[PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] FLOYD ABRAMS: 1956 was a time of enormous prosperity and growing prosperity in the country. It was probably a more optimistic time than at any time thereafter.
BOBBY ABRAMS: The years we were in school were very good years for the United States. And they were very good years to grow up in. And having a Cornell education was an incredible advantage.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: We were thrilled to be there. Rich, poor, Buffalo, New York, San Diego, it didn't matter. There was a coming together of spirit and good feeling. And everything was enjoyable and worth pursuing.
DAN SILVERBERG: I think the most important thing I learned at Cornell was that a college education is to teach you how much you do not know and to make it interesting for you to continue to gain knowledge.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: There wasn't anything that wasn't interesting, nothing.
CHUCK FEENEY: And that's, I think, one of the great learning experiences, not only what you study, but who you study with, getting to know your classmates and working with them and putting time into things that interest both them and you.
BOBBY ABRAMS: And you were pushed because the other kids were all smarter than you were. So to keep up, your had to work harder than you normally did.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: We walked. We didn't have cars. It was freezing. We all wore winter coats. We made it. We rushed. It was, I would say, a perfect life.
[PIANO MUSIC PLAYING]
DAN SILVERBERG: What I remember most about Cornell were the professors. They were really the best.
BOBBY ABRAMS: We had a very active and very good government department. And the prime professor at the time was Clinton Rossiter. He was my advisor. I took most of his courses. And they gave you an incredible sense of the role of America in the world, how the government functioned, how the country functioned. And it was incredibly interesting.
FLOYD ABRAMS: It's funny. I'm just finishing a book right now. And I quote from Professor Rossiter from one of his books, on page one of my book.
Rossiter became kind of a mentor to me. And I remember after graduation, I went to see him. It was the fifth year reunion. And he was just as cordial as he could be. And he remembered me as hey, you're the first hotelie I've had that's taken all these classes. He said, I have something for you. I said, what's that? A list of books for you to read. And with that, he reached over on one of his library shelves, and he pulled out this list of 60 books or some big number. And he said, I'll expect you to give reports on these within the next five years.
CURT REIS: The ones that I remember the most, one was Mario Einaudi And his father was the president of Italy. And I took government, I think it was the spring of my freshman year. And Stalin died. And half the government department went to Washington. I mean, it was unbelievable. They were all called in, saying, now what do we do? We don't have any idea who is going to be running the place and what's going to happen after his death. So that was pretty interesting.
BOBBY ABRAMS: We had a visiting professor for several years, Dexter Perkins, who gave it an international flair.
CURT REIS: I also had a guy named Knight Biggerstaff, Southeast Asian studies. And it was kind of interesting. I had a couple of courses with him. And one of them happened during the French being driven out of Vietnam in 1954, as I recall.
LOLLY TREMAN ALMQUIST: Dr. Abrams was the love of our lives, a wonderful, gentle, kind human being. You could tell that. There was nothing stuffy about Mike Abrams. And we would meet in a little room with 10 chairs around the table and talk about plays and poems and authors.
FLOYD ABRAMS: Robert Cushman was a great professor. He taught constitutional law. He was what we would now call a civil liberties activist. He wrote books on constitutional law. He was a very kind and supportive member of the faculty.
And he did something that I never forgot, He invited a seminar to his home. And for me, the home he lived in was out of the movies. He had a dog. I came from an apartment in New York City. He had a fireplace. The snow was falling, as it so often did in Ithaca. The fire was raging. The dog was barking. And I was waiting for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland to run in.
CURT REIS: And the other guy that I remember well was Fred Kahn. And, of course, he was sort of a legend at Cornell. At the time, he was working with the Eisenhower administration on anti-trust things. So he'd teach this class on Monday. He'd be in Washington Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and come back Friday. And of course, by Friday, there were some really interesting stuff that had happened in Washington. So that was a particularly good course there.
BOBBY ABRAMS: We had a very unusual professor in the agricultural school. His name was Dr. Leland Spencer. And he was an agricultural economist. And the next 30 years, when I was in the dairy business, it was basically all based around ideas that I had gotten from Dr. Spencer. And we'd put them into actual practice.
