Five Distinguished Alumni to Receive George Arents Award during Orange Central

Five distinguished Syracuse University alumni, representing excellence in the areas of the performing arts; art; fashion design; advertising, wellness and philanthropy; and literature will be honored with the George Arents Award during the University’s 2013 Orange Central celebration.

Those who will be honored this year in recognition of their outstanding professional and personal accomplishments are actor Taye Diggs ’93, sculptor Carole Swid Eisner ’58, fashion designer Henry E. Grethel ’54, advertising and wellness specialist Sid Lerner ’53 and author George Saunders G’88.

The awards, the University’s highest alumni honor, will be bestowed during the Arents Award Luncheon on Friday, Oct. 4, at 11:30 a.m. in Goldstein Auditorium of the Hildegarde and J. Myer Schine Student Center. Tickets to the luncheon are $25 per person, and reservations are required. Students may attend the award portion of the event (balcony seating) at no charge. Visit the Orange Central registration page at =157389. For more information, call 1-800-SUALUMS (782-5867) or email

The award is named for George Arents, a successful manufacturer who served on Syracuse University's Board of Trustees from 1930 until his death in 1960. Among his many legacies to the University is a fund he endowed in 1939 to provide the George Arents Award, an annual honor recognizing SU alumni for their extraordinary achievements. The award highlights the depth and breadth of alumni and their initiative in making a difference in their communities, across the nation and around the world.

The honorees are:

Taye Diggs ’93
Excellence in the Performing Arts

Taye Diggs

Taye Diggs

Diggs is an award-winning actor and author best known for his roles in the Broadway musical “Rent,” the motion picture “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and the hit ABC series “Private Practice.” Shortly after graduating, Diggs appeared in the Tony Award-winning revival of “Carousel.” In 1996, he originated the role of the landlord Benny in Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rent,” where he co-starred alongside his future wife, actress and singer Idina Menzel. Other Broadway appearances include “Chicago” and “Wicked.

His film debut as Winston in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” brought Diggs critical acclaim and exposure to a wider audience. Other film roles include reprising the role of Benny in “Rent,” the bandleader in “Chicago,” Roland in “The Wood,” and Harper in “The Best Man.”  This year, Diggs will be seen in two feature films—“Baggage Claim” and “The Best Man Holiday,” a sequel to “The Best Man.”

In addition to his role as Sam Bennett in the ABC hit drama “Private Practice,” he has appeared in numerous television shows, including “Grey’s Anatomy,Daybreak,” “Will & Grace,” “Ally McBeal” and “The West Wing.”

Diggs became an author with the publication of the children’s book “Chocolate Me!” (Feiwel & Friends, 2011), which was illustrated by his SU classmate Shane W. Evans ’93.

Diggs received a bachelor’s degree in drama from the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), and has been extremely active with his alma mater throughout his post-graduate years. He has served as a guest artist in the Department of Drama, and came back to campus as part of Orange Central 2011 to hold a book signing, participate in a workshop for drama students and lead a Say Yes literacy promotion event with Syracuse children.

Diggs has also participated in SU’s Sorkin Week in Los Angeles, the weeklong program that gives drama and film students in VPA a taste of life in L.A. He was honored with a Distinguished Alumnus Award by the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California.

Carole Swid Eisner ’58
Excellence in Art

Carol Swid Eisner

Carol Swid Eisner

Eisner is a painter and a sculptor whose elegant sculptures made from scrap and recycled metal have been exhibited in dozens of public parks, corporate plazas, cultural centers, museums and waterfronts in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Florida, as well as in Belgium and France.

A member of the Silvermine Guild of Artists of New Canaan, Conn., Eisner has had more than 20 solo shows and 20 group shows. Her work is held in private, public and corporate collections, including those of the Guggenheim Museum, Knoll International, Southeast Banking Corp. in Miami, and the Northstar Reinsurance Co. in Seattle. She has been featured in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Who’s Who in American Art, Vogue and New York Newsday.

Eisner received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from The College of Arts and Sciences. After graduation, she launched a career in New York’s fashion industry, winning distinction as one of Mademoiselle magazine’s 10 outstanding young women in 1961. She was a sketcher for several New York City designers and created junior sportswear and dress lines for Juniorite.

In support of SU, Eisner and her brother, Stephen Swid, named a room in the Shaffer Art Building in honor of their mother, the late Selma Claar Swid. Through the Eisner Family Foundation, Eisner and her husband, Richard, continue to support the University.

In addition, Eisner has been generous in sharing her artwork with the University community. She has had two solo exhibitions at Lubin House, and permanently loaned four of her works to the University, including “Swoosh,” which was placed in Forman Park on the Connective Corridor, and “Dogon,” which adorns the lawn of the Comstock Art Facility. In 2012, Eisner agreed to donate “Swoosh” to the University. And with her permission, the remaining two sculptures were loaned to Onondaga Community College to forge a relationship between the two schools and their sculpture programs.

Henry E. Grethel ’54
Excellence in Fashion Design

Henry Grethel

Henry Grethel

Grethel is a celebrated American designer whose collections are elegant, understated and intelligent. Known for deftly combining the casual modern essence of American sportswear with sophisticated colors and fine fabrics, Grethel is a vital creative force designing for the rapidly evolving lifestyles and priorities of today’s consumer.

