Small world stories

In a Croatian hotel, a West African market, and even in Ithaca, New York, Cornellians find each other in the most unlikely places. Here are some of their stories.

Wish you were here

Paris sceneMy husband and I were on a tour in Croatia. I posted a pic of our lovely hotel and infinity pool overlooking the Adriatic Sea on Facebook and commented, “Wish you were here!” As we were changing for dinner, the hotel’s phone rang and the voice on the other end said, “Susan? I am here!” It was my college friend and Phi Omega sorority sister, Elizabeth Extrom Bingham ’72! She was staying at the same hotel. We had a mini-reunion and closed the hotel bar that night. Friends you make at Cornell are forever! Susan Yotcoski De Appolonio ’72

I was traveling in Paris with my husband and in-laws and we were visiting the Musée d’Orsay. And I ran into Rachel O’Neill Fitzpatrick ’07! So, there’s me from Minnesota, and Rachel from Ireland, and we both decide to go to Cornell. And three years after I graduated, we are visiting the same exhibit at the exact same time! Erin Prall Reykdal ’06

In the winter of 1967-1968, I was a graduate student on scholarship at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. I was walking late one afternoon down the Bahnhofstrasse (Railway Station Street), Zurich’s main street, and saw a young woman staring at me. It was Sherry Steensen Arendt ’69 and we both had played in the band. We gave each other a big hug. She said, “I thought it was you, but I said to myself, ‘make sure before you shriek!’” She hadn’t known I was studying in Zurich, and I hadn’t known that she was in town. David Klaus ’67

Surprised to meet you

African continentI went to my community band practice in Tennessee (yes, I still play flute) and noticed a new woman. The director announced, “We have a new couple with us from Iowa. He is working here for the summer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She plays oboe and he plays trombone.” I turned to her and said, “Tell me where you’re from; I have heard of every place in Iowa because I went to Cornell College.” “Cornell College!” she exclaimed, “that’s where we’re from!” It was Mary Anne and Craig Teague, Cornell chemistry faculty. Jean Newton Box ’47

I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. There was only transportation out of my village once a week, on market day in the region’s capital 20 km away. One day I took transport and went into Korhogo to hit the big market and stop by the Peace Corps regional house to say hello to whoever was around. Two other Peace Corps volunteers who had just finished service in Morocco were traveling and decided to stop there that day. After some small talk, Brigetta Olson ’96 and I realized we had not only Cornell but the Arrows in common. Jennifer Humbrecht Spesia ’98

 As I was completing a graduate program that licenses non-education majors, I was placed at Elk Grove (Illinois) High School. While having a conversation with a teacher there about our undergraduate experiences, it quickly dawned on us—when discussing our schools’ unique block scheduling—that we were both talking about Cornell College. Keith Kura ’03 and I have since spent countless off-periods discussing life on the Hilltop, from the buildings to stories on the gridiron. We walk the building with Cornell pride—wearing our college apparel. Shane McNally ’14

There all along

Seattle sceneI live in the Seattle area. A couple of years ago I was taking some night classes on art and design. I had car trouble and was taking the bus part-way and walking the rest. One particularly dark and cold night, I had a heavy project to carry and didn’t really feel like carrying it all the way home. While waiting for the bus, I hopped on Facebook and complained about it jokingly (because what is Facebook for, if not complaining?). Sebastian Fleming ’08 replied that he could give me a ride. I assumed he was kidding, since last I heard he lived several states away. Sabi actually lived down the street from me. Will Mendoza ’06

See even more stories submitted by Cornellians.

 We were planning a trip to Europe and wanted to visit my friend Kay Hutchison, who was the ambassador to NATO, with an office in Brussels. I ended up making the arrangements with her chief of staff, Kathryn. We arrived and had lunch in the conference room with Sen. Hutchison, whose daughter was looking at colleges at that time, and I told her about Cornell and the block plan. She asked me to send her more information. Kathryn intercepted my email with information for Sen. Hutchison and wrote back to tell me that she also went to Cornell, and she chose it because of One Course At A Time! Kathryn Gomm Martin ’87 attended Cornell nearly two decades after I did. Sydney Smith Hicks ’69

 I used to be a paid soloist at a large Episcopal Church in the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area. There were several sets of ushers associated with the 11 a.m. service who I saw regularly over the time I was there. When the Atlanta area Cornell alums met for a reunion, one of the attendees was an usher with whom I had spoken many times over the previous two or three years. Marilee David ’66

I never met this person as he died before I was born. Going through some family heirlooms this year, I found out that my great-grandfather David Arnold also graduated from Cornell in 1926Amanda Hansen ’01

Airport connections

Airplane-illustration-ShutterstockDuring the first holidays after my graduation in 1985, I traveled to Belize with my future husband, Tom. While waiting for our departure from the Belize International Airport, I ran into Richard Harris ’85, who was finishing a mission trip to Belize. In February 2007 as Tom and I walked into the departure area at the Exuma International Airport in the Bahamas, someone called my name. It was Steve Girkins ’85, a private pilot who happened to be flying out of Exuma that day. Sheila Kruse Boyce ’85

 In 2010 I was on a plane to london and started talking with the woman next to me. Turns out she was a Cornell grad who sang in the choir and played the organ—just like I did at Cornell. Joey Crowley ’09

In 2008 I was standing in a line to get my rental car at the Phoenix, Arizona, airport and struck up a conversation with the person in front of me. After a few minutes we discovered we graduated from Cornell College in the same year. When we exchanged names, Jim Becker ’61 and I were surprised since we had known each other quite well at Cornell, but hadn’t recognized each other. We had a lot of fun sharing stories, but eventually we got to the front of the line, said our goodbyes, and got our cars. Lawrence P. Bush ’61

