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Passion for Pacific: Alumni Give Back

by Christina Boufis

Imagine a dental school with no running water on the second-floor clinic. “The patients would expectorate into porcelain cuspidors, and underneath there was a box with a gallon jug in it,” explains Dr. F. Paul Senise, ’65. “At the end of the day, you had to empty the jug.”

Now picture the third-floor anatomy lab without air conditioning, just like the rest of the building at 14th and Mission Streets. “You almost lost your breath,” Senise continues. “All the cadavers were wrapped in gauze. And in the heat of the summer, flies would lay their eggs.”

“In spite of that, the quality of dentistry that was taught was superb,” adds Senise. Such rough conditions were very real at the old dental school, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, where in the early 1960s four students—Paul Senise, Ernest Giachetti, Kenneth Frangadakis and Morel Fidler—became roommates and forged a deep friendship that still continues after more than 50 years.
“We have been very close since our graduation,” says Dr. Morel Fidler ’65. “Our children are friends. Our grandchildren are friends,” explains Dr. Kenny Frangadakis ’66. “We spend our vacations together up at Lake Tahoe.” All have given back to the dental school many times over, in different ways, both collectively and individually. “We didn’t know it at the time, but in our hearts we wanted to make the school a better place than the one we graduated from,” says Dr. Ernie Giachetti ’67, assistant professor in the Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences at the dental school. “That’s been the driving force for me teaching all these years,” he adds. Indeed, Giachetti is the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s longest continuing instructor, now in his 47th year of teaching.

Senise served as president of the Alumni Association and as a board member for many years. Frangadakis served as a member of the Pacific Dugoni Foundation, the school’s fundraising board. Fidler was a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors for six years, from 2002 to 2008, and while on the board was the school historian, giving a history lesson to the board at the beginning of each meeting. “It has always been a pleasure to be involved in the school,” adds Fidler.

The deep friendship these alumni share developed decades ago when they became roommates. “We were four single guys living in San Francisco,” explains Senise. “We became this little mini family. Ernie was our chef. We all did the shopping. We didn’t have a whole lot of time for nonsense,” he recalls.

The four worked hard under the adverse conditions of the school, “akin to a prison camp,” says Senise. They’d come home to eat and study for a few hours then do lab work until 1:00 am or 2:00 am in the morning. Their lab was a garage in the house they shared, where they did everything from casting and polishing crowns to pressing and finishing dentures. “There weren’t too many things we didn’t do,” adds Senise.

“We graduated in spite of everything,” says Giachetti. “And it made us lean and mean and very success-oriented. We have shared our success wholeheartedly with the school to try to make it a better place than we had to endure.”

“It was a pretty oppressive educational environment,” adds Frangadakis. “But a couple of people stood out, like Art Dugoni, who was an orthodontic instructor when I was at school. He is a man you want to emulate. He has that humanistic approach to education. And he’s been a life mentor to me.”

[pullquote]We didn’t know it at the time, but in our hearts we wanted to make the school a better place than the one we graduated from.
—Dr. Ernie Giachetti[/pullquote]

After graduation, they all married and had children at about the same time, says Senise. The family bonds that were formed during their dental school days are continuing strong into the next generation.

Perhaps students and alumni remember Drs. Senise, Giachetti and Frangadakis for the annual First-Year Welcome and Cioppino Dinner where they make and serve a traditional San Francisco fish stew to incoming students every year?

The tradition began almost 40 years ago when Frangadakis and his family went on a fishing trip in the mountains, recalls Giachetti. “We had such a great time that weekend, we said why don’t we do it next year?” Each year they invited more friends, so the fishing party grew and now has been going strong for about 38 years. They go fishing at the start of trout season, right after Mother’s Day.

And it was on one of the fishing trips where they first started making cioppino, a seafood stew, en masse to feed a large group. One of the fathers of their fishing friends, a native San Franciscan, Mario Puccinelli, had a recipe for cioppino. “We used that recipe in our get-together and it was successful,” says Giachetti. When Senise was president of the Alumni Association, he noted that the school attracted the best students, so why serve them hotdogs on the first Friday? “Let’s cook cioppino.”

“When you invite someone into your family, what do you do?” asks Senise. “You sit and break bread.” That is exactly the family sentiment behind the Cioppino Dinner. “We encourage these young people to become a part of the Dugoni family, to show them we are welcoming them into the family,” he adds. “We hope that this is just the beginning, and that they would like to come back and participate in the school for the next generation,” just as he and his classmates have done.

[pullquote]We became this little mini family. Ernie was our chef. We all did the shopping. We didn’t have a whole lot of time for nonsense.
— Dr. Paul Senise[/pullquote]

“What could be more of a great introduction—and something uniquely San Francisco—than cioppino?” says Giachetti. The three alumni, Senise, Giachetti and Frangadakis, make a day of cooking vast pots of cioppino and serving it to the incoming class.

“Paul Senise gives a great speech about how incoming students might end up marrying each other or being best man at a wedding or being a godfather for one of their friend’s children,” says Frangadakis. And while students may chuckle, there’s no denying that strong bonds form during dental school, ones based on tradition, friendship, giving back and excellence in their profession. Both of Senise’s daughters, Kristine and Kimberly, graduated from Pacific. Dr. Kristine Cameron ’98 married another dental school graduate, Dr. Paul Cameron ’95, and Kimberly Fanelli ’06 Hygiene serves on the Alumni Association Board. “In my practice, we have 13 dentists,” says Frangadakis, “and all but three are Pacific grads.”

Three of the colleagues, Senise ’65, Giachetti ’67 and Frangadakis ’66, have received the Medallion of Distinction, the highest honor awarded by the Alumni Association for their exemplary service to the community and profession.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” says Frangadakis, “especially coming from a school that means so much to me. It puts me in good company with the other people who received the honor. I’m not sure I’m worthy of it, but I accepted it graciously.”

[pullquote]I’m very proud and honored to be a Pacific graduate. I can’t wait for the new school to open up. It’s going to be phenomenal.
— Dr. Kenny Frangadakis[/pullquote]

“The three things in my professional life that I’m most proud of are getting through the harshness of the old school, my longevity of teaching 47 years at the dental school and meriting—in the eyes of whoever hands it out—the Medallion of Distinction,” says Giachetti. “We have been fortunate to be given these Medallions of Distinction,” adds Senise, who also counts it among his highest professional honors.

And what do these four former roommates think about the new state-of-the art dental school downtown? “It should be a source of pride for all alumni. The physical building matches the quality of our students, faculty and alumni,” says Fidler. It’s the third dental school building for these friends. “There’s an enjoyment for the four of us, looking at what was, what is and what’s going to be with the advent of the new school. We are on the cutting edge of dental education,” says Senise.

“The Dugoni family as we call it today started from slim beginnings,” says Senise. “And here we are today after the hard work of a lot of people, probably the best school dental school in the nation and maybe even the world. A lot of that is due to alumni, people who went back and gave of their time, money and knowledge.”

“I wanted to make it a better place and it is,” says Giachetti. “Leaders like Art Dugoni and Pat Ferrillo, and faithful followers like us all have the same hopes and dreams for the school.” What could be more like family than trying to make things better for those who come after you?

Christina Boufis, PhD, is a freelance health and medical writer from the East Bay.