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Alumni Profiles

Bernice "Bee" Barnes Fritz '29

At 107, Bernice "Bee" Barnes Fritz '29 is likely the oldest living Cornellian. Fritz was born in 1904 in Chester, Iowa, and now lives with one of her daughters in Ruidoso, N.M. She was valedictorian at her high school—something she laughs about, since there were only three in her graduating class. She attended Winona Teacher's College and taught at a one-room schoolhouse in Huron, Iowa, while saving money to attend Cornell.

At Cornell, where she was a classmate of Cornell legend Paul K. "Scotty" Scott '29, she studied Latin. She taught Romance languages at schools around Iowa and Illinois, including Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, where she retired. When she was in her 80s, Port Byron High School in Port Byron, Ill., lost their French teacher in the middle of the school year. Fritz was asked to fill in. She did, and stayed there for two more years.

At age 96 she took a world cruise with her younger sister. At 100, she went to China with her youngest daughter. For four years, she took groups of high school students to Europe over winter break.

Dawn Hopkins, Fritz's youngest daughter, said her mother did volunteer work until she was 100 and drove until she was 104. "What a neat lady," Hopkins said, "and she's my mom!"

Fritz said it's hard to pick a favorite destination but loved Easter Island, Bali, and anything in the British Isles.

In addition to travel, she's been active in the community. She's been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of the Colonial Wars, Women Descendants of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery, New England Women, Mayflower Descendants, Magna Carta Society, Society of Charlemagne, Kings Daughters of Moline, Delta Kappa Gamma, and the National Rifle Association.

Bernice "Bee" Barnes Fritz '29

John Wiley Jr. '64

John Wiley Jr. '64 has spent his life building both business and a career in altruism.

Following his own "tripod" formula for success, Wiley has dedicated his life to the foundations of service, family, and self-motivation. He began working with disadvantaged children when he was 14, and helped local elementary children while at Cornell. In his 30s, Wiley developed two farms to deal with teens who were acting out. For years, he was a regular at the Harmony Cafe, a meeting place for troubled youth.

Walking the walk comes easily to Wiley: "I like to take on something that can solve a problem or a need."

Wiley founded Elipticon Wood Products, a millwork house for high-end housing and component parts in his hometown of Appleton, Wis. With his wife, he raised four children, including Ben Wiley '92 and Ladd Wiley '93. His current major service venture is serving as president of Power Flour International. "Millions of babies in third world countries die each year," he says. "These children weaned too early are being fed solid foods because that is all that is available to them, but their bodies cannot properly digest it. Power flour uses natural malt enzymes to digest and liquefy the native starch-based cereals so severely malnourished babies can thrive."

Basic barley malt, Power Flour “uses an enzyme to breakdown the complex carbohydrate molecules and provide energy. Even a small starving baby can drink it. We would never recommend it in place of mother’s milk, but sometimes it’s needed if the mother has died or is not available.”

Being tested in Uganda, Bolivia, and Ghana, the potential benefits are profound.

With seemingly limitless energy, Wiley has also been involved with the Winnebago Mental Health Hospital for a decade, heading a successful effort to keep the state from closing it down. In addition, he opened a receiving home for children in Winnebago county needing foster care. For 15 years, he served on the Appleton Salvation Army board, including three years of developing the homeless shelter.

His life of service has rendered many profound experiences, and he especially recalls one in Haiti in the 1980s. “We built a water pipeline 17 miles in the mountains and brought it down to the ocean. It was the second place Columbus landed in 1492, and he wrote that it was lush. Now the topsoil eroded and killed the coral reef. We brought water to about 10,000 people, which made the population come back. It was a remarkable project. It finished on time and budget and it’s still working 30 some years later.”

An economics major, Wiley was grateful for Professor Donald Cell. “He made me think about a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before. I was always interested in business and how it worked. He forced me to think.”

Stepping out of your comfort zone is the strongest advice this unfathomably selfless and generous Cornellian gives students today. “Whether with people in your community or the world community, it’s important to step out of your comfort zone,” he says. “I find that people are great. People are worth knowing. And they have purposes and goals and every person is valuable and all we need to do is give people a hand up and be involved.”

John Wiley Jr. '64

David Schnare '70

Success to David Schnare '70, director of the Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute, is "following your bliss," he says. "It took three decades before I was able to take that step, but, once taken, one doesn't look back."

Schnare filled a need for Cornell as a quality backstroke swimmer, while the school provided him with a place to look into many interests. Lifelong inspiration came from chemistry Professor Bill Deskin, whom David credits as being one of three people he considers "the authors of any success I have had."

Serendipity brought him to environmental work. After Cornell, Schnare served in the Navy, where he followed a course of self-study on the environmental movement as well as economics. This led to a master's degree in public health and a Ph.D. in environmental management from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, "and a graduate degree in college basketball fandom," he says.

