Reconnect with the Class of ’77

As we count down to our 40th reunion in 2017, we’ll be posting profiles of members of the Cornell University class of 1977 one each week until Reunion weekend, June 8-10, 2017.  We hope that seeing our accomplished, engaged, and diverse class will inspire you to reconnect, and especially to join us in Ithaca nearly two years from now.

Any classmate may add her or his information to our Profiles; just fill out the Questionnaire here.

John Speese III

Current Home City: North Augusta, South Carolina

Your College: Agriculture & Life Sciences

Email Address: sherrispeese@comcast.net

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
After Cornell, I studied in Germany for two years. Upon returning to the states, my family moved from the Philadelphia area to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where I met my wife Sherri. I put my entomology degree from Cornell to use working at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center owned by Virginia Tech. In 2005 with advancing age and not serious but none the less debilitating health problems I decided to take another path and put my language skills to use by becoming a freelance translator. That year we also sold our home on the Eastern Shore and moved to the Augusta Georgia area. Last summer we moved just across the Savannah River to a more affordable and easier to manage place in North Augusta, South Carolina.

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
Haven’t been back since graduation

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
Dr. Cliff Berg’s bionomics of freshwater invertebrates (which may now be taught by Bobbie Piekarski), Dr. Marks and Dr. Feeny’s ecology, and basic French, which I aced! Highest score in the class…no doubt inspired me to keep learning French and become a translator.

Which piece of information or advice did you pick up while a student at Cornell that has been useful in the past 40 years?
First became a Christian and started going to church while at Cornell.

Which piece of advice or information turned out to be completely WRONG?
As some others have also said, that winter ends in Ithaca! I remember Dr. Sheldrake saying in his vegetable production class that Ithaca has 4 seasons: early winter, mid winter, late winter, and next winter! I hate winter to this very day!

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
Had some great times at the Noyes Center Pub on Friday nights. Like many others, I loved places like Flat Rock and the Fall Creek Gorge.Read More…

Jo-Ann McFearin

Cornell Name: Jo-Ann Dragonetti

Current Home City: Cleveland, Ohio

Your College: Human Ecology

Email Address: Jo-Ann@JoAnnMcFearin.com

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
I worked in the consumer products industry in various levels of sales, marketing, management with several large national companies. Ended up in Cleveland OH with GE Lighting. I have been a top realtor in Cleveland now for 17 years. 2 wonderful children! My son graduated from RIT and my daughter graduated from University of Louisville. I enjoy working out, running, rollerblading, golf, travel and on-going learning and challenges. I am a certified personal trainer and also a wellness coach. I have done stand-up comedy. I am single with lots of energy. I am blessed with great friends and a great business that allows me flexible time to do what I enjoy. I also enjoy giving back – and am currently on City Council. Looking forward to seeing everyone at reunion!

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
Graduation!

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
Consumer Economics and Nutrition 101

Which piece of information or advice did you pick up while a student at Cornell that has been useful in the past 40 years?
There is always going to be more to do than you can do… you just have to figure out what is the most important thing to do with the time you have.

Which piece of advice or information turned out to be completely WRONG?
The date winter actually ends in Ithaca

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
“face time” at the library

Tell us about the most interesting things you’ve done since 1977.
– Performed stand up comedy at the Improv
– Played golf at the Emirates Golf Course in Dubai
– Ran a 5K race in Dubai
– My photo was in the United Hemispheres Magazine
– I ran 7 half marathons in one year… including the A1A in Fort Lauderdale on a “big” birthday & a women’s half in Toronto
– Ran one international marathon (started in Canada and ended in Detroit)
– Ran and was elected to City Council

Share any random or surprising encounters with Cornell or Cornellians since you left.
As a realtor, I usually never meet a buyer who purchases one of my listings as I represent the seller. On the one rare occasion I did, she actually graduated from Cornell. We have stayed in touch since then!

What advice would you give to a member of the Class of 2019?
Stay in touch with your classmates through all the means you have available. Having the fact that you graduated from Cornell will go a long way on your resume.

Do you have a favorite memory from a Class of 1977 reunion?
This is going to be my first reunion.