Fancy meeting you here

Italy mapMy husband Tom Reinhard ’65 and I were in Ankara, Turkey, in 2012 for a Peace Corps anniversary celebration. We were invited to an event at the U.S. Embassy, where we were joined by the Fulbright Fellows who had recently arrived from the U.S. Somehow, one member of our group talked with a Cornell College alumnus and remembered that we had graduated from the Iowa Cornell. That person immediately brought Will Dinneen ’12 to us. I don’t think we sang “Cornell Greater Be Thy Name,” but we did enjoy sharing memories of the campus and the unique experiences and lifelong friendships formed in that small town in the Midwest. Carol Monson Reinhard ’67

 In the late 1990s, Clarinda, Iowa (my hometown) was lobbying the Iowa Legislature to replace the small mental health institute building used as a prison with a new proper one. We needed to discuss our proposal first with the Iowa House Judiciary Committee and who should the committee chairman be, but Mr. Clark McNeal ’64, my freshman roommate. He and I had a good visit and caught up with each other’s lives since we were roommates over 35 years ago, and then Clark gave us some helpful suggestions for our effort. Later that spring, the Iowa legislature approved our proposal and the new prison was built. John Lisle ’64

 My spouse and I were in a hotel coffee shop in Warsaw and bumped into Gib Drendel ’58 and his wife. Each couple was on a Grand Circle river cruise—my cruise was going one way and his was going the opposite direction. Peggy Bohstedt Kahr ’58

 In 1969 I was on a honeymoon trip to Italy when I ran into Howard Happ ‘64 in the Uffizi. Richard Hadsell ’66

New York encounters

New York sceneI have three stories, all based in New York when I was in law school. Sooner or later everyone visits New York. At law school graduation, my entire family came to visit and we went to see “West Side Story” on Broadway. At intermission, we ran into Dave Korslund ’76. One evening after a concert in Central Park, I ran into Anne Davis Grothe ’77 among the vast throng leaving the concert. Finally, I ran into Mary Peet ’76 on the subway platform at 42nd Street. We shared a Greek class together. She lived near me in the West Village and I later visited her in her apartment. Tom Durham ’77

In 1977 I was returning to the U.S. from Germany with my family, waiting in a long line in a JFK terminal to get through customs, when Craig Kuehl ’66 recognized me and let us bypass the entire line. I guess he was some kind of customs officer, or maybe a spy disguised as a customs officer. What a great time to get some unexpected help from a friend! Richard Hadsell ’66

Not in Ithaca

King Chapel illustration by Melissa Wood '82
King Chapel illustration by Melissa Wood ’82

The first time that I met my brother’s fiance, I mentioned that I went to this small, liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, Iowa—a description I’m sure most Cornellians probably use.

“What’s it called?”

“Cornell College. So there’s Cornell University and then there’s—”

“Cornell College, in Mount Vernon, Iowa? Runs on the block plan, founder was cousins with Cornell University’s namesake.”

’m completely speechless at this point because it’s not often you come across people who can finish the Cornell spiel for you.

“Yeah,” she said, “one of my best friends went to school there.”

Turns out, it was James Hoeffgen ’13 and we had mutual friends. Gregory Hill ’17

In February 2019, as a  member of the Board of Directors

for NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, I attended an event to hear the author of a book about post-Roe America. I was talking when I heard someone in a group of people next to me say Cornell. If you have never had this experience, it is like a dog suddenly being distracted by a squirrel running up a tree in the next yard. I walked over and asked if someone had gone to Cornell. One woman said yes, and I asked, “Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa?” She replied, “Yes,” more emphatically this time. Turns out that Robin Walkenhorst Marty ’99 was the guest author for the night. —Jerry Gale ’74

I was attending a Unitarian church conference in 1977 at the other Cornell campus. You know, the one in Ithaca, New York. Walking across the campus coming toward me, I recognized a fellow 1947 graduate of “the original Cornell.” As we got closer, Maggie Lievense Funderburg ’47 and I broke out in song (in that mocking manner that only true rivals use): “High above Cayuga’s waters …” Jean Newton Box ’47

Purple is it

Illustration by Melissa Wood '82
Illustration by Melissa Wood ’82

Several years ago we were changing planes at DFW. I saw a young man in a purplish jacket that said Cornell Baseball. I immediately knew from the color he wasn’t from that upstart school in New York. I walked over to this young man, whose name is lost to my memory, and said hello and introduced myself from the Class of ’60. He had just graduated, roughly 50+ years after I had. I told him I had been a catcher for the team. He was a pitcher. A perfect match. I hope he reads this and remembers that meeting. Jim Bloom ’60

In 1975 six of us from different colleges opted to visit Amsterdam before flying home from our semester abroad. Arriving by train at the Central Station, we were greeted by locals who offered lodging in their homes. One gentleman made a good impression, and we followed him to his apartment. After we settled, he invited us for coffee in the living room, where he asked each of us to tell about ourselves. At my mention of Cornell, he interrupted, “I’ve been there.” I gulped. He offered corroborating details—picturesque campus on a hilltop, mostly red brick buildings, towering flagstone chapel. Turns out he visited the Hilltop twice in the 1970s with renowned illustrator Franklin McMahon to visit Franklin’s daughter Molly McMahon ’75Allan Ruter ’76

Fifteen years after I graduated, I was working in Tokyo when I walked into a bar district (as many stories begin) in the city’s Roppongi and encountered a young man wearing a Cornell Hilltop T-shirt. I had to ask if it was really true and, yes, he was a current student studying abroad. Judith Bryan ’78