Happy 100th, Mr. Vanneman
Happy 100th, Mr. Vanneman
If the weather hadn't been so lousy around Boston and Albany that week back in 1899, Cornell might never have gained one of its most phenomenally loyal alumni. When a certain aspiring engineer visited MIT, he was greeted by pea-soup fog; he went on to RPI and encountered a disheartening drizzle. So he continued west. "He came down along the lake and arrived in Ithaca and the Cornell campus on a glorious spring morning, and that did it," recalls his son, Bill Vanneman '31. "He wanted to go to Cornell."
C. Reeve Vanneman 1903 would go on to be an active alumnus—but nothing compared to his son, whose name has come to embody Big Red spirit. Bill Vanneman—who turns 100 on April 6—has long been a fixture at Reunion, an unfailingly friendly and courtly figure decked out in his signature striped blazer covered in commemorative pins (including a portrait of himself as a dashing undergraduate). The long-serving president of his class and a veteran Class Notes correspondent—not to mention a perennial favorite among alumni affairs staff—Vanneman sometimes wears a red fedora to Reunion, sometimes a Cornell baseball cap. But he always sports red-and-white-striped socks, acquired at Lord & Taylor decades ago and lovingly maintained for just such occasions.
An only child reared in Albany, New York, Vanneman attended Big Red football games and crew races with his father— who, he says, "started bending the twig fairly early" in favor of attending the alma mater. "Of course," he admits, "when my two boys came along, I did a little twig-bending too." (Sons Bill Jr. '65 and Reeve "Ting" '67 proved pliable; other Cornellians in the family tree include an uncle, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter.) Vanneman studied English and economics on the Hill, rowed JV crew, and served as secretary of Kappa Alpha fraternity. "At the time, it was one of the archaic institutions on campus," he says. "We had to wear stiff collars to dinner. And they had a rule that you couldn't date Cornell co-eds, even though it was difficult for our dates to get to Ithaca from anywhere." He went on to a Harvard MBA, wartime service in the form of a Navy desk job, and a career in law book publishing. He and his first wife, nicknamed Rosebud, had two sons, five grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. (She passed away in 1990 after more than fifty years of marriage; he and second wife Happy were together for three years before her death in 1995.)
With the exception of the war years, Vanneman has rarely missed a Cornell Reunion—and for the past two decades, as a member of the Continuous Reunion Club, he has attended annually. His unflagging belief in the importance of alumni participation in class events prompted CACO to found the Bill Vanneman '31 Outstanding Class Leader Award, with the first bestowed on its namesake. Though Vanneman has lost much of his hearing, he's still in reasonably good health as he celebrates his centennial; he's an active member of his Cape Cod retirement community, where he delivers newspapers to fellow residents each morning. To what does he attribute his longevity? "I have wondered about that," he says, "and I can only attribute it to the genes that my parents gave me."