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Trustees

Eric Acree is currently Director of the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library and Coordinator of the Fine Arts and Music Libraries at Cornell University. In addition to this, Eric serves as the African/African American subject specialist for Cornell University Library. At the age of seven he visited a public library in Brooklyn, New York, and borrowed a book written by Langston Hughes, Famous American Negroes. This would turn into a lifelong affair with not only books, but an interest in understanding the past and how people of African descent fit into world history. Being a Trustee of the History Center affords Eric a chance in helping others discover areas of history within Tompkins County.

Elizabeth (Liz) Bodner has degrees from Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences and School of Veterinary Medicine.  In her diverse career, she has been a freelance writer, a small animal vet, a magazine editor, and the head of drug safety for a global animal health pharmaceutical company.  For more than 30 years, Liz carried around an increasingly fragile copy of Kavafis’ poem Ithaca (“Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind. To arrive there is your ultimate goal...”) knowing that someday, she would relocate permanently to this great town where she felt a sense of belonging.  And so she did, in 2016.   Liz is glad to be associated with the History Center, having served as a student volunteer at the Dewitt Historical Society many years ago when it was situated in the lovely Clinton House.  She believes that history is meant to be preserved as well as made anew every day.   

Kimerly Cornish is a native of Cambridge, Maryland, and a descendant of Harriet Tubman. She is a graduate of Oberlin College with a B.A. in English with a specialization in Creative Writing and a minor in Women’s Studies. She has served as a curatorial assistant on several exhibitions, including 3x3: Three Artists/Three Projects, the first official U.S. entry in the Dakar Biennale,  as well as editorial assistant of exhibition catalogues and the academic journal Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. She has given talks on Harriet Tubman in contemporary visual culture for diverse audiences. She has been a member of the Harriet Tubman Boosters since 2013.

Elaine Engst received a B.A. in History from William Smith College and an M.A. in history from Cornell University. She worked in the Cornell University Library from 1979 until her retirement in 2015, serving as Director of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections and as Cornell University Archivist. At Cornell, she also supervised the state-wide New York State Historical Documents Inventory survey project.  
Elaine was active in the archival profession, serving on the Society of American Archivists' (SAA) governing Council and chairing the Program Committee, and was named a distinguished Fellow, the Society’s highest form of recognition in 1996.  She also co-chaired the New York State Historical Records Advisory Board from 2006 until 2014. 
Retirement now allows to do her own research, most recently co-authoring Achieving Beulah Land: The Long Struggle for Suffrage in Tompkins County, New York, with an associated Cornell Web exhibition on “Woman Suffrage at Cornell.” And what an exciting time to become a part of The History Center!

Sarah Fiorello was drawn to exploring the Ithaca area’s cultural and geological heritage soon after arriving as an undergraduate, which has developed into a lifelong interest. She spent the first nine years of her career leading interpretive guided tours and nature programs within State Parks of the Finger Lakes region and the past twelve years as interpretation coordinator for Cornell Botanic Gardens. In this role, she carries out her passion for offering visitors meaningful ways to connect through developing interpretive materials such as outdoor signs, exhibits, brochures, self-guided tours, and more. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in natural resources and a Master of Professional Studies in horticulture from Cornell University.

Eric Fitzpatrick was born in Rochester, NY in 1986, moved with his parents to Dryden in 1990, and graduated from Dryden High School in 2004. He holds a Bachelor's degree from SUNY Cortland in Business Economics and has been with the Tompkins Trust Company for 11 years working as a teller, staff accountant, and corporate internal auditor. He loves to golf and collect coins. He is also an oil painter and have had a few shows around Ithaca.

David Furber is a computer programmer who has an M.A. in History from Clemson University and a Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo.  He specializes in web application development using Ruby on Rails and building complex web sites with Drupal and works for GORGES. His primary interest as a researcher was the intersection of national identity and economic rationality in colonial situations, with a dissertation on German civil administrators in Nazi-occupied Poland. He enjoys applying his technical knowledge to the discipline of history. 

David Gersh came to Ithaca from Brooklyn and Long Island in 1959 to attend Cornell.  His love of this place and its rich history has endured ever since.
He was admitted to Cornell Law School after his junior year of Arts and Sciences.  Upon graduation, he began work with a downtown firm that became Wiggins, Tsapis, Holmberg and Gersh.  He practiced law in Ithaca for 40 years, retiring in 2005.
He considers that the highlight of his legal career occurred in 1970 when then Mayor Ed Conley invited him to serve as his City Attorney, responsible for the significant legal challenges of a $ 50 million downtown redevelopment. What resulted was the creation of a pedestrian mall (The Commons) on what had been a public street and the placement of a commercial building (Center Ithaca) on what had been S. Tioga Street. 
He has enjoyed other community involvement, including serving as President of the Tompkins County Bar Association, YMCA, and Temple Beth El. 
His interest in The History Center in Tompkins County came about when he purchased Cayuga lakefront property which, strangely, had steel I-beams poking out at the water's edge.  The History Center's research revealed that the steel had been used to drydock the steamship Frontenac! Thus began an awareness and appreciation of the enduring work of this organization.

Chris Irving graduated from Le Moyne College with a BS degree in Accounting. She moved to Ithaca and is enjoying her 33rd year as the owner of Irving & Associates.  Her firm provides tax preparation, accounting and bookkeeping services. Chris has served as president, vice president, treasurer and board member for Gadabout, the YMCA and the Finger Lakes Runners Club. When she is not on a bike tour, at a Yankee game or out walking, she enjoys a bucolic life on the farm with Dave, three dogs and the herd of beef cattle. Chris has just recently started researching her own family history and has found this very exciting and educational.

