Los Angeles can be overwhelming, especially for newcomers. But Los Angeles is also the home to one of the largest concentrations of Cornellians outside of New York state. There are over 6,000 Cornell alumni living within the borders of Los Angeles and Riverside counties! The Cornell Club of Los Angeles is here to support these alumni, providing a wide array of events. In addition to all of our activities, CCLA is also very active in admissions, networking and scholarship fundraising. As a result, we have the highest percentage of membership of all large Cornell alumni associations. So if you are a Cornell alumnus, please take a moment to join CCLA and become a part of your Los Angeles Cornell community.
Brief Anecdotal History of The Cornell Club of Los Angeles
The Cornell Club of Southern California was established circa 1970. At that time, it encompassed all of Southern California from San Diego to Santa Barbara and stretched inland into the desert communities. The founding members and board members tended to come from the class of 1956 or thereabouts. Meetings were viable as commuting was not an obstacle and freeways were relatively open in the evening. As traffic and congestion increased, San Diego broke off and formed their own club in the early 1980’s.
The early Cornell Club of SoCal life revolved around several large, labor intensive, annual events per year including:
- Ivy League Dinner Dance
- Ivy League Boat Parade
- Pageant of the Masters (Laguna Beach)
- Hollywood Bowl event
- A Day at the Races – Hollywood Park and Santa Anita
- Clambake (Laguna Beach)
- Ivy League Ensenada Yacht Race
Throughout the 1980’s and into the 90’s, board meetings were often held at various Hyatt Hotels where board
member Brigit Murphy used her connections to secure board rooms for us! In the 90’s, the meetings started to shift primarily to Curtis Reis’s Alliance Bank board room in Culver City as it was centrally located and had easy parking! Over the years, the meeting has moved through various board rooms and offices across LA.
CAACSC and Orange County
In 1993, discussions began to split the club into two organizations, Orange County and Los Angeles. This was due to increasing logistics, declining attendance, and increasing traffic. In 1993 the split was agreed upon. Richard Stearns was president of the CCLA and Debbie Ewing was president of the CC of OC. In July 1993, announcements went out to OC alumni announcing the new club. Over the course of 1993 and 1994 the two organizations were successfully launched.
Objectives and Purposes (per original bylaws)
- Foster and promote the interests of the University
- Solicit Contributions for University annual fund drive
- Maintain and administer programs to identify, select and advise capable applicants
- Maintain a scholarship fund for local students
- Organize and conduct educational and social interchanges among alumni
Club Corporate and Tax Status
In October 1995, CCLA was granted exemption from state franchise or income tax. In November 1995, the club received tax exempt status as a 501 C 3 organization. In July 1995 the CCLA Articles of Incorporation were submitted to and approved by CA Secretary of State. Treasurer Cruz Saavedra was the architect of this change.
History of Club Presidents
81 - 83 Sid Turkish
83 - 85 Carol Mead
85 - 87 Henry Chin
87 - 89 Alan Beimfohr
89 - 91 Ann Vitullo
91 - 93 Creighton Marcott
93 - 95 Richard Stearns
95 - 97 Nancy Mills (Frank Rhodes Exemplary Alumnus Honoree)
97 - 99 Michael Eames
99 – 01 Andy Traum
01 – 03 Bart Mills (Frank Rhodes Exemplary Alumnus Honoree)
03 - 05 Ellen Permutter
05 - 07 Cynthia Santisi
07 - 09 John Melissinos
09 - 11 Heather Wells
11 - 13 Mindy Schleger
13 - 15 Erin Flinn
15 – 17 Kim Bixler
17 - 19 Adam Vagley
19 - 21 Lynell Davis
21 – 23 Karen Wolcott
The CCLA Board of Directors
The CCLA board has evolved and grown over the years. Roughly 20-30 local alums sit on the board and each is assigned a specific area of responsibility. These areas have changed over time as technology and events and the needs of the club have changed. Board members tend to stay on for long tenures and often hold 4 or 5 different positions.
