William (Bill) Day ’59 has been giving back to Cornell almost since the moment he graduated. He first began contributing to the university to be supportive of his wife, Susan (Sue) Phelps Day ’60 M Ed ’62, whom he calls “a consummate volunteer.” Sue was named in the inaugural group of Frank H.T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award recipients in 1995.
Bill and Sue met as undergraduate students through the Episcopal Church at Cornell.
“I applied to a dozen schools and was accepted by all of them, and I kind of boiled down to a choice between Cornell and MIT. I figured the most important thing in my life is finding a spouse. MIT was all male at that point. I’m glad I went [to Cornell]!” Bill said.
At Cornell, Bill was active in sprint football, then known as 150 football, and was a member of Alpha Tau Omega. There he met classmate David Atkinson ’60, a future namesake of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. Bill would later support his classmate on the advisory board for Cornell Atkinson.
“But when Sue and I fell in love, that was most important,” Bill said. “We were engaged by the time we graduated.” Following graduation, Bill completed his six-month Army ROTC active-duty commitment. One week later, Bill and Sue were married.
Bill describes himself as an “energy buff,” with expertise in power generation through his career and longstanding professional interest in gas turbines.
He earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering through a doctoral program sponsored by GE. “My father worked his entire career at GE and I followed in his footsteps,” said Bill. The company, he said, would “pay for everything, including salary, and if you survive, you’ll end up with a PhD.” Bill was the only one out of 138 GE doctoral students in that cohort to graduate from the program.
Bill worked at GE for 18 years, advancing to manager of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and US Department of Energy (DOE) development programs in the industrial gas turbine industry, among other accomplishments. He later worked for United Technologies, where he developed new tech for industrial gas turbines derived from Pratt & Whitney engines. Bill also founded and was chairman of the board of the Gas Turbine Association, and worked for Clemson University, assisting with a DOE fellowship program.
Bill credits all his Cornell volunteer efforts as a tribute to his wife. Among her many contributions, Sue has been a longtime president of the Class of 1960, president of the Cornell Association of Class Officers (CACO), an active Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN) volunteer for many years, and well as heavily involved in the Cornell Club of Greater Hartford and the Cornell Club of the Greater Capital District (Schenectady).
Inspired by Sue, Bill has been a key part of the Class of 1959—as an annual fund representative encouraging giving among his classmates, and as a member of the class council, identifying affinity groups.
Bill and Sue have attended every Reunion for their class years, minus one each: Sue missed her 60th Reunion because of COVID-19 cancellations, and Bill skipped while he was absorbed in attending his PhD program. Throughout the years, they’ve made sure to always attend Cornelliana Night.
Bill is also a life member of the Cornell University Council, and has been involved in CAAAN for many decades, hosting yearly send-offs for local students on behalf of the Cornell Club of Greater Hartford. He is also a part of the Cayuga Society and the Tower Club.
The Days have many Cornell familial connections, including their son Andrew P. Day ’84, daughter Carolyn Day Flowers ’89, and granddaughter Emily Day ’19.
“My whole life my parents have been active Cornellians,” Carolyn said, remembering Cornell alumni gatherings at her family’s house when she was in elementary school, and her parents interviewing prospective students for CAAAN while she was younger than a prospective student herself.
“Seeing how both of my parents continue to give back to the university of their time, their energy, their resources, and the impact that it had on other students… that was a great demonstration of what Cornell can do,” Carolyn said.