GINNY MACDONALD LINDSETH: I remember particularly Marcus Singer, if that name has come up, because he was not allowed to teach at the time. He was appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee. I remember how strongly people felt in his defense and how sad they were when he was not teaching.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: I know Milton Konvitz had his devotees. But for me, the star of my teaching was Vladimir Nabokov, whom a lot of people loved. He was a wonderful lecturer. It was simply riveting.
SUSAN BROWNMILLER: He was a great showman. An upperclassmen had said to me, you got to take this class. You just got to take this class. This guy is like a genius. He's off in a thousand directions. But he sure knows literature. And he's so entertaining.
PERCY EDWARDS BROWNING: I wanted to take his course, because I heard that he was great. And I wanted to read Anna Karenina, which is one of the books we read.
GAIL GIFFORD RUDIN: We go through some books that we never would have read on our own, like Ulysses and probably Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, much of those books that were long and difficult.
CURT REIS: A huge reading list. You know, the Russian authors and the French authors, the British authors, and Spanish and so on-- there must have been 15 books. And I just knew I couldn't get through 15 novels. So I said, this guy is Russian. I think he's going to emphasize the Russian writers. And I was right. And so when the exam came, I said, oh, my god. I know all the answers. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, filled up the book. Walked out of the prelim feeling about as good as I ever felt walking out of anything. The grades were posted, and I got a 65.
So the great man said, if anybody wants to protest their grade, they can make an appointment to see me. I brought in my prelim book a few days later. And he sat there reading it like this. He says, "Yes, Mr. Rice" of course, he mispronounced my name. "You have all the correct answers. You have done everything exactly right. But I don't feel the sweat on the back of the peasants. I don't smell the wheat in the fields. The grade stands." I was crushed.
So fast forward to the final exam. And I said, this son of a gun, he's going to do Ulysses. So I read Ulysses. It was not fun, I must admit. And it was on Ulysses. So I wrote however many pages there are on a prelim book. Let's say it's 16. Everything without punctuation, without capitalization, and so on. I got a 95.
SUSAN BROWNMILLER: Everyone who took that class remembers Vera. I remember Vera sitting there knitting. Others remember her scrubbing the blackboard or getting-- I just remember her sitting in the front and knitting.
PERCY EDWARDS BROWNING: His wife, Vera-- Vera, I think it is-- would always walk in ahead of him, carrying everything, and would go over to a table. I mean, I can just picture this in my mind. He would come strolling in, and he would start.
GINNY MACDONALD LINDSETH: I can remember their very first day in class when he was teaching us how to say his name, Nabokov. And we would practice it out loud in the great big lecture hall in Goldwin Smith.
PERCY EDWARDS BROWNING: And one of the things that I will never forget that he said is you read a book twice, the first time for content and the second time for nuance.
GINNY MACDONALD LINDSETH: He taught us how to read. And it was a different way of reading. And that stayed with me my entire life. When I open a difficult novel now, I always think of Nabokov.
SUSAN BROWNMILLER: And once, it was my good fortune to actually have our paths cross on the quad. And he had his butterfly net. And he bowed to me so ceremoniously. He didn't know who I was. I was just a coed crossing his path. And ever the courtly gentleman, he bowed.
['50s MUSIC PLAYING]
JON LINDSETH: A lot of our time was spent with the hidden curriculum. I was unable to resist the urge to have fun.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: There were friends of mine still who could drink beer and hold it. And I could not. But we became very close friends. And later in my junior year or sophomore year, they inducted me into their secret society. And it was a drinking society. And they knew I wasn't a drinker. It was ridiculous. It was warm. It was wonderful.
JON LINDSETH: On Thursdays, we often would go to one of the parks, like Treman State Park, with a bag of clams, 100 dozen at a time, with beer. And we went out with a big group. And we'd have a steamer, and eat them raw, eat them steamed, and go out there at 5:00 in the afternoon and stay there until it got dark.
LOLLY TREMAN ALMQUIST: We all grew up with rules. I'm sure I didn't have to get minutes. But they'd count the minutes that you were late, multiply it by six or something. I don't know. Then you had to come in that much earlier when you came home the next time. Oh, sure, of course I got minutes, sure. And at the Theta House, we had to get minutes too.
Now looking back at it, I liked it too. What would you do all that time? I mean, you can only drink so much beer! And that was the way it was. Well, what you could do was get in a lot of trouble.