Visiting University Presidents, Deans and Notables
- Frank Rhodes
- Jeff Lehman
- David Skorton
- Robert Swieringa
- Alan Mathios
- Harry Katz
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- James Mass
- Bill Nye
- Christopher Reeves
- Ed Marinaro
- Hal Gould
- Theodore Lowi
- Yervant Terzian
- Alison Lurie
- Susan Murphy
- Corey Earle
Cornell Club Events Milestones and Memories
As of this writing, CCLA hosts upwards of 75 events per year. The event calendar spans educational, athletic, networking, music, films, tours, etc. The club is closely linked to CAAAN, College alumni associations and professionally oriented Cornell groups including real estate, engineering, Hollywood and business networking. CCLA works with University staff members to organize Cornell leadership and faculty speaker events locally, regionally, nationally and online.
The phonathon was a huge annual event that was co-organized by the local club and the University. Hundreds of local alumni were organized in large office spaces located around LA. Every alum in the Southern California and Southwest US territory was contacted in this major effort to raise funds for Cornell. Ended in 2010+
Cornell Education Retreats
Throughout the 80’s and 90’ and into the 21st century, CCLA, in conjunction with University staff, organized weekend and midweek retreats. These themes ranged from Economics to Politics to Astronomy to Education to Soviet/European Busijness Opportunities and were 2-3 day events with presentations, speakers, parties, etc.
Cornell at The Hollywood Bowl
In 1981, the Cornell Club of Southern California bought a batch of tickets to opening night at the Hollywood Bowl. It was organized as a fun group event and alums were encouraged to meet before the show at a picnic ground to celebrate together. Over the next 40 years, this event became an annual staple in the club schedule. The event involved into a private dinner at an enclosed dining patio at the base of the Bowl with a wonderfully organized dinner. The night continues to the present day.
Our local clubs raised funds for local students to offset their expenses attending Cornell from Los Angeles. These local efforts began in the 1970’s and continue to present day. Each year, candidates were interviewed by board members and 6 were selected, all local. The Tradition Scholarship Program was launched in 1986 and, over the years, grew to 4 separate Tradition Scholarships, fully funded by CCLA, enabling students to receive significant financial rewards and subsidies. In 1998 a separate scholarship endowment fund was established. By 2001, this fund reached $50,000. In 2002, the university took over the role of selecting the local students who would be receiving scholarships. In 2003, the Cornell Club of LA Scholarship Trust was established.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, CCLA voted to fund several Cornell Tradition scholarships for deserving students from Southern California. At that time, Cornell required $25,000 to fund a single Tradition scholarship, but it allowed payments to be made over a number of years. Initially, CCLA held annual fundraising events – including its long-standing scholarship dinners – to meet its Tradition commitments. In the mid-1990s, however, CCLA acted on new board member Jeffrey Cowan’s proposal that the club create an endowment to ensure its ability to fund scholarships even during lean times. The SoCal alumni community responded enthusiastically. Within a few years, CCLA’s endowment reached its target of $50,000 and the club resumed funding new Tradition scholarships. For 25 years, CCLA has implemented a consistent strategy of not only regular fundraising events but also recognized investing principles (e.g., low fee, no load mutual funds, diversification, dollar cost averaging, asset allocation, and re-balancing). These efforts bore fruit even while CCLA had to endure three bear markets (the crash of tech stocks in 2000, the 2008-2009 Recession, and the 2020 Covid19 pandemic). Today, CCLA’s endowment exceeds $600,000 even after funding hundreds of thousands of dollars for undergraduate scholarships.
Monte Carlo Night
1988 - 1990 Marina Beach Hotel. These events were huge and well attended and raised between $10,000 and $20,000 per year for scholarship funds. The 1988 evening at the newly opened Marina Beach Hotel in Marina Del Rey took fundraising in a different direction and helped usher in the notion of raising large amounts of money in single programs.
