President's Notebook

President's Notebook

My View from South Hill

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Posted by Thomas Rochon at 10:02AM   |  Add a comment
Dr. Bob Baker

On November 8, a memorial service for Dr. Robert "Bob" Baker was held at Ithaca College, where he had been a trustee for the previous 17 years.  Dr. Baker was one of those special people who manage to pack several lifetimes' worth of achievements into one -- he was a naval officer, an orthodontist, an innovator in the organization of orthodontic practices, and a business and real estate entrepreneur. 

None of those elements of biography, though, capture Dr. Baker’s true legacy. He lived his life by a code and was not afraid to share that code with others.  Indeed, part of his code was the obligation to instruct others in how to live life to its fullest. The two key elements of that instruction: fulfill your potential and give back. 

Friends, family, and professional acquaintances testified at the memorial service to the lessons they learned from Dr. Baker -- on the benefits of education, on the practice of orthodontics, on strategies for good investing, on the importance of leaving your community a better place. As Dr. Baker walked through the offices of the real estate development company with which he partnered on a variety of projects, he would look into the mouths of employees and say "I can fix that" -- and then would proceed to do so, sometimes on the spot using the bag of tools he carried with him. He once took his young grandson to the Tompkins Trust Company, led him to the office of the president, and had him open his first savings account. The grandson learned that he was the fifth generation of his family to do his banking in that building.

You don't get much more Ithacan than that.

Dr. Baker believed in education. The first in his family to go to college, he quizzed his children and later his grandchildren beginning in elementary school about what college they would attend.  He himself was a graduate of Cornell (baccalaureate), Penn (school of dentistry), and the University of Illinois (orthodontics).  Later in life, he was a benefactor to all three of those universities, as well as to Ithaca College, which he adopted as an extension of his love for Ithaca. True to his code, Dr. Baker gave back at every opportunity.

More fun-loving than formal, Dr. Baker’s larger than life personality nonetheless commanded respect.  For years his son-in-law called him Dr. Baker rather than Bob.  Asked shortly before the birth of his first grandchild what he wanted to be called as a grandfather, he twinkled and said "Dr. Baker, sir."

I never met Bob Baker -- he was in his final illness by the time I arrived in Ithaca. Had we met, I would have thanked him for helping the Ithaca College community fulfill its potential, and for giving back. And I would have been pleased to call him "Dr. Baker, sir."

Posted by Thomas Rochon at 4:28PM   |  Add a comment

Last week the Ithaca College Board of Trustees held the first of its three meetings for the 2008-2009 academic year. A number of weighty topics were on the table, led by discussion of the economic turbulence of recent months and how this may impact the ability of families to invest in a private college education for their children. This was my first board meeting as president, and you can well imagine how much energy I and the vice presidents put into our preparations for every point on the agenda. And yet, as happens at every board meeting I have ever attended, our presentations and discussions were not the highlight of the meeting. Once again, the students stole the show.

Trustees on the Campus Life and Community committee heard students describe their peak educational experiences at IC. Shannon Archer ‘10, an integrated marketing communications major, described how her PR and marketing courses came to life for her while creating advertisements and t-shirt designs in a fund-raising effort for Colleges Against Cancer.

“It is a revelation,” Shannon said,” to realize that you have skills and talents that can be used to help others.” 

Chris Lee ‘10 gave the trustees a taste of celebrity when he described opening for Incubus in front of 17,000 people as a member of the campus singing group Ithacappella. Sarah Hathaway ‘09, who studies communication management and design, interned on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and at the Make-a-Wish Foundation while on Ithaca’s Los Angeles program. She described what it felt like to be honored on the American Idol Gives Back program, standing on stage with other extraordinary volunteers. Listening to these students, the trustees were enthralled. 

Meanwhile, spouses of the trustees were having lunch with my wife, Amber, and with some of the over 30 IC students who served as interns during the Olympic Games. Robert McHugh ‘09, a cinema and photography major in the Park School interned with NBC at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. He was asked by a fellow intern from another college what high position his parents had at GE (the NBC parent company), to enable him to get this internship. Robert, who enjoys no such connections, felt a burst of pride at realizing how far his own hard work has already carried him. 

Mario Nishihara ‘09 is a sport media major who was born in Japan and interned in Beijing with the Olympic News Service. “Every day I see something that makes me reflect further on the time I spent in China,” she said.  “I will always see the world differently because of this experience.” 

Listening to these students, one of our trustee spouses noted the contrast from when she was 21 years old. “How do Ithaca College students come to be so self-confident,” she asked, “so thoughtful in learning from their experiences, and so gifted in describing those experiences to others?” 

I wish I knew the answer to that question. What I do know is that amazing students know how to get the most out of amazing opportunities. And the trustees, who of course serve on our board precisely because they care about the education of the next generation, are reinvigorated by every opportunity to hear what students have to say. 

Trustees and the administrative leadership used the board meeting to make some important headway on key issues facing the College. But as always, the lasting memories were forged by students.

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