What are you looking forward to at our 40th reunion in June, 2017?
Being back on campus and meeting new people!

Larry Snyder

Larry SnyderCurrent Home City: Red Hook, NY

Your College: Arts and Sciences

Email Address: larsny@hvc.rr.com

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
I graduated from Cornell after three heavy-course loaded years (which is why more of Class of ’78 might know me than ’77) and attended The University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. After several trying years as an associate I started my second dental practice in historic Rhinebeck, NY. I sold that practice in 2009 and since have been a full time Dad to 2 great daughters and, among other things, have been the Co-chair of the Dutchess County CAAAN (Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network) and the Chair of the Ulster County Committee.

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
I was there twice 4 months ago to drop off and pick up my 14 year old daughter from her Cornell Summer Camp course in Video Production. Prior to that I was there for our 35th reunion

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
My two favorite courses were unconventional, even for Cornell. Because I had placed out of Biology 101, I was eligible to take a course titled “The Scientific Method” taught by Dr. Camhi. This course changed the way I approached problems not only in science but in my every day life. I also have to thank Dr. Bruce Halpern for taking me on as his protege in research (for which I received class credit) It was such a privilege to work aside this brilliant man.

 

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
There are many. My freshman year I attended my first major concert at Barton Hall–Seals and Croft. I still have all their LPs and when I hear them I get nostalgic for college days. High on my list of favorite memories would be my fraternity initiation at TEP-Tau Epsilon Phi. I understand they went a little too far and are no longer on The Hill!

 

Do you have a favorite memory from a Class of 1977 reunion?
I am one of 5 in my immediate family who attended Cornell. I enjoyed going to my 15th reunion with my sister who was attending her 1oth reunion, and then attending my 3oth reunion with his three kids and my two… great memories of all of us climbing McGraw tower stairs and enjoying a concert together and taking in the beautiful views.

Halsey G Knapp, Jr.

halsey1Current Home City: Atlanta, Georgia

Your College: Arts and Sciences

Email Address: hknapp@khlawfirm.com

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
Charmed by the virtues of the New South, I settled in Atlanta, Ga. and married Lyn Rogers, Atlanta’s finest. Like our favorite magazine, Garden & Gun, we like to hike, bike, entertain, hunt, cook, watch lacrosse, workout and argue about politics, God and the meaning of life. Lyn’s kitchen (both in Atlanta and our lake house) produces meals of legend which are the perfect backdrop for such fun. Our two children, Hale and Eve, bring us great joy when they are back in town. During the week, I practice law, resolving disputes involving businesses and the duties and obligations that officers and managers owe their owners. I frequently write, speak and train young lawyers on the art of the practice of law. Tires down on the open road, I find peace on my road bike.

halsey3In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
In recent years, I have been active with my fraternity, Chi Psi, helping recolonize the brotherhood and refurbishing the house. Reunion planning twice has brought me to Ithaca in 2016. Each time, I have walked the campus, amazed at how it has changed (flowers, yes flowers on campus) yet also remains the same: a beautiful, energized place.

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
Walter LaFeber-American Foreign Policy
Vance Christian-Wine Tasting
Latin 300 Horace and Catullus (It’s a long story involving Sly & the Family Stone and missing a mid-term)

halsey4Which piece of information or advice did you pick up while a student at Cornell that has been useful in the past 40 years?
1) Trust your instincts;
2) Don’t underestimate the power of the the truth; and
3) Embrace every impulse to serve others.

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
Chi Psi Brotherhood
On cover of Daily Sun running Phi Psi 500
Sly & Family Stone Concert
Sage Chapel Choir
Senior Spring With The Newc
Sitting on blue line all 4 years (men & women)
Being part of TV commercial
Watching Big Red lax
Found library once
Chapter House

Tell us about the most interesting things you’ve done since 1977.
Lacrosse has been a constant companion in our lives. Statkeeper for years for local high school men’s & women’s teams. I still watch the 1976 & 1977 finals on YouTube and both my son, Hale, and my daughter, Eve, (honorable mention high school All American) played the sport with great passion. Season ticket holder of the Atlanta Blaze and thus get to watch Max Siebald and Rob Pannell remind us of Big Red’s glory days, images of Eamon always dancing in the background.

