$500,000 in gifts for the Thomas Commons

Three gifts from Cornell College alumni totaling $500,000 will move the Thomas Commons renovation project closer to completion.

The gifts, $375,000 from an anonymous member of the class of 1962, $100,000 from Lon Mishler ’69 and Carol Fair Mishler ’70, and $25,000 from Andrew Buchmeyer ’86 and Gretchen Liebenow Buchmeyer ’88, are all to help with the renovation of the newly-renamed Thomas Commons, the centerpiece of student life on Cornell’s campus. The renovation, which will cost $17 million, is set to begin in spring 2012. Plans include a new façade, a revised and expanded dining area for students and more classroom space.

The building’s new name is in recognition of a leadership gift from trustee Richard Small ’50 and honorary alumna and trustee Norma Thomas Small and the couple’s longtime support of the college. The Commons is re-named in honor of Norma’s parents.

“My dad, Cecil J. Thomas, came to Cornell in 1956 as buildings and grounds superintendent and he always felt it was one of the best decisions he ever made,” Norma Thomas Small said. “He loved Cornell and his job from day one. How pleased he would be if he were alive to see a beautifully renovated and enlarged Commons named for him and my mother, June.”

Carol Mishler said she and her husband Lon, who were married in 1970 in Allee Chapel on campus, came back to campus in May for the first time in decades as guests of the Berry Center for Economics, Business, and Public Policy. They decided that The Commons was the most urgent need on campus, she said. Their gift will create an expanded area for student involvement near the Orange Carpet on the second level of the building.

She said that in the couple’s work in higher education, they’ve seen the value of co-curricular activities on the lives of students. Carol Mishler worked at Fox Valley Technical College Appleton, Wisc., and Lon Mishler taught finance at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, as well as working in investments. When Lon Mishler taught, he also was the advisor to a student business club.

“Student activities are a major part of education at a college,” Carol Mishler said.

Andrew Buchmeyer said he and his wife have supported the college for years, including a Cornell Fellowship focused on international diplomacy in Armenia, but they wanted to do more. He said they have fond memories of dining together in The Commons and recognize its importance to campus life and why it was the college’s top fundraising priority.

“The building has changed since we graduated,” he said, “but it remains an important part of campus life.”

Cornell President Jonathan Brand said the gifts build on the momentum of a recent $5.6 million gift to the Thomas Commons. “The Thomas Commons has long been the center of student life on campus, and after renovations, it will remain so for decades to come,” Brand said. “These gift show the extraordinary commitment of our alumni to ensuring future generations of Cornell students have the best residential liberal arts experience possible.”

One of the 40 “Colleges That Change Lives,” Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, is a national liberal arts college with a distinctive One Course At A Time (OCAAT) academic calendar. The OCAAT schedule provides students with intellectual immersion, academic focus, and unique freedom to shed the confines of the traditional classroom to study off-campus, pursue research, or accept an internship—all without missing out on other classes. Founded in 1853, the college’s entire hilltop campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information, please contact Jamie Kelly, director of media relations, at 319-895-4232 or Peter Wilch, vice president of alumni and college advancement at 319-895-4315.