Don Utroska ’60

My mother and father, who raised me in Clinton, Iowa, gave me the feeling from early on that I could do anything I wanted to undertake. My maternal grandfather was very influential in my life. He was the first one who talked about college with me.

Don Utroska ’60
Don Utroska ’60

My mother was a typing champion in the state of Iowa and a good student but didn’t pursue higher education. My dad had to quit school at age 12 and worked for a coal delivery company in Clinton, eventually driving a truck. Dad became a machinist and retired in that capacity from the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. His love for sports was our great bond and as I began to participate more in junior high school, I could always count on dad being there to spectate.

College was always in my sights, but my parents weren’t sure of being able to fund it. When some schools showed interest in me to play football and run track, the financial issue began to fade away. The most fun for me was to see my dad join in on school visits or dinners with visiting coaches or college representatives. Jim Dutcher, the football coach at Cornell College in the late ’50s, came to Clinton and took my dad and me out to dinner. He was not the only one to do this, but I liked his honesty, his view on where Cornell football was at the time, and, most importantly, how he treated and included my dad. Some of the other schools were very attractive and made some wonderful offers.

However, my parents wanted me to stay close to home so they could visit and enjoy watching the college sports. It became easy to choose Cornell.

I was pre-med and although I had a pretty good class load, I was able to play football and run track. Even when I was injured in the last game of my sophomore year, no one ever contacted me about my grant and aid. It was always there, as was the hope that I could return to my team.

I graduated from Cornell College and entered medical school at the University of Iowa. I completed a year but, unfortunately, dropped out. I continued my studies at Iowa in zoology, graduating with a master’s degree in 1963. By this time, I had married my high school sweetheart, Candy Kabrick. We applied to the Peace Corps and were assigned to a school in Nigeria, West Africa. We were among the first from Iowa to join and one of the first five married couples to become Peace Corps volunteers.

We returned from Africa in 1966 and settled in Philadelphia, where I joined SmithKline and French, a pharmaceutical company. The company offered me an opportunity that would lead to an overseas assignment and, in early 1969, I was moved to Geneva, Switzerland, for what lasted almost 30 years.

We had two children. Julie graduated from Mount Holyoke and Yale. We were excited that our son, Don Utroska Jr. ’92, attended Cornell College. With our children studying in the United States, we decided to return at least part-time, and until I retired in 2006, I worked in international recruiting for Spencer Stuart, and then Cook and Associates.
Cornell College gave me the vehicle to grow intellectually and mature as a person. I was fortunate to meet some great people, both students and teachers. I had some outstanding professors who were approachable, supportive, and highly qualified in their fields. Dr. Edwin Rogers and Dr. Francis Pray were outstanding in biology. Cornell offered me the opportunity to pursue rigorous academics while making time for athletics. I think Cornell, in sum, gave me the confidence to handle the challenges that I met in my later life and to live and work and succeed in different cultures.

About four years ago our daughter discovered that my great-great-great-grandfather in Anamosa, Iowa, was one of the Methodist ministers, along with Elder Bowman, who founded the seminary that became Cornell College. I find this to be an amazing irony that I should choose Cornell, and then years later my son would as well, while neither knew about this important contribution our relative made in founding “our school.”