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Gita Balakrishnan September 11, 2019

Unassuming as they seem, buttons have stories to tell. A rare, unique button reveals history, time and place. And the story of eight UD buttons reveals how the simple fastener now bonds together a group of Flyers spanning graduations
60 years apart.

The story begins more than 40 years ago.

illustration of buttons being passed downJerrold Hopfengardner ’59 was about to celebrate a birthday when his mother-in-law asked what would be a memorable gift to get him. Carefully considering, he decided on a navy blue blazer from D.H. Peer Ltd., a classic men’s haberdasher on West Monument Avenue in Dayton.

As he recalls, when it came time for the final fitting, he noticed the glint of bright gold buttons, engraved with the University seal. He was stunned but learned that the owner of the store, knowing Hopefengardner was a loyal UD Flyer, changed out the buttons as a gift to him.

Since the University always held a special place in his heart, Hopfengardner wore his birthday blazer with pride.

In 1994, Hopfengardner retired as associate dean in the School of Education after working at the University for nearly 20 years. He and the blazer with the buttons eventually moved to North Carolina. In time, as is common with the Flyer family, he met another alumnus living in the area, Tom Ruffolo ’81.

The men became friends, and though their attempt to create an alumni community did not come to fruition, they remained in touch over the years. And then one day in January 2019 Ruffolo received a letter from his friend.

In it, Hopfengardner wrote that although he had  “always felt sharp” wearing his navy blue blazer, the apparel no longer fit, so it was “time to bury the jacket.” With the letter came an accompanying package, which Ruffolo opened to reveal eight shiny, golden UD buttons.

“Wow, this is pretty cool,” Ruffolo remembered thinking. “I had never seen UD insignia on buttons before.” But he knew exactly what he was going to do with them.

As with most alumni, Flyer blood runs strong, and so it happened that Ruffolo had three members of his family graduating from the University in the Class of 2019 — his daughter, Stephanie Ruffolo, and nieces Kara Ruffolo and Danielle Ruffolo.

When the family got together for the graduation party, Tom Ruffolo handed three memory boxes to the newly inducted alumnae — with each box containing two golden UD buttons from Hopfengardner’s jacket.

Kara Ruffolo was amazed.

“It was such a memorable and unique gift,” said Kara Ruffolo. The buttons are a part of a history she is proud to belong to.

When Tom Ruffolo wrote Hopfengardner a thank you letter in return, the former associate dean replied: “I’m very thankful the buttons will have a new life among Flyer Faithful. Please share with new owners their former life.”

All three read the letter from Hopfengardner detailing how the buttons accompanied him for four decades.

“Getting those buttons emphasized the community and family that UD instills in us. It is a continuation of not only my UD family but now my actual family,” Kara Ruffolo said, adding that the story behind the buttons makes her even more honored to have them on her dresser. “They are very special to me and my cousins, to have a piece of Dayton history.”

But what of the two remaining buttons?

Tom Ruffolo said he plans on keeping those for himself as a token of Flyer friendship.

He said, “Jerrold embodies the enduring love and spirit of UD which is embraced by all — students, faculty and friends — who have been privileged to be touched by the UD experience.  It is a genuine feeling that knows no limits and is handed down, like these buttons, from one generation to the next.”

And now the four owners of eight UD buttons will have a story to tell and add to.


Illustration by Dan Zettwoch