With a strong Kentucky twang, the elderly gentleman wearing a straw hat, white pants, and white shoes observed, “Sure is raining cats and dogs!”
The Bartels family and the Kentucky gentleman stood together just inside Risley Hall, looking out the door at the storm and waiting for it to subside. It was Cornell’s Reunion weekend, 1960. Eleven-year-old Phil Bartels was enchanted by the diminutive, sharply dressed old man, who identified himself as a member of the Class of 1893. Meeting him was yet another piece of evidence that pointed to one conclusion: Cornellians were a friendly, fascinatingly diverse, happy bunch, and they loved returning to campus even decades after graduating.
Phil Bartels’s own parents, Henry and Nancy Bartels, both Class of 1948, made sure to return to Ithaca and frequently brought Phil and his younger brother along to the Reunion beer tents, where alumni in red-and-white-striped blazers visited and reminisced, told jokes, and danced to the band music.
“By my junior year of high school, I knew that I wanted to go to Cornell. I liked the people, the alumni, my parents’ classmates. For me, it was no question,” remembers Phil. (He calls his younger brother “the renegade of the family” for choosing Harvard over Cornell.)
Following in his parents’ footsteps, Phil attended Cornell and has donated his time and expertise to nonprofit organizations he cares about all his adult life. He is a former president of the Greenwich Audubon Society and a former board chair at the University of New Haven. He has donated thousands of hours to help various nonprofit organizations with complex legal issues.
For over 40 years, Cornell University has been a primary recipient of Phil’s charitable work. As a tax and trial attorney trained at the University of Chicago Law School and as an attorney at the second largest law firm in Connecticut, Phil has lent his expertise to numerous parts of Cornell. He is a life member of the University Council and an Honorary Member of the Quill and Dagger Honor Society. Phil helped his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, and several other fraternities on campus to form tax-exempt educational corporations, a status that has led to increased financial stability and has enabled them to accept alumni donations. Because of Phil, the Lab of Ornithology, the Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams, the Paleontological Research Institution, and Cornell’s Shoals Marine Laboratory have improved their governance and financial outlooks.
A past president of his class, he always returns to campus for Reunion, as do his two children, both Cornellians themselves. But his relationships with Cornell go beyond alumni connections and beyond pro bono legal work. A Cornell Foremost Benefactor, Philip Bartels is a friend and advisor to deans, directors, professors, and students. His deep interest in the work of the university and in its people to this day—sparked all those years ago in his childhood visits to campus—is a testament to his character and devotion.
Written by Emily Hopkins, freelance writer in Ithaca, NY.