Driven to be entrepreneurs

They got to know each other at a party in Merner Hall for students who had stayed on campus over a Thanksgiving break. That’s when Patrick Lyness ’87 invited Rita Merrick-Lyness ’88 to Thanksgiving dinner on his family’s farm near Ryan, Iowa.

Lyness family
Rita Merrick-Lyness ’88 and Patrick Lyness ’87 with their sons, Luke Lyness ’15 (left) and Seth Lyness (right), who is entering Cornell this fall.
Photo: Jennifer Willard

“I spent the whole day seeing rural eastern Iowa and meeting his extended family,” Rita says. “Although we spent that weekend as friends, in the weeks that followed we saw more and more of each other and became a couple by the time Patrick graduated.”

They found out they had numerous things in common. They both had six siblings, they were middle children, and they were Catholic. Each was the first child to go to college. They both had been born in Texas and moved to Iowa as kids.

Patrick graduated in 1987 and Rita the next year. They married in July 1988 and moved to Texas where she taught Spanish and coached. Patrick, whose roots were in the construction field, sought opportunities to apply what he’d learned at Cornell.

After work and on weekends they would assemble lawn furniture and gas grills for people and soon graduated to building sheds and decks. They followed that with Maverick Construction, a home remodeling business. They now own Terrell Glass & Mirror, specializing in windows for commercial construction, and operate a cattle operation at Lyness Farms in east Texas. Their son Luke Lyness ’15 serves as Terrell’s project manager over field operations. Terrell has produced a spin-off firm, Pariluse, to manage the in-between-the-glass mini blind system they patented and which is distributed throughout North America.

“I think the drive to be entrepreneurs really came from the necessity to pay our bills, the desire to improve our lifestyles, and mainly not to end up like our parents,” Rita explains. “We always did the job together. I would hold the other end of the tape measure, write down the dimensions, hold the ladder or piece of wood as Patrick ran the saw.”

Today, with burgeoning businesses, one son successfully integrated into the family enterprise, and son Seth heading off to Cornell this fall, Patrick and Rita look back on the role Cornell played in their success.

“My life really started at Cornell College,” Patrick says. “I took my education, applied it to the industry that I am in, and 36 years later look what Rita and I have achieved. It is hard to explain the feeling one gets when your work changes the lives of people that work with you for the better. Cornell gave me the opportunity to do that.”

Rita points specifically to Cornell’s block plan: “I think One Course At A Time was instrumental in our careers. We were better prepared to handle the intensity of a situation, deal with it right away, and move on to get it resolved quickly.”