NEW YORK—Harvard Athletics and the Ivy League honored the lifelong contributions of six-time letterwinner Joe O'Donnell '67 during the 2011 Ivy Football Association Dinner Thursday night at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The IFA Dinner, led by co-masters of ceremonies Chris Berman, a 1977 Brown graduate and ESPN personality, and award-winning journalist Jack Ford, a 1972 graduate of Yale, recognized the on- and off-field achievements of O'Donnell and the seven other 2011 IFA honorees: Chuck Bednarik (Penn '49), Gus White (Brown '57), Marty Domres (Columbia '69), Peter Gogolak (Cornell '64), Hank Higdon (Yale '63), Dennis Keller (Princeton '63) and Murry Bowden (Dartmouth '71).
Each of the eight guests of honor had a chance to address the crowd. O'Donnell spoke about the impact on his life made by football and playing in the Ivy League. He praised the ideals of the Ivy League and expressed his gratitude to Harvard for the difference it has made in his life.
Former Crimson running back Ray Hornblower '70 opened the dinner with the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner and God Bless America. Among those to introduce the evening and congratulate the honorees was Robyn Harris, the Ivy League's executive director.
Thursday's festivities kicked off with a Harvard Varsity Club reception in honor of O'Donnell in the Waldorf's Duke of Windsor Suite. Despite a major snowstorm impacting travel throughout the Northeast, most of Harvard's 175 alumni and guests were able to make the trip to New York City to celebrate Ivy football and O'Donnell. President Drew Gilpin Faust and Dean Michael D. Smith of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences were in attendance.
Brian Hehir '75, chairman of the Friends of Harvard Football, opened the reception. Bob Scalise, Harvard's Nichols Family Director of Athletics, and Tim Murphy, The Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, spoke about O'Donnell's longtime relationship with the Department of Athletics. Faust and Smith recognized O'Donnell's contributions to the university, and O'Donnell thanked his former teammates and fellow Harvard alumni.
O'Donnell earned three varsity letters with the Crimson football team and three with the Harvard baseball squad, earning All-Ivy and All-East selection, before a successful career as a businessman and philanthropist. He has been an active volunteer at Harvard since his 1971 graduation from Harvard Business School.
Following five years as associate dean of the MBA program at HBS, O'Donnell founded Boston Culinary Group in 1976. The company has since merged with Centerplate to become the nation's largest foodservice operator of professional sports teams, convention centers, movie theaters and ski areas. O'Donnell is chairman of the billion-dollar company with its 50,000 employees. He also owns Allied Advertising, the nation's leading print advertising agency in the motion picture industry.
A former director of the Harvard Alumni Association, member of the Board of Overseers and recipient of the HBS Alumni Achievement Award, O'Donnell has established scholarship programs at Harvard College and HBS. He has also served on various Visiting Committees. He endowed the Harvard baseball program, and the Crimson's home field now bears his name.
O'Donnell, a native of Everett, Mass., has been involved with countless charitable initiatives for such worthy causes as Children's Hospital Boston and the Boston Boys & Girls Club. He and wife Kathy founded the Joey Foundation, which has raised more than $100,000 for cystic fibrosis research since the loss of their 12-year-old son to the disease in 1986. In 2001, O'Donnell was appointed by President George W. Bush to the President's Advisory Committee on the Arts.
Visit the IFA site for a full O'Donnell biography and descriptions of the previous five Harvard honorees: Danny Jiggetts, Tommy Lee Jones, John Nichols, Tom Stephenson and John Culver.