Ithaca College’s campus consists mainly of structures honoring those that helped to build the college in one way or another. The memory of these founders, presidents and philanthropists rests here in the Ithaca College Archives, a department that exists to preserve the history of our institution and educate the community
This fall we mark the 50th anniversary of the James C. Whalen School of Music on IC’s campus. However, the building has only been named after the school’s sixth President since its renovation in 1997. When the music building was built in 1964, it was dedicated as The Walter B. Ford Hall, after mathematician and benefactor, Dr. Walter Burton Ford. Ford donated the money for the Music Building as well as a baroque style organ with over 4,000 pipes. Today, the memory of the Fords is maintained in the Ford Hall Auditorium and by the plaque dedicating the building to Walter B. Ford that hangs in the east stairwell.
The Ford family, originally from Oneonta, NY was well known for their many donations to education, and civic buildings in their local community. Walter Burton Ford was a professor of mathematics at the University of Michegan, retiring in 1939 to live in Ovid, NY.
He was recognized for his work in mathematics on the study of infinite series, as well as writing a textbook used in many secondary schools. Ford served as president of the American Mathematics Association, as well as editor of the association’s journal.
His estate was inherited from his father in 1912 at slightly under one million dollars. By living a prudent and frugal life, as well as investing his inheritence in IBM, his fortune grew. Walter passed away at the age of 96 in 1971 , leaving behind a ten million dollar estate, most of which was donated to colleges in Upstate New York including Hobart William Smith, Eisenhower, Ithaca, and Hartwick State Teachers colleges. As a long time resident of Ovid, NY, Walter had given the town its municipal building, as well as the library, a memorial for his late wife, Edith, who passed in 1959.
Walter was survived by his son Clinton B. Ford, a consulting physicist of Wilton, CT. As a scientist, Clinton was once the President and Secretary of the American Association of Variable Star Observers. He was also an acomplished violist, and an active member of the Associated Chamber Music Players. Upon his passing he left large endowments to both of these organizations, helping to insure and promote their future.
Clinton was also very active member of the Ithaca College communitiy. He served as a Board of Trustees member, as well as on the presidential search committee, helping to hire James Whalen. He taught master classes in viola, gave lectures on astronomy, and worked to establish scholarships in both the studies of music and science.
Ithaca College is also home to the Clinton B. Ford Observatory, built and dedicated to Clinton in 1998 with funding from his estate, the National Science Foundation and the college itself. As part of his donation, Clinton asked that his gift be used to further studies of astronomy at Ithaca College.
The Ford Family helped make Ithaca College’s music program the prestigious and recognized curriculum that it is today. Both the Walter B. Ford Music school, as well as the Clinton B. Ford Observatory are important and integral architectures of the Ithaca College campus and its history.
By promoting both musical practice and scientific study, the Ford Family truly invested in the future of the college and the students that would attend it. The histories of those who founded and built our community are too often forgotten. With anniversaries likes this one the campus community will hopefully be reminded to consider the means by which, and the people who helped make our college become the great place that it is today.
Written by Cecily Brown.