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Warm Welcome (Back) for Alumni at Homecoming

River Hawks Past and Present Celebrate in Div. I Style

Alumni take a selfie during Homecoming 2017 Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Alumni pose for a selfie during River Hawk Homecoming 2017, a four-day event that drew its biggest crowd yet back to campus.

By Ed Brennen

On one end of Hawkey Way were alumni like Bill Cormier ’77, who traveled all the way from Seattle for his first Homecoming in 40 years. On the other end were future River Hawks like 10-day-old Logan Heffron, whose proud parents both played sports at UMass Lowell.

In between at River Hawk Homecoming 2017 were hundreds of alumni of all ages, reuniting and reminiscing on a perfect, summerlike October afternoon outside the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

“This is awesome. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a student here now with Division I athletics and all these new facilities,” said Cormier, an electrical engineering grad who moved to Seattle for a job at Boeing in 1977. The Fitchburg native has called the Pacific Northwest home ever since, but his 40th class reunion was a good reason to return to campus.

“The university’s so much better than when we were here – and it was great when we were here,” Cormier said as he caught up with old friends like Bob Moynihan ’77 in the reunion tent. “The education we got helped us have great careers. But it’s really cool now.”

A family poses for a picture on Hawkey Way at Homecoming Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Alumni and their families enjoyed summerlike weather on Hawkey Way at River Hawk Homecoming 2017.

In addition to alumni and their families, hundreds of students, parents, faculty and staff soaked up the sun on Hawkey Way, a Homecoming tradition now in its fourth year. The family-friendly event featured pony rides and face-painting for the young, as well as an inflatable “sports zone” and carnival games for the young at heart.  

“This was the largest turnout we’ve ever had. We’re very happy,” said Executive Director of Alumni & Donor Relations Heather Makrez ’06, ’08, who noted that more than 500 alumni bought tickets for the weekend hockey games. “The whole community was behind it, and I think it’s something that River Hawk Nation should be really proud of.”

While guests munched on fried dough, sipped cold drinks and voted in a chili cook-off, student music groups the Hawkettes, Hawkapella, Vocality and Fermata Nowhere performed on the main stage along the Merrimack River. 

Headlining act Bearstronaut, a synth-pop band formed by alumni Paul Lamontagne ’12, Philip Boisvert ’10 and David Martineau ’10 during their UML days, treated the crowd to an hourlong set to close out the afternoon. The band, which is managed by music business alum Morgan Milardo ’11, released its first album, “Telecoast,” in 2016. Bearstronaut appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” this summer and is nominated for Best Electronic Artist and Best Pop Artist at this year’s Boston Music Awards.

Bearstronaut plays at Homecoming 2017 Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Bearstronaut, which features alumni, from left, Paul Lamontagne ’12, David Martineau ’10 and Philip Boisvert ’10, along with Nate Marsden, right, treat Homecoming guests to an hourlong set.

“We’ve gotten to do a lot of amazing things, and we owe a lot of it to UMass Lowell,” said the band’s mustachioed lead singer Martineau, who earned his degree in English. “We used to lug our gear up and down the stairs at Durgin Hall and back to our dorms and apartments. All those years really taught us how to be a band and how to work for what we are getting.”

“We never expected to be able to do all this when we started as undergrads,” added Lamontagne, who majored in business and grew up with Boisvert in Lowell. “It’s really fun to be back.”

This year’s Homecoming was the university’s first as a full-fledged NCAA Division I institution. To mark the milestone, more than 800 members of the UML community attended “Rise Up! A Celebration of Sport,” a gala event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium that kicked off four days of Homecoming festivities.

“When we started doing Homecoming, we knew we were going to build toward being a true Division I institution,” Makrez said. “This year, we made it there.”

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney chats with River Hawks at Homecoming Photo by Tory Wesnofske
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney greets guests on Hawkey Way during River Hawk Homecoming 2017.

The hockey team hosted the University of Nebraska Omaha for a pair of games over the weekend, with the River Hawks notching their first win of the season, 5-2, on Saturday night. The hockey, softball, field hockey and women’s soccer programs also welcomed back former players for alumni games.

Michael Heffron ’12, who played goalie for the hockey team for three seasons, returned to campus for his first-ever alumni game. 

“It’s great to see the guys you played with and see how old everyone is getting,” said a smiling Heffron, whose wife, Kristina (Martell) Heffron ’08, played volleyball for the River Hawks. While their 10-day-old son Logan slept in a stroller (with a UML beanie on his head), their 15-month-old daughter Faith played with mom in a bouncy house.

“It’s pretty special to come back here and see how much the place has grown,” said Heffron, who is now director of operations at Breakaway Ice in Tewksbury.

On Friday, UMass President Marty Meehan hosted a celebration of Chancellor William Hogan, the “father of UMass Lowell,” who passed away in June. Hogan became the university’s first chancellor when it joined the UMass system in 1991. The ceremony, which drew more than 100 guests at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, included reflections by Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, Prof. John Wooding, Prof. Emeritus Thomas Costello and former state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos.

“Dr. Hogan led the charge, day in and day out – with a blue book in one hand and, if needed, a mop and broom in the other,” Moloney said. “Because whatever it took, he was going to get the job done. That was Bill Hogan.”

The weekend also featured Jennifer’s Run, an annual 5K race and walk held in memory of Jennifer D'Amour, a member of the UML cross-country and track and field teams who died in a car accident in 1999. The event funds two cross-country and track and field scholarships.