January 24, 2002

Architecture Receives Gift Of $20 Million

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The College of Architecture, Art and Planning announced in December that it received its largest donation ever — $20 million — from the estate of Cayuga County resident Ruth Price Thomas.

The donation came in the form of an endowment, which will free up funds for such other projects as constructing Millstein Hall, Rand Hall’s much needed replacement.


“The endowment gift comes at a critical time and will make an enormous difference in allowing us to make long-overdue changes. Ruth Thomas allows us once more to be creative and innovative — this time in our pedogogical goals and plans. We are grateful for her vision and profound understanding,” said Nasrine Seraji, chair of the department of architecture, in a recent press release.


Thomas has been a strong supporter of Cornell since 1975 when she and her husband, Leonard Brinton Thomas, set up the Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lecture Series in memory of their only child who died in a car accident while attending the architecture college. Later she donated repeatedly to the Cornell Journal of Architecture and established the Ruth P. Thomas Architecture Scholarship Fund.

More to Come

In addition to the Cornell gift, Thomas also made provisions in her estate for Wells College to receive $20 million. Other beneficiaries include local organizations and schools such as Cayuga County Community College, the American Red Cross of Cayuga County, the Cayuga County ASPCA, the Cayuga Health Association and the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center.


“Mrs. Thomas really wanted to help young men and women to attain quality education,” said Linda Kabelac ’69, a major gifts officer for the University who worked with Thomas.

Thomas was also very dedicated to the arts, according to Kabelac, and for many years she supported the Merry-Go-Round theater In Auburn.

“She was a very broad-minded individual,” Kabelac said, “and as a painter herself, she wanted young people to be able to experience art.”

Originally from Berlin, Thomas fled Germany to avoid the Holocaust right before the beginning of World War II. She emigrated first to Cuba and then settled in New York City where she opened a successful window display studio. She married her husband, who was working as a lawyer for Pfizer, in 1947. The two moved to Cayuga County in 1948 and bought a thouroughbred horse farm outside of Auburn.

Thomas died on Aug. 29, 2001 in the Auburn Nursing home at age 88.

While she was alive, Thomas was an active volunteer in the Cayuga community. “My aunt volunteered with Mrs. Thomas,” Kabelac said. “I used to hear about what a wonderful, caring individual she was. She was very bright, very sweet…. Thank God there are people out there like her who care so much about the future of our university.”

Archived article by Freda Ready