Scholarship Dinners and Fundraising
In 1992, the club was burned out on doing the huge labor intensive events like Monte Carlo Night. The club decided to organize scholarship dinners, organized and hosted by individual alums who opened their homes and welcomed between 8 and 20 guests to their home, each of whom made a $50 - $250 contribution. In the very first year, the program raised over $10,000 for scholarships! Such a great success, the program was expanded and ran for nearly 30 years, taking in up to $26,000 a year in scholarship funds! With no expenses borne by the club or the University.
Control of Club Database and Finances
In the early 1990s the CCLA “database” was a file from the university that sat on one person’s computer, was manually updated, and was the sole source of mailing labels for newsletters and membership renewals. Finances were maintained on a hand-written ledger by our club administrator at the time, Carol Mead. The database was a constant source of frustration as it often had incorrect addresses. Michael Eames, who was club president in 1997, teamed up with Andy Traum, then newsletter editor, to convert the existing “database” to a locally managed Filemaker Pro database that could be used for tracking member addresses and membership status and overall communication. Carol was a bit of a novice with computers but with some help and encouragement was able to make the transition from the hardcopy ledger to the then “state-of-the-art” database.
A big boost to the integrity of the club database was the Directory 2000 project. Michael Eames and Andy Traum teamed up again to turn the database into a published directory of local area alumni that could be provided to all club members. While the intent of the project was to boost membership, which it did – over 700 paid members - it also required a validation of the data that the university provided to ensure its accuracy. All of these updates were captured in the Filemaker Pro database. Carol Mead continued to make updates to keep it current.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the University offered a plan to all local clubs which would manage dues, finances, website and database. This plan would consolidate multiple dues payments, take control of mailings and databases, fund certain club events and manage club accounts and scholarship payments. The club considered the pros and cons of the University platform and made the decision to stay independent.
Overview and history of our website
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the internet was first booming, the club was constantly discussing needing a website. There were some early attempts at a website, but they were not successful because the club could not find a “webmaster or webmistress” with the time to constantly update the website.
In 2004 the Ivy League Association of Southern California hosted a conference that Michael Eames and Andy Traum attended. At the conference, another local club shared their experience with Alumni Magnet, a web hosting service focused on alumni organizations. The service made it easy for a club to maintain a website but also integrated an alumni database, event information, and on-line payments. Michael and Andy immediately saw the potential and after several discussions with Alumni Magnet, received board approval to move ahead with setting up a new website on the Alumni Magnet platform. They worked with Alumni Magnet to incorporate the data from the Filemaker Pro database into the new system which went live in 2005. That is the system still in use in 2021.
Cornell and Theatre in LA
In 1988, the NY producers announced that Phantom would play at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center in LA. We utilized our Cornell connections at the Music Center and bought a block of 50 tickets for the show which was scheduled to perform in 1999. A reception was organized and the event was a huge success. This model was followed, over the years, for similar evenings where we, under the stewardship of Kim Bixler, organized receptions, presentations and exclusive evenings for shows including: Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen and the The Lion King.
Ivy League Ensenada Yacht Race
In 1977, the Ivy League Association of Southern California entered the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race, which took place in April. The event was originally organized prior to WW2 and this was the 43rd running of the race. Turns out there were many Ivy Leaguers who were Yachting enthusiasts and by 1990 there were over 20 Ivy League entries into the race with a total field of over 650 yachts! In 199x, the event was marked by an unfortunate event which was talked about for years. One of our club participants was assisting with a winching and dropped a very expensive winch into the Pacific Ocean. Oh Well, club loss! Thanks to Ed McDowell and Bob and Kathy Patterson who provided their vessels year after year!