Born and raised in Syracuse, Grethel graduated from SU with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Whitman School of Management. During his years at SU, Grethel was selected as an “outstanding student” in the field of marketing, served as social chairman of Sigma Chi Fraternity and was elected treasurer of the American Marketing Association. He worked his way through college with a sales job at the former Wells & Coverly, a stylish men’s clothing store in downtown Syracuse.

While in college, Grethel interviewed with C. F. Hathaway Co., a prestigious manufacturer of high-quality men’s shirts. However, he accepted a pioneering position with Recordak Corp., a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Co. in New York City, where he spent two-and-a-half years selling and marketing the newly launched microfilm product line. Hathaway recognized Grethel’s talent and continued to offer him employment, which he finally accepted in 1957. His first position at Hathaway was in sales, but his career rapidly progressed and he ultimately became the company’s vice president for design, merchandising and marketing. During his tenure, Grethel repositioned the brand as a younger, more dynamic force in the menswear business. Following his success at Hathaway, Grethel became president of Eagle Shirtmakers.

Grethel’s marketing education and business experience have made him an entrepreneurial concept creator and product designer. Prior to launching his own men’s and women’s designer collections, Grethel designed menswear for Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Lanvin. As president of the Manhattan Shirt Co., he originated and developed the John Henry brand in men’s and women’s wear. Grethel was the first menswear designer to introduce fitted dress shirts, a category that still drives the men’s dress shirt business today. As testimony to his multidimensional talent, his women’s wear business grew to be even larger than his men’s.

Perhaps the only thing bigger than Grethel’s design talent and business acumen is his generous spirit. His boundless energy, enthusiasm and willingness to mentor others continue to inspire new generations of fashion industry executives at retail and wholesale businesses. A leading member of the Retail Advisory Board of the Whitman School, he continues to share his wisdom and passion with SU students.

Grethel has received numerous honors for marketing and design, including membership in the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America, whose membership consists of more than 450 of America’s foremost fashion and accessory designers. He was selected to design the men’s and women’s opening ceremony uniforms for Team USA at the Albertville and Barcelona Olympics, and was awarded the Tiffany trophy from the U.S. Olympic Organizing Committee for his stylish parade uniforms for the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville. He is a recipient of the Icon of Style Award from SU and the SU Outstanding Alumni Award. Grethel is married to his wife, Anne. Two of his five children—David Grethel ’82 and Michele Grethel ’88—are also SU alumni.

Sid Lerner ’53
Excellence in Advertising, Wellness and Philanthropy

Sid Lerner

Sid Lerner

Lerner is chairman and founder of The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit health promotion organization that dedicates the first day of each week to healthy prevention behaviors and is associated with SU’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

Meatless Monday, the first Monday campaign launched in 2003, has sparked a global movement with programs in 25 countries and participation of thousands of restaurants, schools, worksites and communities, as well as such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey and Mario Batali. Other Healthy Mondays, like Man Up, Move It and Quit & Stay Quit Monday, are also working their way into public awareness and efficacy. Another current project is the I Love NY Water campaign to promote tap water and refillable bottles, for health and the environment.

Lerner’s long and varied marketing career includes work as a creative director advertising such classic brands as Charmin, Texaco and Maxwell House, and producing six nonfiction books, including “Monday Morning Quarterback” and “From the Desk Of.”  He also headed his own creative consulting business, Sid Lerner Associates, for advertising and new product development.

Lerner and his wife, Helaine, an environmental activist and philanthropist, recently teamed up with his alma mater to launch the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University’s Maxwell and Newhouse schools to bring health advocacy and marketing know-how to the next generation of public health experts.

In addition to The Monday Campaigns, Lerner is president of BioRings LLC, inventors and developers of non-hormonal contraceptive/STD products with Weill Cornell Medical researchers.

George Saunders G’88
Excellence in Literature

George Saunders

George Saunders

Saunders is the author of the short story collections “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline,” “Pastoralia,” “In Persuasion Nation,” and, most recently, “Tenth of December,” which spent 15 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and for which Saunders is a National Book Award finalist. “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. “In Persuasion Nation” was a finalist for the 2006 STORY Prize for best short story collection of the year. Saunders is also the author of the novella-length illustrated fable, “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil;” “The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip,” illustrated by Lane Smith, which has won major children’s literature prizes in Italy and the Netherlands; and a book of essays, “The Braindead Megaphone.”

Saunders received a bachelor’s degree in geophysical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in 1981, and spent the next few years working various jobs. In 1985, he returned to college, and received a master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in creative writing from SU, where he studied fiction with Tobias Wolff and Douglas Unger. He completed his first book, “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline,” during the eight years he spent working as a technical writer for Radian Corporation in Rochester, N.Y. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

His work appears regularly in The New Yorker, GQ and Harpers Magazine, and has been featured in several anthologies, including the O. Henry, Best American Short Story; Best Non-Required Reading; and Best American Travel Writing. In support of his books, he has appeared on "The Charlie Rose Show," "Late Night with David Letterman" and "The Colbert Report."

Writing for GQ, he has traveled to Africa with President Bill Clinton, reported on Nepal’s “Buddha Boy” (who is said to have gone without food or water for six months), driven the length of the Mexican border, spent a week in the theme hotels of Dubai and lived incognito in a homeless tent city in Fresno, Calif.

In 2001, Saunders was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of the 100 most creative people in entertainment, and by The New Yorker in 2002 as one of the best writers age 40 and under. In 2006, he was awarded both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2009, he received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2013, he received the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the short story form, and was chosen as one of the “Time 100,” Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Share this story
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+