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Family Leaves Legacy Of More Than 200 Cornellians


Dee Ann Rexroat '82

Otis Moore was called the “spark plug of the class of 1905.”

Alice Fellows was a girl of 3 when she arrived by horse and wagon with her parents and sister at Mount Vernon, Iowa, and moved into what is now Old Sem before the walls were painted. The year was 1853. Her father, Samuel McGaffey Fellows, was principal of the new school, soon to become Cornell College under President Fellows.

Alice grew up on campus eating wild fruit, tending gardens, and playing with acorn cups where King Chapel now stands. She loved singing and playing piano and graduated from Cornell College at age 17. Among her class of 11 in 1867 was “Doc” Joshua Hopkins Rigby, whose father plowed a furrow from the Mississippi so other settlers could find their way. Doc became a minister, proposed to Alice by moonlight in a canoe on Lake Michigan, and married her in 1870.

Thus begins one line of the largest and oldest of Cornell’s dynasties.

All five of Alice Fellows and Joshua Hopkins Rigby’s surviving children attended Cornell. Their children, and the children of J.H. Rigby’s siblings and cousins, have produced more than 200 Cornellians. The most recent: Jeffrey Taylor (attending in 1986), a descendent of one of Samuel Fellows' brothers.

Jessie Rigby ’00 was a Cornell librarian from 1906-38.
Descendants of Samuel McGaffey Fellows, second president of Cornell, have attended Cornell for 125 years.

The oldest of Alice and J.H. Rigby’s children was Jessie Rigby ’00, a Cornell librarian for 32 years described in her Cornellian obituary as a “gracious lady” with “a love of beauty in all the arts.” Clarence ’00 became a businessman in Pittsburgh. Alice Rigby Moore ’02 earned a master’s degree and taught English at Cornell, went on a Methodist mission to India and Burma, and worked at the Methodist headquarters in New York. William Arthur ’05 became a mining engineer and chief ranger of the West Point reservation. Gladys Rigby Van Pelt ’13 studied piano at Juilliard and counted among her students Nelson Rockefeller.

Alice Rigby Moore married Otis Moore ’05, who also came from a family that moved to Mount Vernon to educate its children. Otis’ father, Wallace Mordecai Moore, a one-armed Civil War veteran and longtime postmaster of Mount Vernon, sent all but one of his children to Cornell. Otis was an athlete and people-person who worked as a newspaper reporter in St. Paul, Minn., and New York City before entering the Methodist ministry. The family returned to Mount Vernon briefly and Otis served as Cornell’s alumni director.

According to Alison Moore Swords ’35, granddaughter of Alice Fellows Rigby, “When we were getting ready to go to college, it never occurred to us to ask the question where we would go.” In her immediate family her parents (Alice Rigby Moore ’02 and Otis Moore ’05) and both siblings (the late Mary Ellen Moore Heineman ’37 and Richard Moore ’39) attended Cornell. Alison, a violinist and at age 87 an active teacher of the Suzuki string method, married the Rev. John E. Swords ’49 (whose sister, Esther Swords Foster ’49, married Bill Foster ’47, parents of Christa Foster ’70); her sister was a Methodist missionary and her brother is a Methodist minister. Music, ministry, and scholarship (with many members of Phi Beta Kappa) are family traditions.

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