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7.12.2010

8 Message From Your Sponsor

It's been a month since I drove into Cornell, Wisconsin and into the woods. Some think I've driven off a cliff! There have been some flattering comments and a few followers/groupies, but people often ask, "Why?"

(1) Like most natives, I have an irrational affection for my home state. I like the UW team colors. I like brats (not a huge fan of cheese or rubber cheeseheads). I think the state has a cool shape (think super-insulated left mitten). So any story involving my alma mater and my native home has appeal. Show me a Cornell-Wisconsin connection and I'm hooked. My favorite unverified quotation is from Andrew Dickson White, Cornell's first president: "The two most beautiful college campuses in the US are the University of Wisconsin and Cornell – not necessarily in that order." I eat this stuff up. Isn't President Skorton from Milwaukee? CU's second president Charles Kendall Adams became the president of the University of Wisconsin. Former provost Biddy Martin is now chancellor at the UW-Madison?....[see future posting for a more complete list.]

(2) It's a story that should be told. When I first read about Cornell's land grant investment in Wisconsin, I eloquently asked, "Say what?" The more I learned, the more I was intrigued. Ezra's $500,000 founding gift and the gift of his Ithaca land are dwarfed by the $5,000,000 he helped generate for the Cornell Endowment Fund. Yet I expect that nearly all alumni, like myself, had no idea. And Cornell's Sesquicentennial is in 2015.

(3) So now I'm curious – and then first trip to Cornell, Wisconsin sealed the deal: "What is the legacy of Cornell's land deals of the 1800s on northern Wisconsin of today, if any?" Are the University's retained mineral rights worth anything? Do the locals know or care about the history (taught in 4th grade according to teacher Julie Kosher)? Maybe this is a story waiting for an ending – or a new chapter.

As I returned from my first tour of Cornell the City I couldn't help wonder where this might lead. Like relatives aware of each others existence but separated by 1,000 miles and 150 years I asked, "Is a meaningful reunion possible? Of interest? Will we have anything in common? Will there be beer tents?"

I know the locals in Cornell would get a kick out of meeting Ezra Cornell BS '70, the great-great-great grandson of city's namesake. And they could use a better photo of earlier Ez in city hall. We can install one of those wooden arrows pointing due east: "ITHACA 755 MILES". Maybe much more.

The city (population 1,466) and the university (260,000 alumni, staff, students, faculty). Meet the family.

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