MIRIAM MATTINEN SHEARING: After the first year, I started working at the Statler. And my husband had been, first year, working same thing at a fraternity house. And then we both wound up at the Statler. And we worked. It seemed like a full-time job for the rest of our college career.
Actually, I'm very grateful to have been able to give my children and grandchildren an education without that type of struggle. I mean, I suppose it's character building in some ways. But on the other hand, it was hard.
LOLLY TREMAN ALMQUIST: That was the era when you had to have recommendations signed by your national group or whoever they might be. Every sorority had it. And as certain ones came through, girls-- black girls, any Asian-- there wouldn't be a recommendation for them. So we were not allowed to take them. And we became one of the houses that was the most annoyed about that.
But it started with us. We didn't get anywhere with that. But then my sister was president four years later. And they were kicked off the campus, the Thetas were, for being kind of obnoxious about that issue.
We didn't challenge things. You didn't wear pants on campus. That's the way it is. Nobody had any slacks. You were freezing to death, and you couldn't wear pants unless the dean of something told you you could. I mean, it was just crazy.
GINNY MACDONALD LINDSETH: Oh, Oh, their dress code. Oh, my goodness, the dress code.
I mean, you all were not allowed to be on campus in pants. We always wore skirts to class. I don't ever remember wearing a pair of pants to class. We were told, as freshmen, that we should never be on campus in anything other than a dress or a skirt. And that was always accepted. No one ever questioned that. It was the way we lived.
JUDY FRANKEL WOODFIN: Everybody who could knit and liked to knit knit. And mostly, it was socks, argyle socks, which that was like milking a mouse because you had to keep changing the wool on the various things. The stages of dating followed. You were known as a couple. And then, if he was a fraternity person, he pinned you, which neither my children nor my grandchildren know what the hell that means. So certainly, when you got pinned, you could give him the socks.
CURT REIS: One thing that you could get away with in 1950s that you can't get away with today was creating fictitious students. And I created a fictitious student named Narby Krimsnatch.
JON LINDSETH: Of course, I don't really know Narby that well. But Ernie Stern is the guy you've got to ask. He knows him intimately.
ERNIE STERN: Good old Narby Krimsnatch, an invention of Curtis Sanford Reis. Narby-- [LAUGHS] Curt was an absolutely marvelous friend, I would say my closest friend, really. He had these ideas that make me chuckle to this day.
CURT REIS: I had a good friend named Ed Fitzgerald, since passed away, and he would make me up, darken my hair and put a mustache and a goatee on. And I would go represent Narby at the Model United Nations, or whatever the event was. I got him elected to the Cornell Independent Association. And I had an arrangement with the dorm counselor to, when somebody called to ask for Narby, he would say, he's not here, but I'll leave him a message. And he'd call me at the fraternity, and I'd call this person back.
Well, the most interesting call I got was from the Cornell Daily Sun, saying, I don't think this guy exists. I've looked. You didn't have ID numbers then and so on. And I said, well, can I talk to you. He said, yeah. I work with Willard Straight in the cafeteria there, and if you come through between 3:00 and 4:00 and order two cups of tea with cream, I'll know you're Narby.
So I got every member of my fraternity to go through before me and order two cups of tea with cream. So I was the last one. And he said, don't tell me you're Narby. And I said, well, we can't really tell you about this. And he said, why not? I said, we're part of an experiment being funded by the Ford Foundation. I said, you will get the whole story when our report is completed. But silence is necessary now.
JON LINDSETH: I'd met Chuck Feeney in the fall of 1953. Chuck, ever the entrepreneur-- Chuck was two years older than we were. He'd been in the military. And he started a sandwich business.
FRED ANTIL: Well, I'm not the class of '56. I'm the class of '55. But we knew Chuck as the sandwich man, as you know. And we all claimed him. He was a veteran. He was an older guy, a little older than we were, and a very solid guy. But he would come door to door in the fraternities and the dorms and ring his bell and have his sandwiches.
JON LINDSETH: At the Beta House, he had a regular route, where he came around with a big wicker basket over his arm and these sandwiches all wrapped up with the name of what was on it on a little tag and the price. They were $0.10 and $0.15. And he came to the Beta House around 8:30 or 9:00 every night. And everybody bought a sandwich.
