Alice Cornwell Straus
Back at Kenyon, Alice Cornwell Straus hopes the third time's the charm
C ampaign Field Director Alice Cornwell Straus '75 explains her connection with Kenyon by invoking the Greek god Antaeus, who gained his power from the earth. "For me, returning to Gambier is like touching down to the earth for strength," she says.
It may be the strength she gains that keeps her coming back to the College. With the newly created position she accepted in September, Straus became a Kenyon employee for the third time. From 1979 to 1982, she was an assistant director in the alumni and development offices before working in various support positions at the College until 1988. After moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she managed a gourmet food shop, Straus returned for the 1989-90 academic year as assistant to the news director and acting director of the Faculty Resource Center.
As campaign field director, Straus's responsibilities include cultivation and solicitation of major donors for Kenyon's $100-million "Claiming Our Place"campaign. Now in the second year of its "quiet phase," the campaign, like Straus's job, will extend through June 30, 2001.
Prior to returning to the College this time, Straus was serving as director of donor relations at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. The job at Kenyon was enticing to her since she lacked solicitation experience. While her position is seen as a "limited engagement," Straus says she hopes she can turn her job into something permanent.
"The first time I ever came to visit the College, I felt like I'd come home," she says. That first homecoming happened for her in 1970, when she was a high-school senior trying to decide between Kenyon and Wellesley College. Her decision to come to Kenyon is something she says she has never regretted. "I have a lifelong connection to this College and this place," she says. "I think I sort of blossomed here, and that process has helped me in everything I do in life. Kenyon taught me to rely on myself."
After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English, Straus went to work for the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C. While there, she also pursued graduate work in business administration at George Washington University. Then, in 1979, she made her first return trip to Gambier.
The self-reliance the College instilled in her has helped Straus weather life's storms, she believes. In the past three years, she has gone through a divorce, two job changes, and her relocation from Appleton to Gambier. Married to Kim Straus '76 for thirteen years, Straus says that after the divorce her entire plan for her life changed. "For a while, I was a textbook basket case," she recalls. But Straus now sees herself as a survivor--someone whose ability to endure is perhaps her greatest strength.
She believes the College represents the best of her past and holds a bright future for her. One of her professional goals is to ensure that the future for Kenyon is just as bright as hers. "Kenyon has a historical reputation for quality, but it's built on a rather tenuous foundation," she notes. "One of the reasons I wanted to work on the campaign is to make that foundation more solid. This job is really a chance for me to do something good for the College and for myself."
In talking about Kenyon students today, Straus says she sees more diversity and a greater appreciation for the complexity of social concerns than in her era. As a student at the College toward the end of the Vietnam War, she remembers that while students were interested in the issues of the day, they didn't necessarily act on their concerns--or act on them constructively. She observes that students in the nineties seem more oriented toward making real change happen.
If Straus didn't have to work, she says she could happily occupy her time solely with cooking and traveling. Her resume reveals a variety of jobs, in diverse locations, and it's apparent early on in conversation with her that this is a woman who's led a richly textured life in her forty-five years. Straus, however, sees herself as somewhat ordinary. "It's not like I have a tattoo hidden anywhere, and I certainly don't country line dance," she says.
When she came back to Kenyon for the second time, in 1989, Straus says she had expected to spend the rest of her life in Gambier. Now, she admits, she hopes the third time's the charm.
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