Letters to the editor

Service is Cornell hallmark

Thanks for Jamie Kelly’s article on civic engagement. Under various names the notion of students giving time and energy to serving others is deeply rooted in the history of the college. In some generations, service followed from the larger notion of Christian stewardship to the world. In more recent time serving the needs of others had more humanistic roots yet was seen by students as a good thing to do. Many viewed higher education as a privilege and by serving others they “gave back” something of value to the larger society. Cornell service programs in the later 1960s and early 1970s were directed at local needs in part exposed by new Community Action Programs and the Civil Rights movement—opportunities close at hand where one could make a difference. Students put aside many differences to lend a hand and demonstrated compassion for children, prisoners, and the elderly. Much of that same spirit is alive today in a broad variety of student projects.

At various professional meetings where I described the Cornell projects, the comments were always related to how could a small college in a rural setting reach out to so many people in so many ways? The only answer involves looking for opportunities to serve, finding new or forgotten groups, and engaging social service agencies in a vital partnership. It is a source of pride to see the creative energy is still alive and well at the college.

One more thought. Many engage in a service opportunity to try and make a small difference in the world. They never asked for academic credit but seek the simple rewards of serving. Those who set out to serve find they are served in subtle and important ways. The servers are strangely rewarded. It is this reversal that makes us humble and often keeps us from dominating the weaker ones we serve. Whatever the college may call this compassion and willingness to engage in the lives of others, it is Cornell at its best. Thanks for reminding us of this critical element in our tradition.

The Rev. Richard Thomas
Professor emeritus of history
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Husk brings back memories

I was thrilled to see the covers of The Husk and the pictures of Toppy and Jewel Tull with Carl Sandburg in the spring Cornell Report. I remember well the last visit of Mr. Sandburg to the Hilltop and an evening with the Tulls. I went to earlier ones, but those are not so clear in my memory. There were always Toppy’s best students, Winifred Van Etten and others along with my mother and father [Florence and Roy Nelson, physics professor and later the college’s business manager]. There was reading of poetry and maybe a short story from the most recent issue of The Husk. Always delicious food and very lively discussion. 

I remember as well evening “salons” that Bertha and Al Johnson had for theatre students and wonderful visits with the Hendersons and the art department students and staff at their residence down “around the world” as we called it.  Because I was the son of a professor I got to know all of these very special teachers at a young age and was happily included in many things that I now know were so special.

Thank you for bringing these happy thoughts back to me.

Richard A. Nelson ’52
Newport, R.I.

Remembering a great athlete

Read the full Ron Altenberg tribute

I was on campus recently and noticed the changes in the Fieldhouse, the track and other athletic facilities. I took a quick look at the Hall of Fame as I was interested particularly in Ron Altenberg ’60, because he was a world class athlete who played basketball and ran track from 1957–60. I found “the great Ron Altenberg” as just another name in a long list of those recognized. I roomed with Ron for two years and we were teammates during the 1958–59 season. Ron died of cancer at age 50.

I had seen Ron Altenberg burn a 9.5 100 yard dash at Drake finishing third in a “lean to the tape finish,” take first place medal-after-medal in the Midwest Conference Track and Field Meet, push the ball up the court and finish with a lay-up high above the crowd of defenders, or pull up and nail a 25-footer. He averaged 26 points per game with the 1960 NCAA Final Four team and scored 43 points in Cornell’s upset of No.1 ranked Prairie View A & M University, which featured future NBA Hall of Famer Zelmo Beaty. I smiled and thought what would he have averaged with a 3 point rule in those days? The trey would have been a “gimme” with Alt’s leg power, flawless coordination, perfect shooting form and the super-quick 43-inch vertical jump.* I would like to see placed in the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame an appropriate permanent memorial to keep the name and athletic achievements of Ron Altenberg current at Cornell College. He was a one in a million athlete and he loved playing for Cornell.

Dave Adkins ’62
Corpus Christi, Texas

* Reference to the 43-inch vertical jump made by Dan Kellams ’58, who did extensive research on Altenberg for his book, “A Coach’s Life: Les Hipple and the Marion Indians.”

Remembering Bev

Last August we all lost a beautiful and gracious lady. Most of you had the privilege of knowing and interacting with Bev longer than I did. My time with Bev was only eight short but memorable years. Several of you have contributed gifts to Cornell in Bev’s memory, others of you have expressed your condolences to me and to Bev’s family through beautiful cards and letters. On behalf of Bev’s family and myself I wish to take this opportunity to most sincerely thank all of you. I’m certain that every one of you have some warm and personal memory of Bev.

Clyde Perlenfein ’57
Mount Vernon, Iowa

Bev Moser Perlenfein, honorary alumna, was Cornell’s longtime Alumni Office coordinator.

Bob Black fund

Cornell’s biology department is raising money for a fund in honor of Professor Emeritus of Biology Bob Black, who died in January. The fund will support student travel and research. For more information or to contribute, contact Kristi Webster Columbus ’96 at kcolumbus@cornellcollege.edu or 319-895-4247.

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