After 20 years trying to write economically sensible environmental rules, Schnare was moved to the enforcement offices at the U.S. EPA. "Lawyers don't listen to non-lawyers, so I got a law degree," he says. "It was love at first sight." After 37 years, he left the federal establishment and aimed his work toward public interest law, "taking cases that force the government to be transparent, honest, and sensible."

Serving also as director of the Environmental Law Center of the American Tradition Institute and director of the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, he finds endless opportunities to serve those who otherwise “could not participate in this grand experiment we call government by the people.”

A career focused around the environment has brought him to a stoic stance. “Environmental issues have become the center of more policy issues than they should,” he says. “What we need is a return to stewardship values where we balance all the needs of the community-society-state-estate. Environmental activism has pulled the society apart, not brought it together. We have come a very long way since 1960 and each increment of additional so-called environmental improvement we now take has associated with it a very high opportunity cost. We cannot now afford to spend jobs and create poverty on the altar of an environmental religion. As a nation and a civilization, we are not that wealthy.” 

As a student throughout his life, Schnare values intellectual and personal freedom.
“College is that first great step into freedom and personal responsibility. Cornell provided the stable, safe, and challenging place that allowed us to expand as persons, to look beyond horizons and to let the expectations of our past associations slide to the ground and leave us unfettered to wander around long enough to find a path to follow.”

A lifelong fan of Merner Hall, Schnare did need to find some areas of quiet for study space.

“The Dean of Student Affairs once concluded that The Commons need not be open past 10 p.m. as the corn fields were available as an alternative. Yes, he actually said that!” Schnare recalls. “I studied in the Chem building library, the old Carnegie library building. The quiet of the library stacks and the smell of acetone seemed to give me the best study space.”

The word profound inspires some reflection for this Cornellian.

“I have sat before bar in the Supreme Court of the United States listening to the Solicitor General argue a brief I wrote; testified before Congress; counseled the White House Chief of Staff; presided at a wedding and judged a dog show. I've been above the Arctic Circle, below the equator and inside the ocean. I have married, divorced, remarried (happily), loved, hated, and found peace. These are the incidents of one small life.  As incidents, they are not profound. 

“That came late one night on a bus in Naples, Italy. I was a naval officer, in uniform, returning to my ship from a formal dinner with ambassadors and families, hosted by the NATO command. My role was to be a gentleman and escort the British Ambassador's daughter for the evening. It was a long and trying night. Returning to the ship, I had to take a 45-minute bus ride to the port. Twenty-two, slightly drunk and terribly tired, I stumbled into the bus only to find every seat taken. As the bus left the station a woman arose—one with five or six decades of care and worry written upon her face. In broken English she insisted I take her seat. She said she would never sit while an American serviceman stood as we had freed her nation, saved her family's life and made the world a place safe from those who would enslave others. I refused her kind offer as a matter of duty and honor. Standing for that 45 minutes was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. Service to others remains my touchstone, one first chiseled in my experiences at Cornell.”

Seeing the future through “thick, pink lenses,” David Schnare advises current students, “You are the author of your own success. Borrow no problems, you have enough of your own.”

David Schnare '70

Chip Koch '88

Chip Koch '88 wasn't planning a career in amusement park entertainment, but that's what he got by way of an audition for Adventureland Theme Park in Des Moines during his first year at Cornell. "I was fascinated by the opportunity," says Koch.

Hired and hooked, Koch spent each college summer performing at Adventureland. Captivated by a life in entertainment, he researched and pursued multiple opportunities with Disney, eventually moving to Orlando, Fla., in hopes of catching Disney's eye.

Holding numerous jobs, including the opening team of Universal Studios Florida in 1990, Koch eventually joined Disney in the Entertainment Department at Pleasure Island, a nighttime entertainment complex. After 22 years, and various roles along the way, Koch is general manager of entertainment costuming and technical operations for Disney California Adventure (sister park to the original Disneyland) with responsibility for the daily operation of shows, parades, atmosphere, fireworks, and entertainment across the resort.

Cornell College lured Koch via the Horace Alden Miller music scholarship along with his instant love for the intimate setting of the Cornell campus. "Professor Marcella Lee sparked my interest to think about vocal performance in a different way," Koch says, "and Alf Houkom was a colorful and inspirational force."

Koch shared insight on the man who created the Wonderful World of Disney TV show. "When Walt was building the original Disneyland Park, he actually constructed one of the buildings to include an efficiency apartment on the second floor so he could be the first and last one on the construction site each day."  Today, the firehouse on Mainstreet USA still houses that very apartment. "As a tribute to Walt, we keep the light on in the window of that apartment 24/7 to remind us that Walt is a part of everything we do."

For students who may be intrigued by a future with a company as vast and far reaching as the Walt Disney Company, Koch urges the importance of a second or third language. "Without a doubt, speaking a second language, or even understanding the fundamentals of another language are highly valued by companies today. Disney places special emphasis on those who are familiar with a second language. It's invaluable for our international success."

