Eight Years Later

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This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was prepared for the June 2, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Fete: Food, Fun, & a Meteorite

A perceptible quickening in the town — a kind of Fete frenzy — is as much a part of Princeton spring as migrating warblers. This year, the excitement is heightened. The June Fete, the 51-year-old festive fundraiser for the University Medical Center at Princeton, is moving to a new home. On Saturday, June 5 this year’s Fete, the Rocket Fete, blasts off from Princeton University Stadium.

Any number of area families have only known Fetes that began with the handing a few bills to a doctor doing duty as a parking attendant at the Princeton University fields on Washington Road. But that site, sometimes muddy, sometimes dusty, and always redolent with the aroma of wild roses, has not always hosted the Fete. The real Princeton summer kick-off, the Fete has been held at the American Boy Choir School, the late Palmer Stadium, Westminster Choir College, and even Community Park. The early 1960s saw Fete tents erected on Fitzpatrick and Brokaw fields.

There are two reasons for the move to Princeton University Stadium, the grand new home of Tiger football. University sports and summer camps conflicted with the early-June date. The other factor was one that not even the results of 21st century space exploration has been able to nail down — the weather. A series of rainy Junes has turned the fields into a soupy mess on one too many occasions — dampening both the spirits of attendees, and the take from the important fundraising event.

Without revealing exact past amounts, a Fete insider divulges that the Fete raised $135,000 in rainy 2003, an amount that was “much lower than usual.” Current practice is to earmark Fete revenues for certain aspects of the hospital. This year, the money is dedicated to the hospital’s prospective Breast Health Center.

And this year, barring a tree-felling monsoon, the weather has been robbed of its ability to dampen either the fundraising or the fun. The stadium, guarded by a pair of heavy metal tigers, and sitting on the footprint of historic Palmer Stadium, could be the perfect Fete venue — combining cutting edge architecture, plenty of parking, and a good amount of cover. Booths and tents will be arrayed on the stadium’s paved concourse, as well as immediately outside.

“This site move will be a fascinating and exciting use of the stadium. It was always intended for greater community use,” says Karen Woodbridge, the university’s associate director of community and state affairs.

Not only has the Fete itself moved. The dance held the night before the Fete, traditionally in tents on the Washington Road fields, has moved closer to town too. On Friday, June 4, from 8 p.m. until midnight, the public is invited to the Moon Dance at the Quadrangle Club on Prospect Avenue. A tent will be set up to accommodate overflow from the eating club. For this Rocket Fete, the Fitzrandolph Observatory also gets in on the act, and will be open for dance participants. Advance reservations are required and can be obtained by calling 609-497-4069.

Work begins on the upcoming event even before the current benefit has been celebrated. Each Fete is themed, for unity’s sake, public relations, and memorability. The 2004 co-chairs, Jody Erdman and Karen Fein-Kelly, chose a space theme. They wanted to heighten and deepen the event by adding a substantial educational element.

They were fortunate to secure the cooperation of NASA. In the past, a Fete’s theme showed up on T-shirts and publicity materials, and in on-site decorations. Perhaps never before has the theme turned into the event’s major attraction, but that will be the case this year. NASA’s Starship 2040 — a traveling space transportation exhibit — will dock just to the right of the tigers, near Peyton Hall. NASA experts will staff the 48-foot tractor and trailer rig, answering questions and guiding visitors through “the central passage of a commercial spaceliner, circa 2040.” NASA calls this exhibit “a glimpse into a very possible future.”

Astronaut Story Musgrave will be the Fete’s honored guest. A veteran of 30 years with NASA, and the only astronaut to have flown all five space shuttles, he will meet and greet 10k runners at 9:30 a.m., serve as master of ceremonies at the 10 a.m. race awards ceremony, and speak at 1:30 p.m. at McDonnell Hall.

The space theme infuses this year’s auction tent, as well. A meteorite from Mars will be auctioned at 1 p.m. Having orbited the sun for a million years, it landed in Libya 60,000 years ago. Contributed by David Nathan, a psychiatrist with Princeton HealthCare System, the meteorite is valued at $3,500. Other connections to the starry universe include a demonstration of a portable planetarium by Aram Friedman (U.S. 1, March 31), and a booth for the Amateur Astronomy Association, which will be recruiting visitors to view the summer sky at an observatory in Washington Crossing Park. Small World Coffee is donating Rocket Coffee, and a moon walk and an inflatable water rocket toss brings outer space to Fete children.

The Rocket! logo can be purchased on traditional T-shirts, aprons and hats. Something new on sale this year will be a vivid print of a collection of Fete posters — a kind of “Doors of Dublin”of the benefit.

On Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m., the public (adults only, please) is invited to the Princeton University Stadium for a preview of Saturday’s festivities. This will include sneak peeks at the auction tent and the opportunity to shop in the Lane of Shops and Art Tent.

The traditional Fete 10K race also has a new venue this year. The race takes place at Weaver Track, which has generous spectator seating. Would-be participants should call 609-333-0868 or e-mail xtine@igoulds.com for pre-registration information. The Fun Run will take place in a nearby enclosed setting.

Wheels as well as happy feet are a constant Fete theme. A limited number of raffle tickets, at $100, remain available for the spiffy red Volvo S40T5, donated by Volvo of Princeton. E-mailing raffle08540@hotmail.com is the way to go for tickets and information.

In terms of timing, cognoscenti know to get to the Garden Tent early. Plant selections are bountiful, beautiful, and healthy. A holding area is provided, so that floral purchases can be tended until Fete-goers pick them up on the way home. Throughout Fete Day, a broad array of foods, hot and cold, can be enjoyed in situ and to take home. Lively entertainment (musical and otherwise) is sited at the Weaver Track and nearby.

Few realize that bringing forth the June Fete involves the entire weekend. Sunday clean-up is crucial for volunteers — so much so that awards will be given out this year, “The Golden Garbage Can” for the cleanest site on Sunday, and “The Smiley Face” for the most flexible area. Areas include Sports Alley, Food Court, Live Auction, Lane of Shops, Flea Market, Children’s Activities, Garden Tent, Entertainment, and Games for Middle and High School students.

Sunday night is not feet-up time. The June Fete Steering Committee hosts a cocktail party to honor the chairwomen. The evening is highlighted by the treasurer’s report on the year’s gross revenue. Announcement of next year’s chairs is another suspenseful moment. However, Barbara Allen, auxiliary liaison, admits, “it’s not always so secret. They’re already working on the Fete to come.”

Despite all the hours put in over the weekend, lively discussions will ensue over how to do it better next time. Appropriately, the post-Fete party mirrors coach and team debriefing in the locker room after a key game, even a championship. No, the Fete chairs won’t be pouring champagne over one another. There will be just be much mutual delight in a job well done, for the 51st time.

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Eight Years Later

For the June Fete to be hosted by Princeton University’s stadium, rather than being relegated to the Washington Road athletic fields, represents a public relations victory for both the medical center and the university. Last year the center’s CEO, Barry Rabner, used the fete to launch his rebranding campaign. The name changed to “Princeton Healthcare Group: University Medical Center at Princeton.” This year the fete is being held in the heart of the campus (where access to flush toilets is by no means a small item).

The university offers its facility to the Fete for free. This Fete represents the first use of the stadium by an outside non-athletic organization since it was constructed in 1998. The stadium as a potential venue for outside organizations was a concept the university was interested in thinking about, says Karen Woodbridge, the university’s associate director of community and state affairs. “But there have not been that many groups interested in using it.”

The $45 million stadium was designed by Rafael Vinoly and built to the approximate size of its predecessor, Palmer Stadium, but it has one-third fewer seats. (That seems to be plenty large enough; it has never hosted a sell-out crowd.)

Its concourse was envisioned as a multi-purpose space to be used not only during athletic events, but all year around for a variety of formal and informal social events. It is a wide, asphalt-paved avenue between the base of the concrete horseshoe structure and the backside of the precast concrete stands, and it is augmented by larger open-air plazas at the curved ends of the stadium.

Standing on the concourse you get the impression of a super high-tech factory, or maybe a really big Enterprise. White-painted metal bridges criss cross, flying over the pavement and leading from the horseshoe structure to the upper deck of the stands. Suspended from the metal beams that hold up the concrete stands, which are punctuated by rectangular holes that let natural light filter onto the concourse, the bridges and the rest of the metal structural elements create an atmosphere more sci-fi than sports. It is a perfect location for the Rocket Fete.

Why haven’t more outside groups leased this space? It gets used for sports, such as last week’s NCAA women’s lacrosse finals, which brought in 5,000 people. And it gets used for such university events as the staff day picnic, the community fair, and reunions.

“I have taken people down there to look at it as a possible site,” Woodbridge says. Rentals are expensive, partly because of the number of security personnel required to open it up and to monitor the event.

“And it is not an enclosed facility.” Though the space under the seats offers some cover from the weather, there would be no protection from a driving rain, so anyone renting the concourse for a gala or a wedding would also need to erect a tent. “That is a deterrent,” says Woodbridge. “But we are happy with the stadium, and it is certainly a magnificent facility.”

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