Early in Roundtable history, various routines and rituals were established, eventually becoming recognized traditions enriching the total experience. The start of a Roundtable session has always been a noisy endeavor. Part of the project's charm is members coming together every Thursday morning, a social as well as an informational gathering. To quiet the loud chatter and moving around the room, I first used an ashtray to bang for order, and asked noisy members to sit and be quiet. A few years later, several members presented me with a fine gavel inscribed to the "Maestro of the Roundtable." That gavel is still used, although two others were later given to me. One was hand-made by the father of the Dean of SU's Hendricks Chapel, fashioned from wood from a replaced stage of the chapel. A third was a large gavel marking the end of our first 25 years. This was presented by Patrick Mannion of our advisory committee at a session featuring the Syracuse Mayor and the incoming University Chancellor. The Mayor, a friend, commented on the anomaly of such a large "hammer" for one so old. I was 72 at the time.
The scenario of a Roundtable session has remained very much the same over the years, although we have changed rooms twice. Members arrive from 8-8:30 a.m., pay one dollar (50 cents in earlier years) for coffee, tea, and a donut, and select a table or wander around chatting with colleagues. The original room had a podium with a microphone and speaker, and later a central sound system was added. The podium featured a "Thursday Morning Roundtable" sign, and behind the podium was a colorful banner, "Syracuse University Continuing Education." Tables were arranged by the janitorial staff in an informal pattern with five or six chairs around each.
For quite a few years, smoking was allowed. The county Commissioner of Health, a member and a cigar smoker, occasionally brought a meter to measure the smoke volume in the room. Some years later, we divided the room in half, designating one side for smokers and the other supposedly smoke-free! Members chose their side, and even after all smoking ceased, they often remained on the same side.
Most members sat around the same tables for years, which made attendance-taking much easier. However, efforts have been made from time to time to move people around to encourage more getting to know one another. Generally, these efforts have failed, and most members feel more comfortable sitting with their friends or colleagues.
I began each session around 8:30 with some remarks-perhaps recognizing some member for an achievement, announcing some event sponsored by a member's agency, or promoting WCNY-FM or the Onondaga Citizens League. I then introduced the member selected to introduce the speaker. Usually, that member was related to the topic being discussed or was familiar with the speaker.
Several members became well known for the quality or length of their introductions. Dr. Leo Jivoff, one of the earliest members, was especially recognized for his rather long, but usually scholarly and humorous introductions. Occasionally, during an overly long introduction, someone from the audience would shout out, "Who's the speaker?"
As already mentioned, I monitored attendance each week and discouraged infrequent attendance. Regular attendance was encouraged for two reasons: to improve individual understanding of a broad range of public issues and problems; and to make possible the catalytic function of TMR in regard to community development.
To reinforce this whole concept of attendance, I began very early to recognize certain members for perfect attendance or some special contribution to the success of the Roundtable. The first version of this ceremony was the presentation of homemade wine. I made wine for several years with Lucius Kempton, a colleague at University College. At the end of the season, bottles of this wine were given to a few members and to the College secretaries who hosted the coffee and donut tables. Eventually, we varied the awards for attendance and service to include pins, TMR coffee mugs, or my homemade candy. The candy tradition has lasted the longest.
Another tradition begun in the early years was participation in the University's Community Leadership Conference. These two-day meetings were held at the University's Adirondack Mountains Conference Center-one at Sagamore near Raquette Lake and one at Minnowbrook on Blue Mountain Lake. These conferences were started two years prior to TMR by University College with the cooperation of the Metropolitan Development Association and the Chamber of Commerce.
The conference was designed to bring together a broad representation of civic leaders, public officials, business leaders, and other interested citizens to examine in depth one particular issue, problem, or development affecting this community. The topic of the first conference was metropolitan government (repeated in various guises many times), and the second explored the local arts and culture scene.
When TMR began, I assumed responsibility for planning and conducting these conferences. In one sense, they were an extension of TMR. The subject of the conference sessions was usually one already discussed briefly at a TMR meeting. These two-day events at a remote retreat center permitted extensive and intensive examination of one subject, reinforcing the educational value of TMR.
In a few years, the conference really became an adjunct of TMR. The majority of participants were TMR members and programs were planned by individuals active in TMR. Some of the conferences resulted in printed reports widely distributed in the community. The Syracuse newspapers usually covered the conferences, thus enhancing their effectiveness. For many years, both the City Mayor and the County Executive were active participants in these conferences. Quite often, a TMR member photographed events and personalities at the conference and prepared displays which were shown at TMR meetings.
Other routines and symbols have become part of the TMR tradition. In most years, the season was started by presentations from the Syracuse Mayor and County Executive. In election years, candidates were excluded from the schedule. However, we often arranged debates or joint presentations by candidates early in the fall. The Syracuse University Chancellor was also frequently scheduled early in the season.
Symbolic features strengthened the sense of group identity among members. Very early, a lapel pin was designed for members. Coffee mugs with the TMR logo were purchased and sold to members. Some, including the County Commissioner of Health, carried these mugs to various meetings, supposedly to save on paper or styrofoam cups. The TMR logo-a stylized round table with TMR letters-was designed in the beginning by a staff artist in University College's public relations department. It appeared on every schedule and publication throughout TMR history.
We also bought thousands of packages of stick matches with TMR and the starting year "1965" on the cover. These were most popular in the smoking years, but many members still pick them up whenever they are available on the display table outside the meeting rooms.
That table was where we displayed handout materials from speakers, promotional materials from participating agencies sponsoring a public event, various TMR or OCL publications, or other materials I thought members should see.
From time to time, we surveyed the TMR membership to identify characteristics and attitudes. The surveys were often developed and processed by the University's political science faculty. As recently as 1996-we developed our own survey. The results in general described a mostly white, middle-to-upper-class membership, involved in community groups and programs, and very well educated (most had a college degree). More members have been registered Republicans, but the margin between Republicans and Democrats has narrowed in recent years. Most consider themselves to be "moderate" or "liberal" in opinions on public issues. The increasing number of female members has produced a generally more liberal tone in the membership.