Koch modestly demurs when asked if he would be called creative. "I think it's more a show sense, which is a combination of understanding an audience, the pulse of the room, the tone of the presentation, and how everything connects together in a show. I think these are important balances to just creating," he says.

Having passion for what you do "helps you get through the tough times too," he says. "For anyone's career path, I think it's important to recognize your passion may guide you, but along the path/journey you may encounter things you don't have a passion for."  Being prepared to embrace what Koch calls, "the necessary side road," while working his way to the ultimate job seems to have paid off.

When asked to choose the best Disney Character to describe Mount Vernon, Koch names Jiminy Cricket:  "He's intellectual, inspirational, free spirited, ahead of his time, factual, calculated, fun, and small."

Chip Koch '88

Jennifer LaBaw '04

Working at Norcal Strength and Conditioning in Chico, Calif., in the fall of 2010, Jennifer LaBaw ’04 was encouraged by fellow coaches to try a local strength competition.  For six months, LaBaw trained daily, working well beyond what she thought she was capable of, making it to second place at regionals and earning a spot at the international Reebok Crossfit Games.

“My competitive edge from Cornell Rams women soccer came rearing its head that day,” she says, ultimately leading this elite athlete to capture sixth place in the international competition of the Reebok CrossFit Games.

And her signature color workout gear? Purple, of course.

LaBaw fell in love with the campus and life at Cornell as a high school junior visiting big brother Luke LaBaw ’02. Knowing that One Course At A Time was going to be a great way to learn, LaBaw also had extra incentive to join life on the Hilltop. “Mike and Steve Robertson were the soccer coaches at that time, and also played a big role in getting me to say ‘yes’ to Cornell to be able to come play for them and pursue my athletic career beyond high school,” she says.

Originally an education major, LaBaw spent her junior year at an elementary school doing her practicum. “It was a 3rd grade PE class during their gymnastics unit. In one week I think I aged 10 years,” she recalls. “That week made me realize that I am not cut out for ‘teaching’ 30 kids at a time.”  She changed her major to Fitness and Wellness as an emphasis rather than teaching. “I still get to teach everyday at my job, but I get to teach people who want to learn and are doing it for themselves,” she says.

She cites Ellen Whale as a great inspiration and mentor. “Ellen was my go-to-gal when I attended Cornell. She was always so optimistic and so willing to help,” she says. “As a professor in my department and my advisor I got to know Ellen pretty well and am grateful for her encouragement to pursue a career/life in the health and wellness field.”

LaBaw has struggled with epilepsy for much of her life. Now under control, she hopes to embrace her newfound success as an elite athlete to start a charity/organization for kids who also suffer from the disorder. “I want to highlight kids who are excelling in academics and athletics despite what others tell them they can or can't do,” she says. “Epilepsy affects people differently, but like everything else in life, we have to decide how we are going to deal with it. I chose to control it rather than it controlling me!”

The edge that LaBaw finds in her athletic endeavors is immersed in her own views on success.  “I never would have been able to make it through The Games without support. We are not made to charge life on our own without any help,” she says. “Everyone needs to have a support group—family friends, coworkers. Have fun, and always challenge yourself. If we live day to day in our little bubble of comfort, we will never accomplish anything. Try something new. Do what you don't think you can!”

Reminiscing about her years in Mount Vernon, LaBaw says living in the dorms all four years helped build a sense of community. As for students on the Hilltop today, she encourages them to “wake up each day and know that you’re going to make the most of it.  Things will get in your way, no doubt! But you have to know that no matter what, things happen for a reason and there is always a way to make yourself happy. My favorite saying, which I try to live by, is ‘One Moment, One Chance, Always.’”

Web extra - Watch the interview/training video

Jennifer LaBaw '04

Lucy Boone '08

With the brightly colored walls, laid back demeanor of the receptionist who chomps on bubble gum, and the high energy of the youthful staff, one could easily mistake the Groupon Headquarters on Chicago's eastside as a college campus rather than a fast-growing Internet start-up that made an initial public offering in November. It was that special college-like environment, in fact, that attracted Lucy Boone '08 to join the Groupon team as an accounts support specialist. Realizing that an office environment can be as important as the work itself, Boone was attracted to Groupon because, in a way, it reminded her of her time on the Hilltop. "I realized that every year I was at Cornell, I got happier and happier," she remarks. After spending four years living on campus, she says the experience a residential campus provides is beyond measure as a result of the lifelong friendships she developed.

"If I could offer advice to current students, I would suggest they make friends with everyone! One never knows when a friendship will be important," she says, adding that the networking with everyone led her to her role at Groupon in 2010.

Boone and long-time boyfriend Jamie Ferguson '07, who met after a King Chapel choir performance in 2005, plan to wed in an outdoor ceremony on the Michigan shore this spring. Ferguson is the grandson of Suzanne Ludeking Jones '46.

Lucy Boone '08
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