The Voice of Ithaca
David Stewart '67, with ties to all three local higher ed institutions, appreciates the city from a unique perspective.
David Stewart '67 has the kind of rich, resonant voice people think they recognize. And well they might, since he has been involved in New York's broadcast industry almost all his life.
When he was only 5 years old, Stewart appeared with his sister on The Freddie Freihofer Show, a televised kids' birthday club program at WRGB in Schenectady, New York. His fascination with broadcast media began then and continues unabated, even five years after his "retirement" from Cornell.
"My family was among the first to have a television," he remembers. The medium clearly drew him in. "I even remember watching test patterns!" he laughs.
By the time Stewart attended junior high, he was appearing frequently on TV "kid shows" -- most notably Ted Knight's Officer Ted as the star's "assistant." In 1958, when the host of another children's program on Albany's Channel 10 TV switched to the powerful 50-kilowatt WPTR radio station and invited him along, Stewart moved to radio.
"I met some great stars of top 40 radio and learned all kinds of things," he says. "I was the 'junior announcer' and got to do record hops as well as be the general gofer for the station. I was allowed to do voice-over work," he says, "and eventually I got to do the local news -- even though I was a high schooler. I covered fires and accidents, that sort of stuff."
When it came time to consider college, "Ithaca was the only place I applied," says Stewart. He was accepted, and he and IC's WICB found one another almost immediately. Before going to college he worked full-time at WICY in Malone, near the Canadian border. During his college years he reported for WENE in Binghamton and was program director at WTKO in Ithaca.
After graduation Stewart spent several as a news reporter at WHCU in Ithaca, while also covering the Ithaca area for TV stations in Binghamton, Syracuse, Rochester, and Elmira. Then he decided to accept a position as assistant to the president at Tompkins Cortland Community College. Eight years later he thought he'd try a career change, but when in 1979 he was offered a job at Cornell he decided to stay in higher education. "The job," he says, "proved to be an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience."
Hired as the manager of CU's News and Feature Service, he was responsible for merging the news operations of Cornell's state-assisted colleges and the private colleges. In time he became director of the news service, associate director of university relations, and for six months served as the acting director of university relations. Under President Frank Rhodes, he became Cornell's first full-time director of community relations.
"A lot of big things happened at Cornell during that time," Stewart says, "and I was right in the middle, helping to talk to the community about it all." Some of it was challenging, such as, during the 1980s, being the university spokesperson during student protests against university investments in South Africa. Those protests did have a positive outcome, as student activism in no small part helped put an end to apartheid. And some of it was exciting, such as, says Stewart, "my work with movie and television producers, coordinating the use of Cornell's name and images on the big and small screens."
Though working on East Hill, he kept his ties to South Hill. He served three four-year terms on the board of directors of the Ithaca College Alumni Association, and in 2001 Stewart was elected to the College's board of trustees after five years as its alumni representative. He's now on the buildings and grounds and institutional advancement committees and is chair of the regional subcommittee of the Capital Campaign Committee. He had earlier served on committees devoted to education policy and student life.
Over the years Stewart has attended dozens of IC events in an official capacity. "David probably holds the record among our graduates," says IC alumni relations director Graham Stewart '81, M.S. '01 (no relation), "for participating in not only alumni events, but also student and campus events where we track attendance. I'm sure it would be impossible to count all the other events he has attended at both Cornell and Ithaca College."
Stewart's connections with downtown Ithaca are as strong as his connections to the area's two biggest institutions. He has volunteered with many community organizations and voices public service announcements for numerous agencies. His voice is in demand for commercials as well, and he still serves as master of ceremonies for many Cornell events such as commencements. His perspective is of one who appreciates from the inside all that the area has to offer.
"There is a synergy between the two schools," he says. "Each serves different niches, and I like to think that the atmosphere is fairly noncompetitive. While we may recruit from the same schools, we're competing for different students. The best communications students, for example, or music and theater arts students, will take a look at IC first. Students interested in industrial and labor relations, or architecture, are going to gravitate to Cornell."
"I suppose," he muses," that what competition there is has to do with the dilemma created for people in the area who have to choose among a host of performances and academic events of a quality that just isn't generally available in communities of Ithaca's size. There are so many wonderful things to do that one can't attend them all. And the three colleges here can't possibly coordinate to prevent overlap. So people have to choose, and sometimes it's really difficult. I saw a phrase in a brochure referring to Ithaca as 'an intellectual theme park.' That's so very true."
It's surely also true that if that fortunate city has a voice, it is the lush baritone of David Stewart.
Photos © 2005 by Janice Levy