Prof. Daniel Sisler ’62 — the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, a Cornell trustee emeritus and retiring chair of the Helen Keller International Board of Trustees — passed away on Nov. 23 from a sudden cardiac arrest at his home in Ithaca. He was 87.
Despite becoming blind after an explosion at an abandoned mining site during military training in 1954, Sisler completed his bachelor and master’s degree in agricultural economics and farm policy from Purdue University and earned his doctoral degree from Cornell in agricultural economics, according to his son, Peter Sisler.
Sisler joined the Cornell faculty and began his 34-year teaching career in 1961. Some of his students have “gone on to be world leaders in certain areas of the world,” according to David Call ’54, the former Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“I think [Sisler’s] biggest accomplishments were obviously what his students learned,” Call said. “He trained almost 19 Ph.D. students. This is a man who went to visit his graduate students in Nepal or Africa or wherever they were. He went everywhere and did everything.”
At Cornell, Sisler taught over 12,000 undergraduates in his introductory geography and world economy course, with up to 500 students taking the course every year, according to Sisler.
Prof. Christopher Barrett, applied economics and management, called Sisler a “legendary instructor.”
“If you talked to [Sisler’s] former students, they all just gushed about what an inspiring lecturer he was,” he said. “One thing that he will always be remembered for was his true gift for teaching.”
Within three years at Cornell, Sisler was named the “Teacher of Merit” in 1964 and went on to receive numerous awards, including the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1975, the Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in 1978 and the Outstanding Faculty Award from Cornell in 2005, according to his son.
Call said that “he was probably one of the best teachers we ever had in the college if not the university.”
“[Sisler] was very very dedicated to his students,” Call said. “Everyone of [his students], I’m sure, remember him because it was just an experience — partly because he lost his sight and you didn’t have many professors who couldn’t see, and he had this fantastic memory. By the end of the year, he knew a lot of the students by their voice.”
Barrett also praised Sisler’s “incredible warmth,” saying he was always “firm in his opinions” but always “left somebody who disagreed with him feeling deeply respected.”
“Here was a man who was blinded and he would travel the world on his own,” he said. “Where some of us see limits, he just saw a different way of having to do things, and there’s a very deep lesson in that for all of us. It’s a huge loss that he’s not here to remind us of the opportunities we all have on a daily basis in the incredibly insightful and warm way he always did.”
A memorial service will be held at Kendal at Ithaca on Dec. 10 at 11 a.m.