Alumni Recall Fond Memories of Conversat Ball

University tradition returns for Alumni Weekend

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From left: Mario Finoro, Moira Bill Winegard

Photographed at the Conversat Ball in 1972 are, from left, Mario Finoro, Moira Boyd, Elizabeth Winegard and  then U of G president Bill Winegard.

It’s 1972. College Royal is coming up, and the tradition is that the “Aggies” and “Mac girls” (as they called themselves then) take responsibility for planning the Conversat Ball. Third-year Aggie Moira Boyd (now Moira Finoro) who worked in the coat-check the year before (“I just wanted to be near all that glamour,” she recalls) volunteers to help out and finds herself elected chair of the committee. She later admits that “this was the one job that didn’t require any special talent.” She sets out enthusiastically organizing her fellow committee members to make the event spectacular.

The Aggies, she says, cared about traditions. “When I started in 1969, the University of Guelph was only five years old, but OAC was 95 years old and proud of it,” she says. Moira and the other dedicated committee members wanted to show the rest of the University what they could do.

Their theme was Shahrazad: 1,001 Arabian Nights. To make it come alive, Moira says, the students “decorated every inch of the phys. ed. building.” Acknowledging her own artistic limitations, she talked her friend Anna, an art major, into helping with the décor, which involved many evenings spent making papier-mâché rocks and palm trees for the oasis. They also produced a series of posters based on Aladdin’s lamp, with a new one appearing on campus every week.

As the day of the event approached, one small glitch remained: Moira didn’t have a date to attend the ball. “I had a comp ticket, but no one to bring,” she says.

That art-major friend, always creative, came up with an idea. Her boyfriend had a roommate named Mario, who was available. Maybe Mario and Moira could go on a double date, and if it worked out, Moira could take him to Conversat.

The first date went well. So did the second. And when he was asked to join her at Conversat, Mario said yes and was even willing to rent a tux for the night. “He got a lot of brownie points for that,” says Moira.

The tradition of the Conversat Ball started in 1904, the year after Macdonald Institute was founded, and was initially an afternoon of “tea and conversation.” Over time, it evolved into a formal evening dance, and the name was changed from “conversation” to “conversat.”

Moira found the concept very appealing. “I had never been to a formal before. Even my high school graduation was an afternoon event. Our goal at the Conversat Ball was to transport the people there to a different world, a total change from the day-to-day slogging to class in jeans and sweatshirts. For Conversat, the women had their hair and make-up done and wore long dresses, and the men wore tuxes.”

Moira says the University faculty and staff helped her team of volunteers make the night a success, and adds that the local newspaper was a big supporter of the event, too. The Mercury sent a photographer to the ball, and the next front page featured a large photo of Moira, Mario and then-University president Bill Winegard. “That was a bit of a surprise to Mario’s family living in Guelph because they didn’t know we were going out,” says Moira.

For her, that night was “a bit of a whirlwind.” She remembers that she still had her drink tickets at the end of the night — perhaps she’d been too busy solving little problems throughout the evening to redeem them. “But I certainly enjoyed every minute of it,” she says.

The Conversat Ball ended a few years later, and Moira acknowledges that once a tradition dies out, it can be hard to revive it. However, she thinks it is a “brilliant idea” to have a special Conversat Ball as part of the Alumni Weekend celebrations for U of G’s 50th anniversary. The event is open to alumni, friends and neighbours. For more information, visit http://www.alumni.uoguelph.ca/involved/involved_conversat.shtml.

Moira and Mario, who is currently chief technician in the Department of Geography, married in 1975. She says their 39 years together don’t feel like a particular accomplishment because their marriage hasn’t been a great effort. They know they made the right decision when they married.

Was it the Conversat Ball that set them along the route to an enduring marriage? Hard to say, but those brownie points for being willing to say “I’ll do it” when asked to rent a tux for the third date might have helped.

Mario Finoro shows off the scrapbook his wife, Moira, compiled to document their courtship and her work  organizing the Conversat Ball.

Mario Finoro shows off the scrapbook his wife, Moira, compiled to document their courtship and her work organizing the Conversat Ball.