Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner in Manhattan for my college radio station, WVBR. We hold them from time to time as a way to keep our alumni in touch with each other and introduce us to the Cornell University students who are currently working at the station. The dinners are a lovely way for us to socialize, catch up, meet new people, and perhaps rekindle old friendships.

This time, though, there would be another, very special component.

WVBR is in the middle of a fundraising effort to relocate the station from its inadequate facility in the basement of the New York Holstein Association on the outskirts of the Cornell campus to one that is state-of-the-art and more accessible to students. Until 2000, when the station was forced to move, it was situated just off campus in Collegetown, making it easy to get to and a natural hangout in between (or, in some cases, instead of) classes. 
Careers were launched there. Deep friendships were forged. Some marriages may even have resulted. ;-)

Since the move, things have been quite different, as its far-flung location required tremendous effort and dedication for the students to get there.

Wanting to address the problem, within the last year, the WVBR Board of Directors amped up its efforts to return WVBR to its Collegetown roots.

Recently, a house became available on East Buffalo Street in Ithaca, just off campus and less than a half mile from our old digs at 227 Linden Avenue. All we needed were the financial resources to make it happen.

Enter the WVBR Capital Campaign
, spearheaded by my husband Peter and tended to by some VERY hardworking and generous alumni. Among them, our friend Keith Olbermann ('79), who has made significant contributions to the radio station before. 

Keith indicated he would, indeed, like to help, and he would make a substantial donation to facilitate the purchase. The official announcement was to be made at last week's dinner. Keith's endowment would cover the "naming rights" for the new building, which will be called the Olbermann-Corneliess Studios, in honor of Keith's late father, Theodore, and Glenn Corneliess, a dear friend and former program director of the radio station, who died in 1996 at the age of 39.  

Glenn is largely responsible for my career in radio. He was a friend and mentor to me in a crucially important stage of my life. He was brilliant where radio was concerned, and passionate about it and so much else. He was giving with his time and expertise, and fiercely loyal, although he loved a good argument, even (especially?) with those he liked most. We lost him to a massive heart attack caused by Marfan Syndrome, with which he had not been diagnosed in time.

And so we gathered in midtown for an evening of drinks, dinner, conversation, and the very special check presentation. Among our guests, Glenn's widow Kathy and two of his three children, Brian and Patrick. 

Keith Olbermann and Kathy Corneliess
It was a truly special night. The food was good, the company, even better. Keith sat with the Corneliess family regaling them with stories of time spent together with Glenn at WVBR. Brian and Pat paid rapt attention, soaking up these memories of a father they barely knew. Even Kathy, who met Glenn after college, learned more about the husband she lost far too early.

There was laughter and more than a few tears, especially when Keith made his dedication, noting his gratitude to the radio station and his friendship with Glenn, who, he said, "surely would've objected to the ordering of our names until I told him that this precludes any chance that anybody will ever think there was a guy named 'Corneliess Olbermann'."

Today, the tale of Keith's generosity became public, published first by The Hollywood Reporter, then picked up by TV Newser and the Daily Kos.

The articles are wonderful and a true testament to Keith's extraordinary benevolence. But they only begin to touch on what was perhaps the greatest gift he bestowed that evening and the people who will benefit from it most: Kathy, Brian and Patrick Corneliess, along with their sister Caitlin. What Keith did for the Corneliess family FAR surpasses naming a building after Glenn, as huge as that is ... he brought Glenn to life for them in a way that few others could.

All of us suffered an incalculable loss when Glenn died, but none more so than his family. His children have what Peter's called an "unfillable gap" that those of us who knew and loved Glenn have tried to close in the years since his passing. Last Thursday evening, as Keith sat with them sharing story after story, he went a long way toward filling that hole.

Not to diminish in any way the giant check for "a whole f'in bunch" of money Keith wrote out that night, but that was the greatest gift of all.

L-R: Keith Olbermann, Patrick, Kathy and Brian Corneliess, Peter Schacknow, Dan Zarrow, Drew Endick

1 comment:

sandra mertz said...

This just proves what a generous soul Keith is. This does not surprise me at all that he did this or has done this in the past. I always knew he was a caring & giving person. To his detractors out there who have criticized him, you may now crawl back into the woodwork. Just go away. This was a very kind gesture,Keith,as the others in the past. It's truly wonderful as are you.