Reflections on the History and Future Directions of the Adelphic Cornell Educational Fund

Circa 1920, the widow of Brother Henry M. Birge (Class of 1873) donated money to create a fund to be known as “The Birge Fund.” These funds were entrusted to the keeping of certain alumni of Alpha Delta Phi at Cornell to be used to grant short-term emergency loans to needy chapter undergraduates. Fund records show a great many loans made and most of them repaid scrupulously after graduation. The Birge Fund was administered by Brother Ansley Wilcox ‘12 for many years.

In 1955, the Adelphic Cornell Educational Fund (ACEF) was formally incorporated in New York State. Existing correspondence suggests that it was created from remnants of The Birge Fund and that the initial mission of the ACEF was to continue to provide emergency loans to undergraduate brothers. Although there are various document and archival “depositories,” both at the chapter house and elsewhere, so far the ACEF has not been able to locate specific information on its activities during that period. However, it is known that Theodore H. Booth ’25 was the driving force behind the registration of the fund in Syracuse. The original incorporation papers list Brother Booth as both secretary and treasurer. James T. Lewis Jr. ’27 was the vice president, and Robert G. Birkin ‘26 was the president. Listed as additional “directors” of the fund were Frank J. Tone Jr. ’24 and Elwyn L. Smith ‘17.

Writing about the uniqueness of fraternities in 1963, Brother Booth explained, “The residential fraternity is an integral and very important part of the training for life which we get preeminently at Cornell. We strongly prefer this to the “organized irresponsibility” of the college-run dormitory. The experience of mutual selection, aid, adjustment, cooperative work and responsibility—not to mention the satisfying fellowship and enduring friendships formed during the years of interdependence are perhaps as important as conventional studies to the formation of capable leaders of American democratic institutions—perhaps more important today than for many years.”

Brother Booth also spearheaded the effort to gain federal tax-exempt status for the ACEF. In 1962, this hard work was rewarded when the U.S. Department of the Treasury formally acknowledged that contributions to the fund qualified under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code. For the next 25 years, the primary charitable focus of the ACEF was on continuing to support small, usually short-term, education-related emergency loans to undergraduate brothers. This was particularly valuable at the time, since it was only in the 1980s that financial aid for Cornell undergraduates became broadly and readily available. Cash flow also allowed for more or less annual contributions of magazines and books for the house library and, on occasion, the purchase and donation of books to the Cornell library system.

However, the quality of the administrative records and reports for the ACEF were often found lacking…even to the extent that, in some years, excise taxes and registration fees due at the state and/or federal level (often with additional penalties and interest assessed) ended up being paid by individually concerned alumni brothers. Whether apocryphal or not, some of the names of the benevolent that have been mentioned in this regard include Richard E. Taylor ’63, Robert E. Maroney ’72, Thomas M. Bower ’73, and Todd J. Slotkin ’74.

Given the administrative shortfalls, it is commendable that, during this more than two-decade period, almost all loans made by the ACEF appear to have been repaid generally on schedule and usually in full. (This, no doubt, was accomplished on occasion with the assistance of such brothers as James E. Rice ’30 offering “gentle admonishment” to some recipients who might otherwise have suffered from forgetfulness as to their financial responsibilities.)

Given the structure of this particular charitable foundation, with hindsight it appears somewhat unfortunate that more was not done to systematically promote, manage, and fund it from the start. But, regardless of the reasons why this opportunity was not seized upon earlier, during the past 15 years, the potential for the ACEF to make significant contributions to the continued success of Alpha Delta Phi (and, by extension, Cornell as well) has finally begun to be realized. Although a growing number of brothers have been involved in this effort, the importance of responsible and continuous management cannot be overemphasized. Thomas S. Foulkes ’52, Gilbert F. Rankin Jr. ’55, and Douglas J. Smith ’78 successively served as president during this period. Under their determined leadership, there have been a number of important organizational improvements.

In 1985, the ACEF hired Stewart Howe Alumni Service of Ithaca to be responsible for record keeping and mailings. Over the following three years, a number of accounting and financial controls were implemented. Christophe M. Bergen ’76 created the initial cash flow spreadsheets for the fund. Thomas Y. Ellis ’55 agreed to annually prepare accounting reports to be utilized in our form 990 filings with the IRS. Michael J. Zak ’75 and Thomas C. Reed ’55 drew up formal financial, audit, and investment policy statements to help guide future financial management.

The culmination of all these fiscally related initiatives was the de facto expansion and recapitalization of the ACEF in 1989. This was made possible primarily through the generosity of John S. Dyson ‘65 and Leroy W. Sinclair ’65 and the persuasive powers of G. Lauriston Walsh Jr. ’62. A follow-on to this was the establishment in 1991 of the ACEF “Core Endowment” investment account, which was in part designed to emphasize the “durable presence of the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity at Cornell University.”

Roughly concurrent with the improvements in financial and investment management, similar progress was realized in providing a more efficient and accountable structure for the ACEF’s charitable endeavors. A number of brothers have been involved in these efforts (including some who were undergraduates at the time). But, certainly the individual who continues to accomplish the most in this regard is Steven D. Ritchey ’81. It was his initiative that resulted in standardized student loan procedures. He also supervised creation of the policy statements that established guidelines for our expanding program of academic excellence awards in the house, as well as, to a lesser degree, on the Hill. And, since 1992, he has been the fund’s “point man” for coordination with Cornell’s office of financial aid in regard to disbursement of Martin McVoy (Class of 1892) scholarship awards to brothers of Alpha Delta Phi.

Since the early 1990s, the ACEF has persuaded the university to steadily increase the percentage of a brother’s total financial aid package that can qualify for outright loan forgiveness. In addition, it is now possible for McVoy funds to be utilized by ADs who are in graduate school at Cornell.

With both internal management procedures and external charitable activities becoming more effective, the final accomplishment of the past decade has been the recent restructuring and formalization of ACEF fundraising and donor categories. Going forward, the Adelphic Cornell Educational Fund plans to solicit fully tax-deductible contributions of only three types:

• Life Memberships in “The 1869 Society” (the year the Cornell Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi was established)
• Program Sponsorships (to support a designated ACEF charitable undertaking for up to three years)
• Will Provisions (as a dollar amount or specific percentage of one’s adjusted gross estate)

Like any charitable organization, the fund will certainly continue to accept contributions from all sources. But, there are three very important reasons why it makes sense for the ACEF to manage fundraising in a highly focused and targeted fashion. First, those who are actively involved in the fund’s growth and development do so on an entirely voluntary basis. Second, the fund has mandated that the maximum expenses allowed as a percent of balance sheet assets be capped at three percent. This has resulted not only in the fund’s being managed in an increasingly efficient and responsible manner, but also has impressed our donors that their money goes almost exclusively for legitimate educational programs, not for amorphous overhead. Third, the trustees of the ACEF believe strongly that their primary goal is to preserve the history and enhance the future of Alpha Delta Phi as an independent living unit at Cornell University. But, the “heavy lifting” (both managerially and financially) necessary to accomplish this should continue to be focused on the efforts of the alumni corporation and the undergraduates themselves. The ACEF has consciously positioned itself as an increasingly valuable adjunct, but an adjunct nevertheless. This is properly in keeping with the goals and objectives expressed in the original incorporation papers of the fund in 1955.

J. Thomas Chirurg ’64, current president of the Adelphic Cornell Educational Fund, prepared this history of the ACEF. Additional research was provided by Howie Schaffer ’90, current president of the alumni corporation.