DAN SILVERBERG: Chuck had that business pretty much locked up. And he went around to the dorms. And of course, as a freshman in the dorms, I remember well, whatever the time was, there he would be. And we'd wind up getting-- my favorite sandwich at the time, and he might deny making it, was baloney. He had a good baloney sandwich on white or whole wheat bread. It wasn't anything fancy. But if you are hungry at 9:30, 10 o'clock at night, he was the guy that came to your rescue.
We were in a number of the same classes, plumbing class and wine-tasting and other things. And he became a very good friend of Chuck Rolles, who was our star basketball player. And I thought one of the reasons is they were both about the same height.
CHUCK ROLLES: And it was my responsibility to get the football program salesmen from other athletic teams. Chuck Feeney, I had gotten to know him through classes and the hotel school. And we were friends already. And so I assigned him the parking lot up behind the stadium.
I'd go up and be with him sometimes when he was selling. And we were playing Princeton that day. And a fellow in the parking lot came by. And he said, I don't need a program. I can't read. And Chuck said, you must be from Princeton.
So that quieted the guy.
Oh, he was good. He was one of my best salesmen, Chuck Feeney.
JON LINDSETH: A group of us would go to Aspen every December skiing. And one of our people was from Dartmouth and one from Williams. And they both said that their 25th reunion record was $1 million. And I said, gee, I've never heard of such a thing at Cornell. Let me-- so I came back and asked the development office, what are the 25th reunion record for Cornell? And it was something like a quarter of a million dollars.
PHYLLIS BOSWORTH: The university always had a policy that they didn't want to ask you for money reunion time because they felt you wouldn't come to reunion. And it was more important for the university themselves that you came back. We had a classmate, Jon Lindseth, who believed that wasn't true. And a group of us were invited to a meeting. And there were classmates who were seated around a big table, mostly men, but there were a couple of women.
Jon spoke to us and said, we're going to change things. We were told by the university we shouldn't do it. But we believe we can. And I have a plan that we're going to divide ourselves up in groups, affinity groups, and we're going to go back into our affinity groups to the people we knew, and we were going to ask them for money.
GINNY MACDONALD LINDSETH: I think their generosity grew out of the tremendous loyalty and the tremendous friendships that we all felt to one another and felt toward Cornell. And the generosity grew that way. But I have to say that the leadership was very key. And again, Ernie Stern and Curtis Reis and Jon, particularly, with his energy and his ability to pull people together and have people become generous who may not have thought they were, they became generous.
JON LINDSETH: The old concept that a cow doesn't give milk in response to a telephone call or a letter-- you have to sit down next to her and pull-- applies here. And the way we were able to raise so much money was we did it face-to-face.
ERNIE STERN: Jon flew all over the country-- I accompanied him on some trips-- to sit face-to-face with people of means. And sometimes, we didn't really know the means. But he was very, very effective in convincing people on a one-to-one basis, in person, that giving to Cornell was what they should be doing.
LOLLY TREMAN ALMQUIST: The story of the paintings was Jon Lindseth calling up. And he was trying to raise money for that class. And we weren't in a position to give a lot of money at that time. So I said, we'll do what we can, Jon, or whatever you say.
And he said, now, about those paintings, what are you going to do with those? And I said, well, I don't know. I haven't really thought this through. We're still enjoying them very much. Why don't you just give them to Cornell? That's where they ought to be. Give them to Cornell. Look at all you've got. You don't need so many.
I don't know what he said, but something to that effect anyway. And planted the seed, that's for sure. It's going to be a long time between the ask and the delivery. But we sure are going to do it.
You can to ask Jon if he's ever been called subtle.
No, he hasn't. He may not remember he ever said it. But I'll bet he does. Give them those paintings. What are you going to do with them?
JON LINDSETH: At our first meeting at the Cornell Club, Ernie and Curtis and I pledged 70,000 total. And Ernie said, you know, Chuck's in town. Why don't I give him a call? And you go over and see him. And so I did. It was really just a couple of blocks away.
And I told him the story of what we were doing, what the goal was, why we had that goal. And he said, I'm in for 100,000. So I came back and said, well, we're at 17% of our goal, with the first four of us. Sounds like we ought to have a chance to get there.
