The Cornell community honors the memory of Emeritus professor Frank Young, a sociology researcher and friend to many.

June 18, 2021

Family and Colleagues Remember Emeritus Professor Frank Young as a Kind and Curious Researcher

Print More

Prof. Emeritus Frank W. Young, M.A. ’54, Ph.D. ’57, known for kindness and curiosity throughout his life, died at age 92 on April 26.

Born in Chicago, IL, on May 31, 1928, Young studied anthropology at Deep Springs College in Nevada and received a Ph.D in anthropology from Cornell University in 1957. After doing research around the world and teaching at San Diego State and the University of Pittsburgh, Frank Young returned to Cornell in 1962, where he spent the rest of his career. 

According to Frank’s son Douglas Young ’84, M.S. 86, his father’s early childhood during the Great Depression influenced his interest in helping individuals and their communities thrive. 

“His father lost his job in the Great Depression and basically had to sell vegetables and fruit to survive. It created a really personal view of what it meant for people who were disadvantaged,” Young said. “It was really the reason why he studied sociology, to see if we can find some insights about what causes people to prosper.”

Beyond his academic interest in inequality, Frank Young regularly donated to charities, including the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to Douglas and Christopher Young Ph.D. ‘93, Frank loved spending time outdoors. He often took his sons camping, skiing, canoeing and hiking. Young also enjoyed visiting museums, dancing Argentine tango and traveling. 

Ruth Young — Frank’s first wife, the mother of his two children and a collaborator on many of his early research projects — passed away in 2001. 

According to his second wife, Lorrie Young, Frank was always curious and often went out of his way to help strangers in need. He loved the Cornell libraries, enjoyed talking to his colleagues and did his best to make students feel welcome.

“When foreign students came to the United States, to Ithaca, he would always agreed to form a group, he would organize picnics,” Lorrie Young said. “They loved it. When you are not in your own country, it is nice to be welcomed by someone.”

 Prof. Eunice Rodriguez, pediatrics, Stanford, who used to work at Cornell, collaborated with Frank Young to understand the association between geographical characteristics and population health.

“He was a great colleague and mentor. He was always very enthusiastic about his work, about the research, and was also enthusiastic about involving younger colleagues as well as students in his work,” Rodriguez said. “He was always very eager to explore new ideas.”

According to his long time friend and colleague Prof. Emeritus Eugene Erickson, rural sociology, Frank Young was genuinely invested in getting to know everyone he met. The two collaborated on several projects, including research on urbanization in developing countries. According to Erickson, Young was a good teacher, dedicated mentor, and sharp researcher, and he stayed in touch with many of his former students over the years.

Like his mother, Christopher Young earned a sociology Ph.D. from Cornell. Christopher’s first research experience was helping Frank Young code data for a research project on European independence movements.

During his time at Cornell, Young taught a course on social theory regularly but would frequently discuss new theories with other professors well into his retirement, according to Erickson and Prof. Max Pfeffer, global development. In 1995, the year he retired, Young received the Distinguished Rural Sociologist award from the Rural Sociological Society.

After he retired and became a professor emeritus, Frank Young traveled with Lorrie and spent time outdoors, often visiting the Adirondack mountains and Yucatan, Mexico. He took his grandchildren canoeing and kayaking when they visited, and met his former colleagues for lunch regularly, while continuing his academic pursuits, publishing research until the last few years of his life.

Although she enjoyed all of her adventures with Frank, Lorrie misses their conversations the most.

“For me it was fun to just sit and talk to him in the evenings,” Young said. “That’s what I miss: being able to talk to him.”

His engagement in the Cornell community was fundamental to Frank Young’s life, according to his family and his former colleagues.

“He enjoyed the life of the academy,” Pfeffer said. “He was a professor in his soul.”