Succeeding Jan McClayton Crites as class correspondent is a most bittersweet assignment. Jan was a revered and admired classmate, and we all wish she were still writing this column. My love for Cornell, the class of ’62, and Jan is what prompted me to accept this job. Her spectacular tenure of 58 years in the position is unprecedented. I will try my best to live up to her tradition of quality, consistency, sensitivity, and humor. With your help and participation, we have a shot at it!
Many classmates responded to our request for a memory of Cornell with wonderful, warm stories. Many others responded by sharing memories of Jan. Rich Alther writes, “At the 50th reunion, Jan was in a wheelchair and greeted me enthusiastically, recalling a freshmen class we shared. I couldn’t recall a single thing about it, let alone amazed she remembered me!” From Mari Stachenfeld, “I remember her as a sweet, unselfish person.”
Anne Ginsberg Hoffman, ’63 shared this beautiful story: ”I first told this story to Jan when I accompanied my husband, Harold, JD’64 to his and Jan’s 50th reunion in 2012. Jan was my RA in Dixon 5 in the fall of my freshman year. I had been invited to a fraternity mixer and was sitting, waiting to be picked up, in my leopard skin dress, when Jan walked into the room. I had been waiting such a long time that I told her I was giving up and changing into something more comfortable. She said, ‘We’ll see about that!’ and left to make a call. Within ten minutes my escort had arrived, and I went to the party. There, I met my future husband, and now we have extremely happily married for 57 years. I told Jan that If she hadn’t interceded, we probably would have never met. After I thanked her, she said, ‘You made my day’. I told her that she made my life.”
Houston H. Stokes writes, “My wife Diana and I had some meals with Jan and her daughter at our 50th. Jan was always very up-beat dealing with her life and her MS condition. Her work with the ‘62 column was clear and helped keep us together as a class. We were sorry to miss her at our 55th. We contacted her after the Reunion, and she told us how much she missed being there.” From Ron Demer ‘59, “I was an ME with Bob Crites ’59 and knew Jan. My daughter lives in Portland and I had lunch with Jan and Bob several times when I visited there. Bob died and Jan moved to Seattle. I last saw her at your last Reunion when I was able to get her a handicapped room at the Statler.”
Mike Eisgrau writes, “Though I’ve always known she was battling MS, Jan’s death came as a great shock to me.” He sent this memory: “It was Friday night of our 50th Reunion – and, oh, what a Friday night it was! We ate, drank and rocked and rolled to the fabulous Backtalk Band, made up of music professors from Ithaca College. They had been so good at our 45th that, the day after it ended, we booked them for our 50th – and they were better than ever. Enjoying herself as she looked on, with that brilliant smile, was Jan. Words can’t describe how good it was to see her – wheelchair and all – making the trip across the country to be with us, and brightening our 50th even more. As I commented when I heard the news of Jan’s passing: I had been overwhelmed with the daunting experience of my first semester at Cornell. I had no social life. But the one bright spot was Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. at Willard Straight. After an 8 a.m. class, I went for breakfast and joined a few new friends: among them, with her bright smile, was Jan. We began a friendship that helped me through those first days and weeks – and has brightened my life for all these years.”
Frank Homan wrote, “I am one of those Cornell grads who left Ithaca after graduations and never looked back. I never paid class dues, I never read the Alumni News. I just put Cornell in my rear view mirror. I did attend one reunion (in 1982), mainly to reconnect with some of my classmates from the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, and I did make one recruiting trip to Ithaca, sometime in the 1980s. I was very impressed with all the changes, especially the new buildings. Anyway, I certainly recall the name Jan McClayton Crites from some of the Class of ’62 notices I received in the mail over the years. She was always there, communicating with her classmates. I see from Neil’s letter that she held down the job of class correspondent for 58 years. That got my attention! I also see from her obit that she lived with MS for 40 years. That is also impressive. I do want to acknowledge Jan’s contributions and thank her for all that hard work. May she rest in peace.” The next column will include more memories of our time on the Hill. Can we keep this momentum going? Please consider writing with one positive experience you have had during the pandemic. We all hope that by the time the next column appears, it will be a memory! Cheers to all of us, and may 2021 bring us good health, laughter, joy, and lots more fond memories!