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Ithaca and Its Colleges, an Essential PartnershipIthaca and Its Colleges, an Essential Partnership
President Peggy Ryan Williams

Remarks to the Ithaca Downtown Partnership
Ithaca, New York, April 13, 2004

Good evening. I am pleased to join you for the annual meeting of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership. I am also pleased to join my colleagues President [Jeffrey] Lehman [of Cornell University] and President [Carl] Haynes [of Tompkins Cortland Community College] as we offer a few thoughts with you related to our shared roles and vision for our community, specifically our downtown.

I truly believe that college towns are among the best places to live in the country. I have been very fortunate to live in such a place since 1972. Noting our recent accolades in the front page of the Ithaca Journal on March 31, others apparently share this appreciation. While there are certainly challenges that come along with the inherent town-and-gown dynamics, we appreciate the special and unique attributes provided by the representation or location of the academy in our community. I very much believe that the presence of our institutions of higher education not only positively adds to our ability to attract visitors and full-time residents, but enriches the overall quality of life that we all seek to enjoy.

Many of you know Ithaca College's history and long-time relationship with downtown Ithaca. Over 110 years ago our founder Grant Egbert and others sought to establish a music conservatory and located its first facilities in the middle of downtown Ithaca. We commemorate and celebrate this every September with a founder's day concert held in DeWitt Park, sponsored by the College and the Friends of IC -- of which I know many of you are valued members.

In the 1930s our College's leaders purchased the president's house on Fountain Place, off of Buffalo Street. All Ithaca College presidents have resided in this home ever since. While our College has grown and changed over the years in numbers, reputation, and location, we have never forgotten our roots and our important relationships and partnerships with the community. Downtown Ithaca has been, and will continue to be, our "Collegetown." With this in mind, it is critical that downtown be a vibrant place for everyone -- prospective students and their families, current students and their families, alumni, and our employees.

In addition to the more formal or recognizable contributions that many of our 1,500 faculty and staff members make through their service on boards and special committees of every size and topic, we actively promote community service and outreach for all members of our College community. Many of you will be interested to know that while the federal government mandates 7 percent of work-study monies be directed to community service with not-for-profit organizations, we set aside 13 percent for this purpose and require no match from agencies. This is an important note considering our largely tuition-dependent budget situation. In addition, I always enjoy hearing feedback regarding the contributions that our numerous student interns, class-related project leaders, and student teachers make in the local community. In this spirit, we are pleased to be providing leadership in the study and planning for a sustainable future for our county.

Personally, I consider myself fortunate to be able to walk just a short distance and be in the middle of the Commons, with its unique shops and small-town feel. I have enjoyed my conversations with many of you as I participate in my weekly ritual of coffee and a newspaper or two; go to the tailor; have my eyes checked; buy a new camera or have my photos developed, matted, or framed; or enjoy one of the wonderful eateries. I have never been able to walk from my home to a restaurant before and I love it!

At IC, we are proud that many have designated us as "Ithaca's College" and to share the community with a world-renowned research institution and a first-class community college. The three higher educational institutions are certainly unique but also very similar. Our assumed mission is to educate productive citizens for the greater good of society. While we each are happy to share our intellectual and cultural resources, and certainly employment opportunities for many of the city and county's residents, we all also value our roles and shared responsibility as community partners. A healthy community and a vibrant downtown are essential to our mutual wellbeing.

I would like to close by sharing a little story with you, which I believe is very appropriate. I travel back to our home in Vermont periodically. Several years ago I stopped for gas at a small convenience shop in a rather remote location of northern New York. This ordinary stop to get gas and something to drink began an important friendship between the family that owns and runs this little shop and me. Yes our meeting was a bit serendipitous. Although this place is a little bit out of the way and perhaps not as convenient as some of the brand-name places, I looked forward to patronizing it and, over the years, eventually talking about IC as an option for the daughter. It was the service and genuine caring and welcome I received from these folks that made me go back.

I believe that each of our downtown merchants and residents value this same type of relationship with our residents and visitors. This is what makes our community and downtown special. We count on this warm reception for our thousands of College guests -- parents, alumni, prospective students, or employees -- throughout the year and especially each fall for our new and returning students.

I would like to conclude my remarks by thanking Gary Ferguson [executive director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership], the board of the downtown partnership, the property owners and merchants, and everyone for all that you do -- all that we do together -- for our community and our downtown.

Related Links
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The History of Ithaca College

Ithaca tops new list of 'emerging' U.S. cities, Ithaca Journal, March 31, 2004

Ithaca, N.Y., is No. 1 'emerging' city, USA Today, March 30, 2004

The Ithaca Downtown Partnership