And it turned out to be that we got to a million very fast. And so we then sat down with the three of us and said, we're raising the goal to 2 million. When we got to little over a million, nine, we really stalled out. And Ernie and his great relationship with Chuck Feeney-- now, Chuck topped us out.
PHYLLIS BOSWORTH: Incidentally, 1981 reunion was when I did the documentary for CBS.
It wasn't my idea to do this. I was working at CBS News at a show called Up to the Minute. It was a spin-off, a daytime spin-off, of 60 Minutes. And we used the correspondents of 60 Minutes as well. And I told my executive producer that I was going to take a few days off. I was going up to Cornell for my 25th reunion. And she said, great, you're taking a camera crew, and you're going to shoot it. I said, no. I want to go out there and have a good time. I don't want to be working. And she said, you're doing it.
SPEAKER 1: The children of the dream seem to have it as easy, if not easier, than their parents did. Or do they?
CURT REIS: Our life was far more regimented and orderly when you go back to the '50s. Everything was more lockstep. You sort of went through school, if you were talented, in the four years allotted. Today, it's rare that a student goes through college in four straight years.
JON LINDSETH: All I can remember is standing up there telling everybody how it had worked, how it came to be. And then Ernie Stern and Curtis Reis taking the six-foot check, 2,000,000, and presenting it to Frank Rhodes, who then declared our class the Super Class of '56.
DAN SILVERBERG: The relationship of Frank Rhodes with the class of 1956 is remarkable and memorable. He knows the top people in our class, first name basis. And remember, he wasn't the president when we were there. We'd just gotten to know him and just revere him.
GAIL GIFFORD RUDIN: He was such a wonderful man that we all felt very close to him, and he to our class because we were raising the bar all by ourselves.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: The class of '56 was the first class ever to break the million dollar record for a reunion. In fact, it not only broke the million dollar record. It went on to total $2.2 million. That was phenomenal. It simply raised the bar for every subsequent class. And it keeps on raising the bar. At its 60th reunion recently, just this year, it also produced a class record by a major difference.
JON LINDSETH: The gift we gave in 1981 had a catalytic effect for Cornell fundraising because it set a new standard.
PERCY EDWARDS BROWNING: Yes, it was great for our class. But it set a precedent for every class after that. And even now, they are all trying to do better than the one before. And it's not just here in Ithaca. It's spread all over the country. So that, to me, is the biggest thing our class has done is encouraged other reunion classes to give back.
JON LINDSETH: And of course, what we were and what we are are a super class with one particularly super class member who has given $1 billion in cash. And I'm not talking about will provisions or future pledges or any of this. I'm talking cash on the barrelhead.
GINNY MACDONALD LINDSETH: I can remember vividly almost every time I've ever laid eyes on Chuck Feeney and what a wonderful feeling it is to know somebody who has started as he started and who has built what he has built in the world. And his charitable giving and his connection to Cornell is just an inspiration. And we are so proud in the class of '56 that we have Chuck Feeney.
CHUCK FEENEY: It is clearly more than money. It's satisfaction that you're achieving something that is helpful to people. That side of it is a level of satisfaction that you can't get otherwise.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: I first became involved with Chuck when he wrote me a letter as a result of an article that I'd written for the 100th anniversary of The Cornell Daily Sun. And in that, I talked about the fact that Cornell's early history was marked by the fact that when Ezra Cornell said, "any person, any study." He meant it. And if a person didn't have the means to come to Cornell, that person could obtain work on the campus and support themselves as a result of that work. And Chuck read this article, and he asked me to elaborate on that, which I did. And with the help of Keith Kennedy, we devised a plan that would redevelop the notion of students helping themselves.
And so that's what we proposed to Chuck. And immediately, he grasped the idea and supported it. And so that's how the Tradition came into existence.
RAY HANDLAN: I think Chuck felt if they were going to get help, they had to do something for it. So with the Tradition, they had to maintain an above average or average-- I forget which it was-- but grade point. They couldn't be just surviving there. They had to be working. They had to be producing as a student. And they also had to be giving-- because they were getting support, they had to be working for their education. And then the volunteerism just became a part of it.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: That program, by the way, has just been astonishing. 34 years later, it still continues to influence, I think, the history of Cornell. 5,000-plus Tradition Fellows, as they are known, have given service to Cornell through that. They've become the most loyal followers, the most supportive alumni imaginable. And altogether, they've contributed an astonishing 2.8 million hours of service to the local community. That's something that has not just made a difference to their own futures and their loyalty to Cornell, but it's made a huge difference to the local community and the activities they've supported.
