President's Corner: Remembering Dottie Park

Dorothy Park was 95 years old when I first met her, over lunch, in the summer of 2008. My initial impression was of a dainty lady dressed in white with touches of lace, whose soft voice carried the gentle lilt of the South. As Dottie’s daughter Adelaide introduced us, I could immediately see the social grace she had used to put so many guests at ease over the course of her lifetime.

And then, just when I thought I had her pigeonholed, Dottie offered a gentle dig at my lunch order by commenting on how much weight I would likely gain over the course of my presidency. I didn’t know what to say! I remained flummoxed until Dottie let me off the hook with a gentle laugh and a comment that I looked like I could stand to gain a few pounds.

Dottie had become a philanthropist on a large scale at age 84, when she became the president of the Park Foundation and used the proceeds from the sale of her late husband’s business to greatly enlarge its assets. The foundation became Dottie’s channel for supporting the values by which she had always lived. She focused the foundation’s philanthropy particularly on the beauty of nature and the protection of animals, and on education to advance human welfare and alleviate suffering.

Who embarks on a demanding new phase of life at age 84? Dottie jumped into this new world of endeavor with the vigor of someone half her age, not only setting broad directions and priorities for the foundation but also making sure the technical aspects of grant making and reporting were properly handled. She learned everything about the four colleges and universities supported by the Park Foundation and sought out ways of supporting her commitment to nature and wildlife in the Ithaca region.

Ithaca College has been a significant beneficiary of Dottie’s philanthropy, both through the Park Foundation and from her personal wealth. The Park Scholar Program and the Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise are the headliners, but other programs to receive substantial support include the Park Center for Independent Media and Project Look Sharp, through which IC faculty and staff create media literacy lesson plans and training materials offered for free in K–12 classrooms. Every IC program supported by the Park Foundation shares the common thread of using education to advance critical thinking and human welfare.

I attended Dottie’s memorial service in June 2016, eight years after meeting her. As too often happens, I learned more about Dottie in 60 minutes than I had during her lifetime. As is true of all people who are fundamentally happy, Dottie took great pleasure in the small experiences of daily life. Her granddaughter Alicia mentioned Dottie’s propensity to “power shift” from first to third gear. I felt a start of recognition at that anecdote, since I like to go directly from second to fourth gear in my own car. I have since tried it Dottie’s way and concede that her version gets you up to speed more quickly.

As president of Ithaca College I celebrate Dorothy Park for the brilliantly targeted philanthropy that has reinforced the preeminence of the Park School of Communications and placed the IC School of Business among the leaders in business education with a focus on sustainability.

As a fellow human being I celebrate Dottie’s love of life and the sense of wholeness that comes from steadfastness in one’s values. A full life consists of knowing what you believe in and pursuing that passion. By that measure, Dottie Park lived a very full life.