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Spring 2012
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Generations and Innovations

Cornellians run in clans – it seems they all bleed Big Red. Several generations of alumni leave legacies to the university through their accomplishments and service. Here are just a few notable families.
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Fessenden FamilyThe Fessendens are hardworking people. The first to enroll as Cornellians—sister and brother Marcia ’49 and Edwin ’54—grew up on a three-generation family farm in King Ferry, N.Y. Marcia (Fessenden Helbig), a College of Human Ecology graduate, enjoyed a long career as a school teacher and still works at a school in Connecticut, said nephew Daniel Fessenden ’87.

With his College of Agriculture and Life Sciences degree in hand, Ed Fessenden made the fourth generation of the Fessenden family farm the most successful yet. From 20 milking cows, Ed expanded to 120 milkers and 700 acres of crops. Today, the family farm milks 600 cows and grows crops on 1,200 acres.

The Fessenden family boasts 11 current or former Cornell students, including nine in CALS—number 12 will be Daniel’s daughter Madeleine, who was recently accepted early decision to the Hotel School.

Farming continues to be an important vocation, but family members have also used their Cornell educations in the fields of finance, public service, agri-business, philanthropy, and education. For example, Ed’s sixth child, John Fessenden ’85, works for Farm Credit East. He also has served on the Animal Science Animal Industry Advisory Council and is currently on the ProDairy Advisory Council and on the board of FarmNet. Brother Daniel served in the New York State Assembly from 1993 to 1999, and is currently director of Tompkins Trust Company and executive director of the Fred L. Emerson Foundation. He serves on the University Council and is a past member of the CALS Advisory Council. Granddaughter Kathleen Fessenden McAndrews ’02 is a dairy nutritionist and operates a dairy farm in Minnesota. She is a board member of the Cornell Club of Minnesota and is chair of Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network.

Service to Cornell is also a family tradition—Ed received the Outstanding Alumni Award from CALS in 2010 in recognition for his decades of volunteering in myriad capacities, including the CALS Regional Committee, Dean’s Advisory Council, and Campaign Committee, and Daniel received the Young Alumni Achievement Award in 1995.

The Fessenden’s connection with Cornell began largely because of proximity, but family tradition and Cornell’s excellent offerings have kept the younger generations coming back, Daniel said.

“The fact that Cornell provides so many excellent educational offerings in a broad range of fields continues to attract the next generation of Fessendens,” he said.


Wickham FamilyIn the 1930s and ’40s, Irwin Wickham did just fine for himself without a college degree. A busy man and a very good entrepreneur, Wickham owned a sauerkraut factory, farmed cabbage and other crops, and served as town supervisor in Stanley, N.Y.

But being smart, as well as busy and entrepreneurial, Wickham saw the growing value of higher education and encouraged his son, Donald I. Wickham, to go to college. He chose Cornell, graduated in 1955, and became the first of 12 Wickhams to do so—all from CALS. Current agricultural sciences and interdisciplinary studies student Paige Wickham will soon bring the total to 13.

Although the original family farm has been sold, the younger generation still holds strong ties to agriculture. Several family members farm, and three work for agricultural cooperatives, said Greg Wickham ’78, who works as CEO at Dairylea Cooperative Inc.

Along with their commitment to agriculture, the Wickhams have remained committed to Cornell. Don and sons Greg, Andrew ’81 and Bill ’86, and Bill’s son, Kevin ’11, are all active members of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. Don, Bill, and Greg served on the fraternity’s fundraising committee and helped raise $1.4 million to renovate the fraternity house at 203 Highland Ave. The family personally gave between $50,000 and $70,000, and a wing of the house is named in their honor.

“Because of our agricultural heritage, the College of Agriculture, coupled with the other colleges, was very, very important to us,” Greg said. “It’s just a great Ivy League institution with agricultural roots, and so you’ve got a blend of people there who are from the big city as well as from the country. We all found that very appealing and comfortable.”


Yunker FamilyCarl Yunker began his formal education in a one-room schoolhouse in Wyoming County, N.Y., and ended it at Cornell, becoming the first of three generations of Yunkers to graduate from CALS.

In high school, Carl’s agriculture teacher was so impressed with his potential, he encouraged Yunker to become the first in his family to attend college. He enrolled at 16 years old and graduated in 1944.