CHUCK FEENEY: The world is full of a lot of people who have less than they need. And each time you can address their problem, you help them to move forward and to feel that the life can change, and I can change it.
JON LINDSETH: You know, libraries have no alumni, although you can say in a sense the entire university are alumni of the library. But they don't feel that way. So it was just a need. And I had the money and the interest.
I've been a book collector for probably nearly 30 years and have given the library a collection of women's suffrage. People say, why do you collect women's suffrage? Cornell has one of the great collections of slavery and anti-slavery. You know, it's hard to have a democracy if half the people can't vote. And it's hard to have a democracy if some of the people are slaves.
PERCY EDWARDS BROWNING: My mother-in-law pulled me aside one day and said, we are very fortunate to have everything that we have like help, big houses, all that stuff. And you have to pay back.
I didn't care whether my name was on anything. I've told people for years, I don't care if it's there unless you think it's going to make a difference to somebody else that they would support this as well as me. I didn't know Chuck Feeney thought the same way until much later.
RAY HANDLAN: And Chuck, having the opportunity, to be a Donald Trump if he so wished, he didn't. He was modest. He was humble. He wanted to see things done, but he didn't want a lot of praise or be in the limelight or people patting him on the back and being, quote, "politically correct" or whatever, or telling him things just because he was the donor.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: If you think of the average donor to a university, there will be buildings named in their honor. There'll be programs named in their honor. You look around Cornell, and there's not a single thing-- not a building, not a program-- named for Chuck.
CHUCK FEENEY: The period of time, which was probably almost 20 years, which we operated on our own and tried to keep the information from flowing out was good for us. It allowed us to focus our attention on the problem-solving part of it.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: Sir Christopher Wren is buried in the cathedral in London that he designed, St. Paul's. And on his tomb is this phrase-- "SI monumentum requiris circimspice." If you require, if you're looking for his epitaph, look around you. It's his cathedral. He designed it. And that's really Chuck Feeney. Wherever you look on campus, whether it's here or the medical school, or whether it's international programs, which he supported, there is evidence of Chuck's work, of his footprint, of his support.
CHUCK FEENEY: This doctor in Hanoi wanted to thank us for helping. And so he said, well, we would just make a statue of you and just make a big plaque. And we said, no, we don't do that sort of thing. So he said, well, what do you do? We said, well, we just try to make whatever the effort is successful. And so he said, you guys just-- He said, well, I've got to do something. And so the next time somebody went back to the school, he had painted the school green. Said, the people who helped us were Irish, and so--
RAY HANDLAN: Hopefully, I'm a better person, a more caring person, because of having had 20-plus years of working with Chuck Feeney.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: Chuck's giving has just been extraordinary. And behind it has really been a wide ranging concern for the well-being of Cornell. Maybe the best example of that recently is a transformational gift that Chuck gave in support of Cornell Tech.
DAVID J. SKORTON: In 2010, then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and two of his colleagues decided to launch something they called the Applied Sciences Initiative. They had carefully studied the economy and prospects of New York City in the wake of the beginning of the Great Recession. And they had decided that one area where more focus might yield very tangible benefits in the near and far future was the need for more graduate-trained workers in the tech disciplines. And so they put out a call, a request for expressions of interest. And a lot of people got interested in it. We were certainly interested because Cornell has this long tradition of very enormous strength in the engineering disciplines, quantitative disciplines, computer science, the fabulous faculty of computing and information sciences. And so we decided to go in and express our interest.
As time went on and I kept in touch with Chuck in general about things going on at Cornell, I mentioned to him about this contest. And it immediately caught his interest. And as we got closer and closer to the winnowing of a large field of over two dozen institutions who had expressed interest in the project, he began to ask whether we were going to have a winning application.
One day, we were at the apartment. And Chuck and Helga and I were talking about the project. And I said, "You know, Chuck, the time has come that I need to raise some money for this. And I wonder if you'd be interested in supporting it." And he said, "Well, what will the whole project cost?" And I said, "Well, we're estimating it to be no less than $1.5 billion." And he said, "Well, now, come on. You must be doing it in some sort of phases or something. You can't just tell me $1.5 billion."
