Fordham University, the Jesuit university of one of the world’s great maritime cities, is close to establishing its first facility on the open water—one that not only benefits Fordham’s sailing and rowing programs but also advances the University’s mission of giving back to its Bronx community.

“I think it’s very important that Fordham has a window on the water,” said Dennis Ruppel, FCRH ’68, a Fordham trustee fellow who is spearheading efforts to construct a waterfront center on Eastchester Bay in the Bronx, to the east of the Rose Hill campus.

He and his wife, Patricia Ann Ruppel, are leaders among alumni donors who have been moving the project along for years. In addition to covering various costs of the project, they purchased the one-and-a-half-acre plot where the center will be built and donated it to the University.

Dennis and Patricia Ann Ruppel, photographed at the 2019 Fordham Founder’s Dinner, where they were presented with the Fordham Founder’s Award. Photo by Chris Taggart

Now, in a new fundraising push, they’re offering a $1.25 million challenge gift—on top of an earlier $1.25 million gift—to encourage other donations in support of the waterfront center, a project with benefits that will extend beyond Fordham.

In addition to providing a home for Fordham’s waterborne sports, Ruppel said, it will provide year-round opportunities such as summer sailing programs for New York City youth and, possibly, educational programs that shed light on marine biology while fostering a greater appreciation of the natural world generally.

“This waterfront [center]is really about the University having a permanent place to interface with the water,” he said.

Kim Bepler, a Fordham trustee and 2022 recipient of an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University, is also hosting and underwriting a fundraising dinner for the project on October 16 at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan, where both she and the Ruppels are members.

Coming in Fall 2024

Fundraising for the waterfront center advances Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student, the University’s $350 million campaign to enhance the entire student experience, including athletics. The new center will include fixed and floating docks, boat storage for the sailing and rowing programs, and, later on, a two-story building offering locker rooms as well as educational and event spaces and wide windows for viewing Eastchester Bay.

Architectural work and construction can begin as soon as a final New York City permit is issued and sufficient funding is secured, said Michael Mullarney, FCRH ’68, Ruppel’s former roommate at Fordham and another donor to the project. The docks are expected to be completed in time for the fall 2024 sailing season; temporary facilities will be put in place for the sailing and crew teams while the waterfront center’s main building is constructed, he said.

the varsity women's rowing team out on the water
The varsity women’s rowing team practicing off City Island in the Bronx during the 2022-2023 academic year.

The facility aims to serve the varsity women’s rowing team as well as men’s crew, co-ed sailing, and women’s sailing, all of them club sports. The waterfront center will free them from having to rent space at various locations on the Harlem River and Eastchester Bay and help student-athletes take to the water more promptly and easily at practice time, Mullarney said.

“This gift from the Ruppels has the opportunity to be truly transformative,” said Fordham’s athletic director, Ed Kull. “Not only will this endeavor enhance the day-to-day lives of Fordham’s rowers and sailors, but we hope the Ruppels’ generosity sparks further giving to support rowing and sailing and other sports as well.”

“This project is a testament to our shared priorities and purpose at Fordham, beginning with the highest levels of University administration,” he said. “I look forward to seeing how the Ruppels’ continued support benefits our student-athletes for years to come.”

In the new facility, Ruppel and other supporters see an opportunity to elevate the sailing and crew programs—making it possible to host regattas and help the sailing program win a national championship.

The waterfront center will be constructed on a plot now occupied by a long-shuttered Westchester Country Club building that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Ruppel and Mullarney, commodore and vice commodore of the Fordham Sailing Association, respectively, found the property seven years ago while searching the area for a suitable site.

Members of the co-ed sailing team in a competition at MIT
Members of the co-ed sailing team in a competition at MIT, spring 2023. Image credit: HDFA Photography

Recalling the national prominence of Fordham basketball in the 1960s and ’70s, Mullarney spoke about the potential for sailing and crew to generate excitement and draw Fordham students to the site on the Eastchester Bay waterfront, where they would view the Fordham teams competing in high-stakes contests out on the water.

He described the project as an investment in hardworking students who study during the long drive to regattas, study during breaks in competitions, and give their all when out on the water, even during races and practices that take place in punishing wintertime conditions.

“The sport itself is just so amazing—watching these students [with their]total positive attitude,” he said.

Ruppel noted that he and his wife have hosted Fordham’s sailing team members at their Florida home when the team visits the state for competitions. It’s a sport that tends to foster teamwork, attention to detail, and discipline—as well as a longer-term commitment to advancing Fordham sailing, he said.

“We’ve just had some wonderful, wonderful sailors in our program, and they are very supportive and very engaged in wanting to carry that forward,” he said. “So that’s great to see.”

To inquire about giving to the waterfront center project, contact Kara Field, director of athletic development and assistant athletic director, at 973-223-2157 or [email protected]. Learn more about Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student, a campaign to reinvest in every aspect of the Fordham student experience, including athletics programs such as sailing and rowing.


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].