Rich John, having lived in Ithaca and Tompkins County for over fifty years, was elected to the Tompkins County Legislature in a special election in November, 2016 to fill a vacancy. Rich comes to the office with a background of twenty years as a general practice partner in a local law firm, and nine years serving as the general counsel and vice president of compliance for a global product testing and inspection company, Intertek. Rich has volunteered as a youth coach in several sports, a board member of Historic Ithaca, and what was then called the Alcoholism Council of Tompkins County. Currently, Rich John is a member of the Government Operations Committee and serves as the Chair of the Public Safety and Jail Study Committees. He has also been appointed as a member of the Tompkins County Industrial Development Committee involved with supporting businesses and economic development in the County. Rich is a graduate of Ithaca High School, Cornell University, and the University of Notre Dame. He is married and, together with his wife, raised three children on East Hill. 

Chris Kai-Jones completed his PhD in intellectual history at Cornell in 2015 and a Master's degree in social work degree in 2018.  He is currently the Student and Community Coordinator at CCE-Tompkins. He enjoys working on a range of community-based projects and mixing that with teaching at Cornell. He's very interested in historicizing ideas so we can all think together about what to do with them next.
Chris doesn't have as many animals as some trustees but he and his daughter hope to get there one day, and he's giving serious thought to getting a hobby.  

Bob Kibbee was the Map and Geospatial Information Librarian at Cornell until 2010. Most of his career at Cornell was as a reference librarian specializing in census data. Bob has a strong interest in cartography and historical geography. He sees maps joining with data to forge a compelling method to engage our community in studying, creating and celebrating its history. The History Center is providing an ideal environment to develop these and other ideas for presenting and representing history, and Bob is very excited to be a part of that effort.

Cindy Kramer began her involvement with The History Center by collaborating with the staff on integrating local history into a secondary Social Studies curriculum. As a history teacher at Boynton Middle School in Ithaca, she enjoys cultivating a sense of place as well as instilling an appreciation of people and events in the past. In her role as a Trustee, she values the opportunity to share her passion for history by lending support to the activities of The History Center, an important community institution that encourages people to preserve and connect to the history that surrounds us.

Ronald E. Ostman is Graduate Professor Emeritus in Communication, Cornell University, where he taught and conducted research from 1979 to 2007, and served as Department of Communication Chair from 1998 to 2003. He co-authored five historical photography books with Harry Littell: Cornell Then & Now; Great Possibilities: 150 Verne Morton Photographs; Margaret Bourke-White: The Early Work, 1922-1930; Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd, and The Photographic Legacy of William T. Clarke, Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers: A Visual History of Pennsylvania’s Railroad Lumbering Communities. Dr. Ostman also co-authored the historical photography book Superfortess Over Japan: 24 Hours With a B-29 with Jack Délano and Royal D. Colle. His academic teaching specializations and research publications includes books, journal articles, and international development communication workbooks and reading guides focusing on journalism, mass communication, communication planning and strategies, popular culture, public opinion research and theory, and social science research methods. Prior to Cornell, he also worked as teacher/researcher at the University of Minnesota, Bemidji State University, and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. His early career was as a newspaper journalist and he participated in academic public information services.

Lauren Ryder has focused the past 15 years in a career in fundraising for Cornell. She is currently the Associate Director of Development for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Lauren began her career consulting in the community development field with a focus on housing for a national non-profit, as well as direct work with community stakeholders through projects with local governments in Tioga County. She has also worked on staff and as Campaign Manager for NY State Assemblywoman Lifton. Lauren holds a Bachelor of Arts in Politics from Ithaca College and a Masters in Regional Planning from Cornell. She appreciates the mission of The History Center in part because she is passionate about the idea of placemaking and capitalizing on the assets and history of a place to foster community.

Michael Smith received his Ph.D. in history from Indiana University, and has taught history and environmental studies at Ithaca College since 2001, with an emphasis on environmental history. Since 2005 students in his History of American Environmental Thought class have done research into the environmental history of Tompkins County and presented it at the The History Center. Michael profiled this project in a chapter he contributed to the book Citizenship Across the Curriculum (Indiana University Press, 2010), a volume he also co-edited. He was awarded the 2015 Educator Award by The History Center in Tompkins County. In 2017 he received a Fulbright Core Scholar Grant to spend a semester in Nicaragua working on a local environmental history project inspired in part by the collaboration with The History Center. He is thrilled to be able to give back to a cultural institution that has given him and his students so much.

Laurel Southard is the Director of Undergraduate Research at Cornell.  In this position she encourages students from all disciplines to engage in research as undergraduates. She also directs the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers which has provided teacher professional development programs for 28 years.  Laurel grew up in Northern New Mexico. She studied biology and art as an undergraduate at Hastings College and the University of New Mexico. Her life was changed when she began undergraduate research at the UNM Medical School.  She moved to Ithaca in 1976 and did her graduate work in molecular virology at Cornell.

She has served on a number of boards in the Ithaca area for over 30 years, including the Hangar Theatre and SPCA. She lives with her partner, Gwen Seaquist, and lots of animals  (seven dogs, two horses, four goats and many, many chickens) in a Greek Revival farmhouse that requires constant love and maintenance.  Laurel loves theatre, travel, art, gardening, spoiling her animals and organizing her own historical collection of stuff!

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