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Warm and fuzzy

1:23 PM  Mar 18th, 2014
by Audrey Starr

The question isn’t, “Do you still have your fuzzy button?” It’s, “Where is your fuzzy button?”

They live in drawers, nestled next to multicolored paper clips and rolls of Scotch tape; on walls, tacked beneath calendars and dog-eared photos; and in basement trunks, buried with a couple of yearbooks and four years’ worth of ticket stubs. Even out of sight, the fuzzy button — a trademark of the late Father Matthew Kohmescher, S.M. ’42 — still carries an impression.

A philosophy graduate, Kohmescher — who died from cancer in 2007 — served as chair of the religious studies department for 20 years, leading the program during the transformative Vatican II years and the hiring of the University’s first Protestant and lay theology faculty in the 1960s.

He was known by several monikers, from the “grandfather of Founders Hall” to “Father Beanie,” thanks to a distinctive red and blue skull cap. As the unofficial UD greeter welcoming future Flyers to campus, he was simply “Father Fuzzy.”

“A ‘fuzzy,’ according to Father Matt, is a way to make the world a better place through a smile, a gesture or a helpful act,” said Brandon Artis ’09, who worked alongside Kohmescher for two years as a student tour guide. “Every student who came into contact with him learned about the fuzzy pledge. I still have my button; it sits on a bookcase, next to a picture I took of him. The pledge was simple in application but its implications were potentially monumental.”

As Kohmescher explained in a 1998 interview, “The older I get, the more compassionate and understanding I become. I’ve learned that you can’t change the world by [complaining] about it. Even if you pull all the weeds, if you don’t plant flowers, you still end up with just mud.”

Wrote Jackie Sudore-Flood ’95: “I loved Father Matt. He was my angel during my four years at UD, and I learned so much from him. One nugget that has always stayed with me: You don’t have to always like the things you do, but you must always love yourself. I still have my fuzzy pin from 1991.”

During his last year volunteering with the office of admission, Kohmescher greeted more than 4,000 visiting families, estimates Carin Andrews ’08, former campus visit coordinator. The fuzzy pledge was also a reminder to live responsibly and make wise choices, she said.

“Tough subjects we have difficulty tackling with our own children — alcohol, drugs, sex — Father Matt would discuss with warmth, understanding and compassion, knowing that these were concerns many parents have when sending their children off on their own. There won’t be another like him,” Andrews said.

She catches a glimpse of her fuzzy button, pinned next to her door, as she leaves her house each morning.

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