Armstrong Trust commits $250,000 to Cornell bookstore renovation

MOUNT VERNON — Cornell College has received a $250,000 pledge from the Esther and Robert Armstrong Charitable Trust to fund a new campus bookstore in The Commons, Cornell’s student union that was built during Esther Armstrong’s tenure on the college’s board of trustees.

Esther Armstrong was an honorary alumna of Cornell and life trustee on Cornell’s board, which she served from 1958 to 1985. She died in 2002. She and her husband, chairman of Armstrong’s department store in Cedar Rapids who died in 1990, had two daughters who attended Cornell. Mary Armstrong Dusek, class of 1950, and Esther Armstrong Cooper, class of 1952, are both deceased.

John Bickel of Cedar Rapids, a Cornell alumnus and board member who served with Armstrong, says she was “engaged, enthusiastic and wise.” She was so committed to her task on the board that she volunteered to stay overnight in a women’s residence hall, he recalls.

“She did this so she could speak authoritatively about the student experience at board meetings,” Bickel said. “She loved the extraordinary opportunities Cornell provided for the students.”

The Commons, completed in 1966, is the “town square” of the campus, where students socialize, recreate, dine, learn and find goods and services. Renovation of The Commons, due to begin next summer, will involve a total remake of the building, including a more spacious entryway, lounge space and private dining rooms; the larger and more prominent bookstore; and an addition that will feature a multipurpose room to seat 200 people that can be used for meetings, lectures, dances and catered events. The project is expected to cost $12 million.

“The trust was set up to carry on their charitable work done over the years, and we felt this was something the Armstrongs would want,” trustee Russell Swenson, Cedar Rapids, said of the gift to Cornell.

Cornell previously received a gift from the trust to support spiritual programming and facilities improvements to Allee Chapel.

“Cornell is grateful for the longstanding support the Armstrongs have given to the college, and we are pleased to continue this partnership as we reaffirm the importance of The Commons to the campus community,” said Cornell President Les Garner.

The Armstrong Charitable Trust’s gift is part of Cornell College’s comprehensive campaign “Extraordinary Opportunities: The Campaign for Cornell College” which concludes in December 2009. The campaign seeks
to enhance the Cornell experience by increasing the college’s endowment, upgrading its facilities, and enhancing the academic program.

For more information about the campaign or making a gift, please visit