Sheryl Checkman

MATT 2014 PUNTA MITA MEXICOCurrent Home City: New York, NY

Your College: Arts and Sciences

Email Address: sheryl@checkmandesign.com

Twitter Handle: @diveartist

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
Spent the summer of 1977 studying design (and having a blast) at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and received graduate credits towards a Master’s program at Pratt Institute in NYC. I started my design career working for some small design & marketing firms and then began working for PR giant, Burson-Marsteller for close to 12 years, where I was a VP & Design Manager. I left Burson in 1992 and started my own graphic design firm, where I still design branding for print and web.

I have also designed a branded line of t-shirts under the name Life is Balance®, which I sell online along with my fine art photography and home decor items, jewelry and other wearables.

me-mon-cornell-dorm-sherylIn between working and creating I am an avid skier and scuba diver, and I enjoy yoga, swimming and photography.

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
Last time I was back at Cornell was for our last Reunion in June of 2012. I designed our class logo and serve on the Class Counsel.

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
Taking turns cooking dinners in the dorm at Balch (my specialty was Eggplant Parm made with a hot plate and toaster oven), Relaxing in the sun at Flat Rock during senior week, visits to Treman State Park, Going for a Straight Break while studying at Uris Library, hanging out at the Nines learning to like the taste of beer (not)…

Tell us about the most interesting things you’ve done since 1977.
I created a brand of t-shirts called “Life is Balance®” that celebrates the sports & activities that balance our lives.

I swam with a whale shark while scuba diving in the Turks & Caicos and crossed Palau off my bucket list last year.

shery-neil-cornell-footballI’ve skied in the Rockies, New England, Europe, and the Canadian Rockies.

Please provide some items from your Bucket List.
• Go on a land Safari to Africa and then follow with a Sea Safari (diving off the coast of Africa)
• Travel & scuba dive all the great dive destinations — including Fiji, Tahiti, Maldives, Seychelles, Galapagos, Bali, etc.
• Travel through Italy
• Go back to Greece
• Live in another country or on a tropical island

What are you looking forward to at our 40th reunion in June, 2017?
Hanging out at Flat Rock with Lori Panzer and her husband Ken (It’s a reunion tradition we started way back); re-connecting with classmates and faculty that I haven’t seen in at least 5 years; walking around campus and collegetown ; and dancing in the tents!

Cara Lebowitz Kagan

cara-2Cornell Name: Cara Lebowitz

Current Home City: Dix Hills, New York

Your College: Human Ecology

Email Address: clk816@aol.com

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
After graduation, I went on to get my MA at NYU while I worked as a Nutrition Educator. I then spent 35 years as a Medical Office Administrator, managing my husband’s practice. We have 2 wonderful daughters, Michelle and Erica ’05, a great son- in-law, Joel ’99, a terrific soon to be daughter-in-law, Leslie, and three extraordinary grandchildren, Juliet, August and Jude!

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
I am fortunate in that I return to campus several times each year. Reunion, Homecoming and Council are weekends I so enjoy!

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
There are way too many classes to choose one favorite but I can certainly pick my least favorite–Organic Chemistry! The sight of Baker Hall still makes me shiver!!

cara-old-picWhich piece of information or advice did you pick up while a student at Cornell that has been useful in the past 40 years?
I think we all learned very soon after arriving on campus that Cornell is not for the faint of heart. I learned the lesson of the rewards that come from hard work–it has served me well for over 40 years!

What advice would you give to a member of the Class of 2019?

4 years go by so quickly! Enjoy every minute!

What are you looking forward to at our 40th reunion in June,
2017?

We are working hard to plan our best Reunion yet ! I hope everyone will come back for a wonderful weekend. CU in June!

Joseph Reina

carol-and-joeCurrent Home City: Bridgewater, NJ

Your College: Engineering

Email Address: jtreina@yahoo.com

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
Worked with a few classmates on a computer start up, owned a business and then in IT at ADP. Earned an MBA at Rutgers and now working as a Project Manager with past assignments at Blue Cross, Madison Square Garden, AIG, J&J, Novartis and currently BMS. Married Carol last year and we have four children between us. They are in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Florida so I see lots of travelling in my future!

