tiramisu in particular were a big hit with the guests, he said.

Another change from last year was that the stage encircled the statue of St. Maria DeMattias, with tables set all around. Previously, the stage would sit on edge of the plaza with people seated only on one side. 

President Noreen Carrocci said the decision to move the stage was “brilliant.”

“This way everybody felt closer to the action…no matter where you sat you felt close to the stage,” she said.

This is not the first year the Party on the Plaza saw big changes. 

Originally, the party was not even located on a plaza but instead on farmer and broadcaster Larry Steckline’s ranch. Back in 2009, the party was known as the “Party on the Ponderosa” and had a country western theme before it switched to Oktoberfest and moved to the plaza. “A Night in Tuscany” is just the latest reinvention of an event that’s been raising money for student scholarships for several years. 

Alumni Relations Coordinator Brielle Dunham said the change in theme accompanied a new branding focus which she hopes will get people in the community more familiar with the Party on the Plaza as Newman’s largest fundraiser.

“Years past, like when I started last year, I would talk to people about Party on the Plaza and they had no idea what I was talking about. And then I’d mention ‘Oktoberfest’ and people were like ‘Oh yeah, I know what that is.’ Most people thought it was one or the other but not the same,” she said, “So, we decided to brand ‘Party on the Plaza.’”

Last year the Party on the Plaza raised $144,786 for scholarships. Although the final fundraising numbers are not in, many in charge are already calling this year’s event a big success based on attendance alone. A total of 526 guests RSVP’d.

“I think it went very well…I know our sponsorships were way up, and it was the largest group we’ve had at Party on the Plaza,” Carrocci said. “So, we were thrilled with the attendance and participation,”

Both Johnston and Dunham said that “A Night in Tuscany” will likely be the theme again next year.

This story first appeared in the September 28, 2017 issue of The Vantage.