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Cornell launches Berry Center

A $5 million gift from James McWethy ’65 has endowed Cornell’s Berry Center for Economics, Business, and Public Policy, launched in October with a lecture by Nobel laureate Robert Solow.

The Berry Center is the centerpiece of an academic program that provides students education in applied economics and public policy, with an emphasis on experiential learning through opportunities including internships, off-campus study, and summer research. The center is named for McWethy’s grandfather, Lester Berry, founder of Berry Bearing Co. in Chicago, which was the largest privately held industrial bearings distributor in the world when the family sold it in 1993.

“The story of my grandfather is the classic tale of a poor, uneducated kid from New York City with a vision and a dream,” McWethy said. Berry worked in New York and Boston for several companies that repaired bearings, but he moved to Chicago when he determined that the Midwest had the greatest industrial opportunity. Berry’s work ethic and devotion to the needs of his customers—plus his commitment to his family—ensured his success.

Solow, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in economics for his work in macroeconomics and the theory of economic growth, delivered his lecture on the early results of his research on low-wage jobs in advanced economies and the implications for public policy. He also joined others in praising McWethy’s gift.

“Anything that honors a grandparent appeals to me,” Solow said.

The Berry Center will host an economics symposium May 17 at Cornell featuring Jesse Shapiro and Emily Oster of the University of Chicago’s Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory. Oster’s work is on public health issues with a focus on women in developing societies. Shapiro has written on urban issues, media, and advertising.

McWethy endowment honors grandfather

James McWethy ’65 is quick to give credit to others for his success.

His recent $5 million gift to establish the Berry Center for Economics, Business, and Public Policy was a tribute to the grandfather who made possible McWethy’s dreams and success. And leading up to the center’s launch, McWethy credited former Professors Don Cell and the late Robert Bunting for their impact on his career.

“My study of economics and business at Cornell made a huge difference. It really prepared me well,” he said.

McWethy graduated with a degree in economics and business and mathematics. He earned a master’s degree in economics from Indiana University and taught economics there for three years, later teaching part-time for several years at community colleges. He was actively involved in the leadership of Berry Bearing Co., the business his grandfather founded, for 23 years.

McWethy’s generosity toward Cornell would have pleased his grandfather. McWethy and his family pledged the lead gift of $2 million toward the $5.3 million renovation of McWethy Hall for the art department. Additional McWethy gifts funded The Berry Lobby in Youngker Hall and the renovation of Law Hall Technology Center. McWethy was a Cornell trustee from 1995 to 2004.

He joined faculty, administrators, and other alumni on the planning committee that worked for two years on the Berry Center. He now chairs an advisory committee that includes alumni and business executives who provide broad oversight and high-level strategic direction for the center.