Bill Vanneman ’31 died Tuesday, just months before the first 80th reunion ever held at Cornell. He was 102.
Vanneman served as the president of the Class of 1931 since he graduated, according to Corey Earle ’07, an alumni affairs officer. Additionally, Earle said, Vanneman was prominently involved in organizing what will be Cornell’s first 80th class reunion, to be held in June.
Vanneman will be remembered for his extensive service to Cornell, Earle said.
“He was known for his enthusiasm and passion for the University,” he said. “He was someone who was committed to Cornell and Cornell alumni above all else.”
James Roberts, editor and publisher of the Cornell Alumni Magazine, which recently wrote about Vanneman’s “extraordinary” history with Cornell and the close connection he kept with the University.
“From the moment he graduated, he was involved with his class and never stopped,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he saw Vanneman almost every year when he returned for the University’s alumni leadership conferences and reunions.
As the Class of 1931 correspondent, Vanneman stayed in close contact with his classmates and the University, according to Roberts.
“When you talked to Bill, you got a sense of the history of the University that you just could not get from any other person — there was just no one like Bill,” he said.
Vanneman will leave his legacy at Cornell through the Bill Vanneman ’31 Outstanding Class Leader Award, established in 2005 to honor alumni that show excellence in service to their respective classes. Vanneman himself was the first recipient of the award, Roberts said.
“That sort of capped his whole career as an involved alum,” Roberts said. “It really said that he was the embodiment of what we were looking for in people.”
Roberts said Cornellians who never knew Vanneman should be aware of his humble dedication to the University.
“He never said, ‘This is how things should be done, I wish Cornell did this or that.’ He was just always grateful to be involved,” he said. “He embodied a spirit that maybe isn’t there in everybody.”
Vanneman, a former vice president of Matthew Bender & Co., had been both a member and chairman of the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations, according to a University press release.
One of Vanneman’s notable contributions was helping the Class of 1931 to transfer funds from their treasury to to fill a $9,000 deficit that the Class of 2000 faced in planning its first reunion in 2005, said Earle, an alumni relations officer.
Adele Robinette, class notes editor and associate publisher for the Cornell Alumni Magazine, knew Vanneman for more than 10 years and emphasized his passion for Cornell.
“Cornell was so integrated into his life … It wasn’t just a side interest. His apartment is filled with Cornell stuff,” she said.
Furthermore, she said it was Vanneman’s life work to encourage other alumni to become involved in the University.
“That’s pretty much what he became famous for,” Robinette said. “He believed in how rewarding it would be, not just for Cornell, but for alumni themselves, if they could realize the joy of being involved in their class and being involved in Cornell.”
Robinette said Vanneman had celebrated a “vibrant” birthday party in Boston just weeks ago and was planning to attend the reunion at Cornell in June.
Vanneman grew up in Albany, N.Y., and had two sons, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.