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
June 2012 for our 35th Reunion. I have been our Class President for the past 10 years and was Reunion Chair for our 10th, 15th and 25th Reunions. I really enjoy the Reunion experience, meeting old friends and making new friends. It has been wonderful to see the University evolve, especially the engineering quad, over the years. I will see you all for our 40th.

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
Astronomy
Sociology
Wine tasting
EE Intro to Circuits

Which piece of information or advice did you pick up while a student at Cornell that has been useful in the past 40 years?
Keep asking questions. Don’t give up until you find the solution to the problem.

frisbee-team

Ultimate Frisbee Team

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
There are many. The coffee houses- Zeus at Goldwyn Smith, Green Dragon at Sibley and Bound for Glory at Anabel Taylor. Chapter House beer, Dancing at the Nines, Frisbee in the dust bowl, Joni Mitchell concert, MBC and PMP from the hot truck, on line all night for hockey tickets, road trips with the Frisbee team and the list goes on.

Tell us about the most interesting things you’ve done since 1977.
Playing in an Ultimate Frisbee championship game. Scuba diving in the Caribbean. Performing in many NJ local theater musicals, dramas and comedies. Wine tasting in Sonoma county. Beer tasting in Europe. Kayaking in NJ lakes. Road racing in 5k and 10k races.

Share any random or surprising encounters with Cornell or Cornellians since you left.
Finding out that Drew Nieporant owns a concession at Madison Square Garden. Ultimate Frisbee Team Reunion in 2013 attended by members from past to present. Meeting the head of Princeton dining at a Cornell-Princeton football game.

What advice would you give to a member of the Class of 2019?
Life is a journey, so enjoy every moment

Do you have a favorite memory from a Class of 1977 reunion?
Showing campus to my daughter and son-in-law, niece and cousins. Frisbee toss with Bill Nye. My speech at the 35th reunion. Sunning at Flatrock. Seeing the stars at the Observatory.

What are you looking forward to at our 40th reunion in June, 2017?
Reconnecting with old friends and new. I heard that my freshman roommate, Rich Sheroff is going! Dancing in the arts quad tents, walking on campus, seeing the stars at the Observatory, chatting with Bill Nye, climbing a gorge.

Donna Copley

Version 2

My current photo is from Cole’s wedding at the Outer Banks. Cole is the very tall young man with the sunglasses. Darragh is the gorgeous blond in the aqua dress.

Cornell Name: Donna Darragh

Current Home City: Myrtle Beach

Your College: Human Ecology

Email Address: cornell77reunion@gmail.com

Twitter Handle: @missdeeinpre

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
I obtained my Masters degree in Special Education from the College of William and Mary. I ended up staying in Virginia for the next 30 years working the public school system in a variety of positions in special education. My two proudest accomplishments are my children Darragh and Cole. They both live in Fredericksburg Virginia so I’m able to visit with both of them when I travel there. In 2007 I retired from teaching and relocated to Myrtle Beach, SC to take care of my father and also made the trip to New York frequently to spend time with my Mom to take care of her.

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
I attended RKO weekend this past September. I usually take a summer class with Cornell Adult University. I have gotten very familiar with campus and all the changes.

momandmedg

The picture from my Cornell days is from DG’s parents weekend in the fall of 1976 with my Mom. She’s even wearing a red outfit for the festivities.

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
Typing in the Hotel School
Developmental Psychology
Nutrition Labs

Which piece of information or advice did you pick up while a student at Cornell that has been useful in the past 40 years?
One of my professors told our class one day that people who are left handed are more adaptable since they live in a right handed world. She further provided some housekeeping advice. If you can’t dust, put lower watt bulbs in your fixtures as it will help hide the dust.

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
I can remember very clearly getting ready with all my fellow DG’s for graduation. We were pretty emotional as we knew it was the last time we would all be together to help each other get ready for any events.

Please provide some items from your Bucket List.
I want to travel more, I really want to go to Australia.

What advice would you give to a member of the Class of 2019?
Take advantage of opportunities outside of your studies. You will make more friends and find an activity that may inspire you.