Being a younger brother, Yunker bought his own farm. Now overseen by Carl’s son Craig Yunker ’72, CY Farms is a 5,600-acre diversified operation, producing field crops, vegetables, dairy heifers, and turfgrass sod.

Carl’s children, grandchildren, and grandchildren-in-law—seven total, six of them CALS graduates—have used their Cornell degrees as they pursued careers in agriculture, bioengineering, finance, business, and the military.

Craig believes his family has remained committed to Cornell over the generations because of the perspective and worldly exposure the university provides its students.

“Maybe it’s because we came from humble backgrounds and Cornell exposed us to the world,” he said. “It was just very impressive and really gave us a lot of depth. So we got more than an education—we got exposure and perspective that I think we wouldn’t have gotten at some other colleges.”

During the capital campaign that began in 2006, Craig said he strongly wanted to establish a Yunker Family Fund for Excellence in CALS. He shared the idea with all the CALS graduates in the family and found that each one wanted to be involved.

“I’m very proud that every member of the family is contributing,” he said.

Members of the Yunker family donate their time, as well. Christian ’02 serves on the board of Genesee County Cooperative Extension, and Craig, a CALS Outstanding Alumni Award recipient, serves as a university trustee, vice chair for the Government Relations Committee, member of the Buildings and Property Committee, and co-chair for the 40th reunion campaign drive. He has also served on the Executive Committee, the Academic Affairs Committee, and the CALS Advisory Council.


Gellert FamilyThe first member of the Gellert clan to attend Cornell, Imre Thomas Gellert ’27, may have gotten more of a Cornell education when he left school than he ever did in Ithaca. Gellert left Cornell early when he was needed to help run his family’s luxury garment business. Later, sensing an opportunity, he sold the business and bought a poultry farm in Hillsdale, N.Y.

“Not knowing anything about poultry, we started a poultry farm,” said son George Gellert ’60, MBA ’62, JD ’63. “We got all our knowledge from Cornell, from the extension service.”

In what would become a pattern for the Gellerts, the poultry farm became one of the largest in the Northeast.

Imre’s example of Cornell attendance and gutsy entrepreneurship has now passed down through three, and soon four, generations of Gellerts. In his direct line, there have been 15 Cornellians with 25 Cornell degrees between them, including 14 CALS grads. The youngest is Matthew Gellert, who will be entering this fall.

“My brothers and I all studied business,” George said. “Cornell gave us the background to really be entrepreneurs.”

And how. After his graduation, George joined his father-in-law’s business, Atalanta Corporation, and grew it into what is now the Gellert Global Group, a food importing industry with combined revenues of nearly a billion dollars. Many other family members are involved in managing Gellert Global Group and its daughter companies. For example, William Gellert ’83, MBA ‘90, runs Gellfam Management Corporation, which operates Five Guys and Cinnabon, among others. The handful of family members who didn’t study business have gone into marketing, engineering, and family literacy.

The Gellert family’s service to Cornell has been equally stellar. To name just a few: George is a Presidential Councilor and former Trustee; he and brothers Phil ’58, MS ’60; Joe ’68, MBA ’71; and Robert ’63, MBA ’65, are all on the University Council. In the younger generation, Tom Gellert ’94, MBA ’99, JD ’00, is on the CALS Advisory Council, and Andrew ’89 is on the Food Science Advisory Council.

Among the generation of George’s and his brothers’ children, only three went somewhere besides Cornell.

“They’re sort of the brown sheep of the family,” he joked. “We hope to continue to have many more Cornellians.”


Bourne FamilyJeremy March ’13 and J’avail ’15 and Xavier Bourne ’14 wasted no time making a family connection to Cornell—the three siblings all entered the university last fall.

Ithaca natives who were raised by their grandmother on East Hill, J’avail entered Cornell straight from Ithaca High School, while Jeremy and Xavier both transferred (from Tompkins Cortland Community College and Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens, N.Y., respectively).

Jeremy and J’avail are both studying development sociology in CALS while Xavier has chosen the School of Hotel Administration.

“My first semester at Cornell was definitely a learning experience,” J’avail said. “I can now start to call Cornell my own.”

“Meeting great people and getting involved with clubs around campus enhanced my experience greatly,” Xavier added.