In the WEOS studio on Friday, Dec. 21, Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, and her sister Jean Collins Van Etten ’74 talked about Christmas dinner traditions as guests of the National Public Radio (NPR) program “All Things Considered.”
The holiday segment featuring the William Smith alumnae aired on Tuesday, Dec. 25, during “All Things Considered” on public radio stations across the country. Prerecorded at the on-campus WEOS 89.7/90.3 FM radio station, Zupan and Van Etten shared how they have transformed their annual Christmas party into a food-focused contest that brings family together for one very special meal.
“Instead of Jean preparing a meal for all of the dinner guests as had been done for years, we decided that everyone who comes should bring a small plate, like tapas,” said Zupan before the in-studio recording. “Each of the guests presents their item at the table and explains what it is and why they picked it. At the end, everyone casts a vote on the presentation and a trophy is awarded for the best food item.”
From appetizers to desserts, Zupan said dinner attendees are offered a complete range of courses, making for an extensive Christmastime spread. Each of the guests selects a food item from a specific category (entrée, salads, etc.) to ensure there aren’t duplicate foods.
Usually lasting upwards of two hours, the popular multicourse Christmas dinner is held at the home of the Van Ettens in Rochester. This December, the gathering will mark the third year of the relatively new custom. Many of “The Annual Van Etten Throwdown Dinner” guests are alumni and alumnae of the Colleges.
“We really do sit around the table together for a long time,” said Van Etten. “There is a lot of anticipation of what’s coming up next and a lot of politicking about the event.”
This year, Van Etten’s son, Brian Van Etten, a chef at Boston-based eatery Veggie Galaxy, will have to overcome a roadblock to his food contribution. Brian will be presented with a “mystery box” of ingredients and only 60 minutes to prepare before dinnertime, Van Etten said, which will help to level out the playing field.
In addition to what’s planned for the upcoming party, Zupan also reflected on the happenings of past years. She said her husband, William Zupan ’72, made a special meatball and chili dish that was presented on blue plates with miniature New York Giants helmets on each.
“It’s fun to see what people come up with and the stories behind their selections,” said Zupan, who was one of the tri-chairs of the Campaign for the Colleges, the largest and most successful campaign in HWS history.
At first, Zupan said, being selected to share the story came as a bit of a surprise. NPR had invited listeners to pitch their favorite Christmas food traditions, and so Zupan and Van Etten submitted their idea. The sisters soon after were notified that they’re story was selected.
Zupan and Van Etten have extensive family ties to the Colleges. Their sisters Joan Collins Dosky ’84 and Frances Collins Rogers ’90 followed Zupan and Van Etten to William Smith. The Zupans have two children, including Cathleen who graduated from William Smith in 2009. In addition to Bill, two other Hobart men married Collins sisters – John Van Etten ’73 and John Rogers ’92. Caroline Dosky, a member of the William Smith class of 2012, is completing her masters of education degree at the Colleges.
In 1992, the family founded the Collins Family Scholarship. The scholarship helps deserving students attain their education from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.