And, I said, "Well, yeah, we're going to do it in phases." And he said, "Well, what's the first phase going to be?" And I told them about the different things we were going to do in the first phase-- some capital construction and hiring faculty and so on. And he said, "Well, what is that phase going to cost?" And I said, "Well, Dean Dan Huttonlocher, he said he thinks it'll be around $350 million." And Chuck said, "OK." And I said, "Well, what do you mean by OK?" And he said, "Well, we'll cover up to the 350."
And so I was thunderstruck. And I asked Helga. I said, "Did you hear what your husband just said?" And she said, "Yes, he said that we would be good for up to 350." And then I said to Chuck, I said, "Chuck, did you hear what your wife just confirmed that you said?" And he got just very slightly irritated. And he said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we already said it like three times."
CHUCK FEENEY: Coming up with an idea and executing it as soon as you can, which means that you're executing it while it's fresh and new, and so you get the satisfaction of seeing it completed during your time involved, so I like that. I like to have an idea, see it start, see get completed.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: He once said, there are no pockets in a shroud. And this giving while living, this idea that the final check should bounce, is very important to Chuck.
CHUCK FEENEY: Well, giving while dead, you don't feel anything.
FRANK H.T. RHODES: I think one of the great things about Chuck Feeney's giving is that he has encouraged us on the campus-- those who serve Cornell here-- to dream dreams, to think of possibilities that would simply never have occurred to us.
I think the other thing I have to thank him for-- and I know other presidents would thank him for-- is that he has raised our game by elevating our sights, by encouraging us to dream of possibilities that could be achieved with more support and help and then has provided the help to make those dreams and possibilities a reality.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Chuck Feeney is fabulous, but not the only fabulous person in the class of '56. And they are really a cast of characters, accomplished people who care about their fellow men and women, and who have found a way to get through the world and to do well and to do good and to continue the idea that a college education-- specifically, but not limited to Cornell University-- allows one to do a lot of things in the world that one might not be able to do and to meet a lot of people-- that is, fellow classmates of the Super Class of '56-- and stay close to those people for keeps.
GINNY MACDONALD LINDSETH: I think that sense of belonging to something bigger than us has always been there and is still there.
CHUCK ROLLES: Well, I feel very grateful that I went to Cornell, that it prepared me and has helped me have a wonderful life.
CHUCK FEENEY: I received a good education at Cornell that stood me in good stead as I went forward.
BOBBY ABRAMS: Without my Cornell education, what I learned, I never could have done what I did in my business life. And I always felt that the university was 100% responsible for whatever successes I had.
LOLLY TREMAN ALMQUIST: I think people who have gone to a wonderful university can't help it but be a better thinker and human being.
ERNIE STERN: I so deeply believe in what we have accomplished that I feel it's appropriate to continue to work toward keeping Cornell in the minds of Cornellians when they graduate and to recognize, as I do, how much we owe this wonderful institution.
[MUSIC - "FAR ABOVE CAYUGA'S WATERS]
(CHORUS SINGING) Far above Cayuga's waters, with its waves of blue, stands a noble alma mater, glorious to view. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater. Hail, oh, hail Cornell. Far above the busy humming of the bustling town, reared against the arch of heaven, looks she proudly down. Lift the chorus. Speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater. Hail, oh, hail, Cornell.
[MUSIC - "EVENING SONG"]
(CHORUS SINGING) Joy to all we love the best. Love to thee, our fair Cornell. Music with the twilight falls o'er the dreaming lake and dell. 'Tis an echo from the walls, of our own, our fair Cornell.
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In 1981, when the Class of ’56 celebrated its 25th Reunion, then president of Cornell University, Frank H.T. Rhodes, dubbed the class the “Super Class of ’56” in honor of its path-breaking philanthropy and service. This documentary shares the class’s experience as students and alumni, and its enduring impact on the university and higher education overall.
The film also tells the story of Chuck Feeney ’56, who has given nearly $1 billion to Cornell and $8 billion around the globe through his foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies.
Credit: Produced by Photosynthesis Productions