Skip Muller Leaves Lasting Impact on Ithaca College

By Dave Maley, March 6, 2019
Board of Trustees chair emeritus was part of family legacy of service.

The legacy of Herman E. “Skip” Muller Jr. will long be felt at Ithaca College. Muller—who passed away on Feb. 10 at the age of 90—provided over four decades of service to the college, including eight years as chair of the Board of Trustees, during which he presided over a critical presidential transition. His tenure as chair, however, barely skims the surface of his IC connections and contributions.

Skip received his degree in business management from the college in 1951 and went on to earn an M.B.A. from Columbia University. He spent his professional career in accounting and management consulting, working for various prestigious firms including New York City’s Pannell Kerr Forster before becoming a private financial consultant. He was active with a number of community and civic organizations, including the Empire State Housing Foundation, Metropolitan Opera National Council, Leopold Stokowski Society and National Endowment for the Arts.

Skip’s mother, Florence Sidur Muller, was a member of the Ithaca College Class of 1933 and an active alumna. His father, Herman E. Muller Sr., joined the Board of Trustees in 1950 and was elected chair one year later. During a time when IC was struggling financially and on the verge of bankruptcy, his guidance helped secure a strong future for the college, and he led the board in the decision to move the campus from downtown to South Hill.

Herman and Florence were tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1965, but their mark on the college and the campus lives on through the Muller Faculty Center, dedicated in 1969, and the Herman E. and Florence S. Muller Memorial Chapel, dedicated in 1976.

Skip continued the family connection by joining the Board of Trustees in 1966, serving initially through 1982, at which time he was named an honorary trustee. He was re-elected to active trusteeship in 1991 and chosen as chair in 1993, a position he held until 2001. Upon retiring from the board in 2003 he was once again named an honorary trustee, and in 2011 he was granted the status of chair emeritus.

His own tenure on the board spanned many critical years of significant growth and change at his alma mater. As chair, Skip successfully led the college through the transition from long-term president James J. Whalen to the 1997 selection of Ithaca College’s seventh and first woman president, Peggy R. Williams.

At his memorial service held at New York City’s Brick Presbyterian Church, Williams spoke of his impact on both her and the college.

“I met Skip for the first time 22 years ago—almost to the date—for the first round of interviews for the presidency of Ithaca College. Skip gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, and I will be forever grateful,” said Williams.

“Throughout that time and in the years thereafter, Skip encouraged and supported me in my role, nudged me where appropriate, and was clear on the distinction between the role of the board and the CEO. He led with a firm, yet caring hand. Beneath that sometimes gruff and impatient demeanor was a man who cared deeply about Ithaca College and all associated with it. I am fortunate to have had Skip in my life.”

An Example of All That is Possible with an Ithaca College Education

Skip’s leadership was marked by his deep desire to firmly root the board’s decision-making in delivering a high-quality, transformative student experience. He also believed strongly in an inclusive approach to developing trustees, always looking for ways to leverage the skills and expertise of all board members in contributing to the greater good of the institution.

In 1998 he received the Ithaca College Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumni Award for his outstanding contributions to the college, and at the 2004 Commencement ceremony he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. The degree citation noted, “You are an example to our graduating students of all that is possible with an Ithaca College education. Your life and service truly embody the values of the Ithaca College mission to engage in a lifetime of learning, dedicated to fostering intellectual growth, aesthetic appreciation, and character development.”

Upon being named chair emeritus, a resolution from the board stated that, “During his tenure, Skip led the institution with an unwavering hand through one of the most significant presidential transitions in the college’s history, oversaw the expansion of the college’s infrastructure, and championed an institutional plan that strengthened the college into a strong and nationally recognized academically competitive comprehensive institution in the field of higher education.”

Current board chair David Lissy ’87 pointed out that, even as an honorary trustee, Skip continued to regularly attend board meetings up until a few years ago, when his health prevented him from traveling to the college. Acknowledging his service to the college and his lifelong career in business, Lissy said that Skip’s real passion was music.

“For over 50 years, Skip was a member of the Grove Street Stompers Band, playing his bass weekly on Tuesday evenings until 1:00 a.m. at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village. In his late 80s, when he could no longer travel with his bass to the Village, he performed weekly at the noontime senior citizens music program at the New York City Public Library. Everyone who knew Skip knew that he was always happiest when he had his bass in his hand.”

He is survived by his wife, Evelyn G. Muller, and his grandson, Grayson Muller Cowing.

“Skip’s commitment to Ithaca College was evidenced both through his service and through his and Evie’s ongoing philanthropy,” said Lissy. “The Muller family has had a profound impact on this institution, and Skip embodied all that was and is Ithaca College.”