Of all of the Cornell organized events in Southern California, perhaps none was more eagerly anticipated than the annual Clam Bake. And none was more labor intensive! The first clambake was organized in 1977 and the event continued for 14 years until it became logistically untenable. The club found a private beach in Laguna Beach that was only accessed by a private staircase. The logistics were monumental with the importing, storing, schlepping, delivery and set up of Live Maine lobsters, kegs of beer, tons of food and games and all of the accoutrements of a real clam back. It included the backbreaking digging of the firepits the night before and then the overnight cultivation of the fires, cooking racks, etc. In its final year, 1990, the event was moved to a public beach at Huntington State Beach.
Curtis was, for decades, the heart and soul of the Cornell Club of So Cal and Los Angeles. His parents were Cornell 1929 and his sister and brother in-law Dale and DickJohnson were 1957 and 1958. He graduated in 1956 and spent 2 years in the US Army. Curtis was elected to the Cornell Board of Trustees in 1983. He was an avid participant and leader in dozens of Cornell related organizations. In 1968 Curtis co-founded Cornell Adult University, a thriving organization and program, to this day. Curtis spent his professional life in Banking and founded and led Alliance Bank, a regional publicly held commercial bank. Curtis’ family has long been avid tennis players, fans and supporters. Curtis’ family spearheaded the development and construction of the Reis Tennis Center at Cornell. Curtis’ children and grandchildren also attended Cornell. Curtis was unwavering in his support and love for Cornell and Cornellians. He led and hosted our local board meetings for over 20 years. In 2000, Curtis received the university Frank Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award. Curtis passed away in 2009.
The Treasury Theft
In 2005, discrepancies in the CCLA checking accounts were noted by the president, club secretary and legal consultant. The matter was investigated and it was discovered that the (then) current treasurer had been moving money out of Cornell accounts for personal use. He was covering up by transferring funds from various other CCLA accounts. At the end of the day, the board let him know they were aware of his theft of approximately $28,000 in 2003 and $21,500 in 2004. The treasurer made partial recompense and was removed from his position and the board.
Cornell in Hollywood
(CiH) was the brainchild of the late Curtis Reis. In the late 1980s he recognized the value of pursuing alumni who held top jobs in Hollywood, and he enlisted two young alumni to organize programming. They set up an evening featuring Cornellian Gordon Davidson, head of one of the big LA theaters. As the young alumni moved on, Nancy Mills and Nick Muccini stepped into the role of CiH co-chairs, and began organizing events and collecting names of alums working in entertainment. Nick and Nancy set up a board of directors filled with alumni, prominent in Hollywood. Their role was to serve as advisors and cheerleaders. The board meets sporadically. When the Theater Arts Department was being pressured to eliminate classes, the head of the department came out to rally support. When Cornell Cinema was in a financial crunch, Mary Fessenden, head of the cinema, came out to rally support from CCLA and Cornell in Hollywood.
CCLA membership hovered in the 200 -300 member range up until the mid 1980’s. Membership has always been a challenge. By the late 1980s we got as low as 200 members. The club then revamped its membership drive and initiative and increased the number of events per month and year. The club also offered certain events that were exclusive to members only. Over the span of 3 years, we tripled our membership and brought it up to a steady 600+ per year. Around 2010, membership hit 800 for the first time. After that time, membership dropped back to the 600 +/- range. In 2020, Covid ravaged our membership drive and sign-ups as we were unable to have live events for a full calendar year. 2021 marks a rebuilding year for membership numbers.
The Cornell Club of Southern California started producing a printed newsletter in approximately 1970. It was a one page piece with much of it dedicated to the “President’s note”. Over the course of the 1980’s and into the 90’, the number of events per month and year increased dramatically and the newsletter became the primary vehicle for both event announcements and sign ups (via mail). The format expanded to 4 pages and, in busy months, expanded to 8 pages. The cost to produce and mail climbed but was offset by growing membership numbers. Around 2010, the printed newsletter went online and members started going online to learn about and sign up for events. Readership of the physical piece dropped and we eventually went to an annual printed newsletter.
Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference
Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference (CALC) is the University's annual flagship event for Cornell's volunteer community from around the world. Alumni gather to gain a broad University perspective, develop new skill sets and to make new Big Red connections. Cornell Club of Los Angeles (CCLA) has underwritten a portion of the fees for Board Members to attend CALC because it strongly believes that supporting the development of our leadership will enhance their impact and enjoyment while serving on CCLA and provide a vision of how to create a future Cornell volunteer career path both in LA and at a University level.
CAAAN has a long, and important, history in the Los Angeles area. Previously known at the Alumni Secondary Schools Committee, CCLA’s first bylaws established a committee to meet with applicants and provide support to the Undergraduate Admissions Office in its efforts to recruit outstanding students from out community. During the 1987-1988 admissions recruitment cycle, the Undergraduate Admissions Office changed the name of the committee to the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN). CAAAN members are volunteers who serve as enthusiastic ambassadors to prospective students, families, and schools. They meet individually with first-year applicants, represent the university at college fairs, and host local reception for admitted and entering students. This year, all CAAAN activities are being completed virtually.
CAAAN activities have grown in the Los Angeles area over the decades as the applicant numbers have increased dramatically. The Los Angeles area currently hosts 10 CAAAN committees and includes a strong leadership team and volunteer base who are at the ready to help meet with our diverse applicant pool. CAAAN welcomes all alumni volunteers who are excited to participate in the recruitment process.
CCLA and The Covid Pandemic 2020 -2021
Lynell Davis’ presidency commenced in CCLA’s traditional manner in 2019 with a plethora of events including the Annual Dodger Event and Beach Bash. CCLA held happy hours, Inter Ivy Events, and CCLA’s flagship Scholarship Dinner program. In March of 2020, the club held its live bi-monthly board meeting and, for the first time, board members, due to early Covid warnings, were invited to attend via Zoom. The first Zoom for most attendees! Covid took its course but during the Pandemic CCLA was not dormant!
Just prior to the Pandemic, the Board had undertaken an audit of its processes in an effort to optimize the running of the Club. CCLA was also in the process of updating its corporate By Laws. Taking into account some of the recommendations from the audit, in early 2020 the Board voted to digitize its financials (including but not limited to moving to a bank that has more e-banking options), including but not limited to adopting a platform for electronic payments (i.e. Zelle/Venmo) which will both allow for the ease of payments on site at events as well as the reimbursement of Board members as they spearhead events. This of course would prove even more valuable during the Pandemic when all CCLA events went virtual.
Consistent with the University’s recommendations, CCLA stopped hosting in person events, including Board meetings in March 2020. As of October 2021, we have yet to resume in person events and/or meetings but hope to be able to do so in short order. CCLA, like most every other organization worldwide, went digital. CCLA became well acquainted with Zoom and began hosting virtual events as early as April 2020. We hosted a virtual trivia night, a comedy night, a language lesson, and held virtual panels and discussions. CCLA even had the pleasure of hosting a virtual talk by our very own Kim Bixler, on her book and life experience Growing Up in a Frank Lloyd Wright House. Despite the Zoom fatigue, CCLA was still able to provide its community with outlets to stave off the cabin fever of the Pandemic induced lockdowns.
CCLA, like organizations worldwide, saw a dip in our investments at the outset of the pandemic. Nevertheless, our Finance & Investment Committee was hard at work reviewing market trends in the context of similar non-profit organizations. During the pandemic the Finance Committee finalized a new Investment Policy Statement (IPS) for the Club. Consistent with some of the audit’s recommendations, CCLA memorialized practices around selecting investments with the long-term goals of the Club at the center. Despite the initial dip, by the end of FY 2021, the Club’s investments had recouped and, consistent with the Club’s IPS, despite the Pandemic, CCLA was still able to donate $32,000 to the University for FY2021.