For Robert (Bob) ’53 and Helen Harrison ’55 Appel, giving back to Cornell is a way to say thank you for a lifetime of opportunities their education made possible for them. The two have been dedicated volunteers and philanthropists for many years.
“Cornell has been so important in our lives,” Helen says. “We received a top-notch education and we met so many wonderful people.”
The Appels are drawn to Cornell’s inclusive approach to education, “even the way they approached diversity way back when we started,” Bob says. “At first it was women, but it was way ahead of everyone else. It very much impressed us and became a very important part of our life.”
Helen benefited personally from Cornell’s inclusivity. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1955, beginning a long career as a passionate teacher and historian.
“Cornell and Penn were the only two Ivy League schools that allowed women to attend class on campus,” she recalls. “As a native of Philadelphia, I didn’t want to go to the University of Pennsylvania.”
Now retired, Helen continues to teach history in the Continuing Education Program at Hunter College. “I have been a schoolteacher all my life, much of it due to the extraordinary history professors that I met at Cornell,” she says.
Helen is also a well-known and beloved volunteer, presidential councillor, and member emerita of the Arts and Sciences Advisory Council. She has served on the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art Advisory Council, President’s Council of Cornell Women, Cornell University Council, and as cochair of the Tower Club, in addition to other roles across the university.
Bob earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1953. He spent his career in investment management, most recently as founder and president of Appel Associates.
“There comes a time in life where you have to give back,” he says. “Cornell has always been high on our list of things to be philanthropic about because we believe in the mission.”
A widely admired trustee emeritus and presidential councillor, Bob is vice chair of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Fellows. During his eight-year tenure as trustee, Bob chaired the Investment Committee and served on the Executive Committee, among many other roles.
His decades of Cornell leadership include chairing Weill Cornell Medicine’s “Discoveries that Make a Difference” campaign, countless leadership roles in university fundraising, chairing and co-chairing several class Reunion campaign committees, and co-chairing the Tower Club with Helen.
The fact that they both graduated from Cornell and share an affection for the university has made it easier to participate as volunteers and philanthropists, the couple says. The generosity of their partnership has touched critically important areas across the university. Appel Commons honors their support of the North Campus Residential Initiative, and the Appel Alzheimer’s Disease Research Institute recognizes their leadership at Weill Cornell Medicine.
The Appels also have been key supporters of scholarships and fellowships, the Lincoln Hall renovation, and the Johnson Museum of Art expansion. They established the Robert J. Appel Professor in Molecular Biology and Genetics and Robinson-Appel Humanitarian Awards.
The Appels agree that what makes the university so special is the community of like-minded friends, on campus and off, that they have worked with since their days as young alumni.
“We had so many Cornellians at our wedding that we had to sing the alma mater,” Helen says. “We did it again when we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary.”
Written by Sally Parker, freelance writer