Do you have a favorite memory from a Class of 1977 reunion?
I love our 20th. It was the last time we were on West Campus and stayed in the UHalls. There was time to talk and catch up with classmates on West Campus, where it all started.

What are you looking forward to at our 40th reunion in June, 2017?
I hope that I will see and reconnect with classmates who I haven’t been in touch with since graduation and make new friends.

 

Debbie Lechner

20th-anniversaryCornell Name: Debbie Lathrop

Current Home City: San Diego, CA

Your College: Arts and Sciences

Email Address: dll48@cornell.edu

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
After graduation I went into television production and worked in Boston, Chicago and LA. I met my husband, Bob, at the Huntington Library and moved to San Diego after we got married. We’ve had 3 terrific children who are currently in college or graduated and employed (hooray!) I enjoyed volunteering with their schools, sports teams and in scouts as they were growing up. I went to our local community college to learn computer information systems and digital design about 10 years ago and I currently create websites for small businesses and non-profits (including this fine website for the class of ’77!) I’m looking forward to traveling, reading and gardening until some grandchildren come along (which may be quite a while according to my kids).

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and what was the purpose of your visit?
I went to our 35th reunion and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Tri-Delta friends and going to all the amazing lectures and taking tours all over campus.

picture-064

Circa 1975, this was going to be the photo on the back cover of my great American novel.

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
Alison Lurie – Children’s Lit
Food Chemistry – Human Ecology class
Carl Sagan – Astronomy
I took a computer class and it was all about punching cards and keeping the deck together till you could drop it off at midnight to run in the computer. I wish I could go back and take some classes in 3-D modeling and graphics!

Provide your favorite memory of your time at Cornell.
Drinking jasmine tea, listening to classical music and reading/studying with rain pouring outside that little cafe in the back of the law school and sitting around the fireplace at Tri-Delta laughing, singing drinking songs and reciting poetry till the wee hours of the morning.

Share any random or surprising encounters with Cornell or
Cornellians since you left.

I love the reunions every few years with the Tri-Deltas of the 70s. We meet in a different area of the country each time and it’s been great to reconnect.

What advice would you give to a member of the Class of 2019?
Take classes that interest you in other colleges.  Take something for physical education (do they still have that requirement?) that you’ve never tried before like fencing (I did)! Explore all over the campus! Go to poetry readings, apple picking, concerts and hockey games. Have some ice cream at the Cornell Dairy on a regular basis. Keep in touch with friends you make in college.

Donna LaVallee

donna-lavalleeCornell Name: Donna Fulkerson

Current Home City: San Francisco

Your College: Human Ecology

Email Address: dkf7@cornell.edu

Twitter Handle: @LaValleeDonna

Tell us what you’re doing with your life:
Married Corky LaVallee ’77 graduation weekend and toured the world with his Navy Career: high point: 3 years in Yokosuka, Japan. I spent 25 years as a community nutritionist working primarily with families with small children, earning a MS from Syracuse University in the mid-80’s Also, had our daughter, Leslianne, in 1985. Moved to Rhode 01f5aef940f2b073759d56b585f6e50c8a26553c84Island in the late 80’s and managed to stay in one state until 2004! Went back to school at the University of Rhode Island and got a MS in Textile Conservation. Did an internship at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in NYC and an apprenticeship at The Textile Workshop in South Salem, NY. Moved to Connecticut in 2004 and San Francisco in 2006. Worked briefly at the de Young museum in San Francisco and then The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale. Have just changed to volunteering as a Health Navigator at the Community Wellness Center at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Have 3 fun grandsons who live too far away – in Massachusetts.

In what year did you last set foot on the Ithaca campus, and
what was the purpose of your visit?

5 years ago for our 35th Reunion! I try to get to all our class
reunions – I always have such fun and I make sure I’ll see the people
I want to see by reaching out and encouraging them to attend!

List your favorite class(es) while at Cornell.
Bronfennbrenner’s child development
all my food science classes
Marge Devine’s intro to nutrition

What are you looking forward to at our 40th reunion in June,
2017?

Seeing Friends and making new ones

Donna is the Class of ’77 Affinity Chair for our 40th Reunion