The SUNY Cortland College Council presented its 2011 College-Community Appreciation Award to Bernard E. Thoma '78, M '80, whose community development work has helped make Cortland more vibrant, attractive and connected with the College, during a special invitation-only banquet on Oct. 27 in Corey Union Function Room.
Thoma, founder and owner of Thoma Ltd., in Cortland, became the 30th recipient of the annual award, established in 1985 to formally recognize and thank local residents who have significantly assisted SUNY Cortland.
The city is more appealing for the College community as a result of Thoma’s long-time service as a member of the Cortland College Foundation and his professional contributions to the greater Cortland community, according to College and community officials. His work has fostered partnerships that encourage SUNY Cortland students to grow as citizens. His efforts improved the local housing stock, encouraged business development and helped create a vital downtown with a true “Collegtown” feel.
“He is exceptionally committed to the College,” said Raymond Franco, SUNY Cortland’s vice president for institutional advancement. “Bernie believes his life was changed by his SUNY Cortland education. He serves on the foundation because he wants to ensure future support of students so others may be changed for the better through a college education.”
Thoma joined the Cortland College Foundation Board of Directors in the 1994-95 academic year, and has served ever since. He was vice president from 2003 to 2008 and has chaired the Nominating and Bylaws committees since 2003. He has represented the foundation at Commencement.
“Bernie has taken a leadership role on the Foundation,” Franco added. “In recruiting new members for the foundation board, he interviews candidates very intensively to ascertain their interest in serving. In terms of his committee service, he is very hands-on and takes his responsibility very seriously.”
Franco, formerly a vice president for student affairs at the College, noted Thoma’s long-term efforts to improve housing in Cortland.
“He is dedicated to improving the community and has presented ideas on how to do so while at the same time providing attractive and affordable housing to members of the campus community,” Franco said.
In 1980, Thoma founded what is now a 12-member consulting firm at 34 Tompkins St. Thoma Ltd. provides grant writing, planning and administrative services, principally to the public sector.
Through his firm, Bernie has helped secure funding that improved the quality of affordable housing available in the city, including the reconstruction of Cortland’s landmark Clocktower Building and the student housing it provides.
“Thoma has been instrumental in seeking and securing funds on the city’s behalf to improve low-to-moderate income housing in the city,” which makes the city a more inviting place for the campus to be located, said Thomas Gallagher, the former mayor of Cortland and current chair of the College Council.
Thoma has worked extensively with a number of different groups to address a variety of off-campus student housing issues. Recently, he pulled together a variety of stakeholders to prepare the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for future development that stresses the need to offer sufficient, high-quality off-campus student housing while maintaining the city’s attractive, residential nature.
|Bernard E. Thoma '78, M '80, shown second from the right, accepts the College Community Appreciation Award (CCAA) from Thomas Gallagher, who chairs the SUNY Cortland College Council. Along with Gallagher, a former mayor of Cortland, Thoma also is shown with local movers and shakers who have worked with him to improve the Cortland community as a place to live. They are Sen. James Seward of the 51st Congressional District, left, himself a 2004 CCAA award recipient, and SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum.
In 2005, in cooperation with the Cortland Chamber of Commerce, the city and the College, members of Thoma’s company donated thousands of volunteer hours to the Cortland Downtown Partnership Project.
“We developed a very close working relationship, and together we worked to develop the Cortland Downtown Partnership,” Gallagher said.
As part of that project, Thoma worked with the city to secure grant funding that was used to renovate the building at 9 Main St., which renovated by owner NcNeil Development and leased and reopened by the College as Main Street SUNY Cortland. The establishment represented a new opportunity for the institution to reach out to and engage with the community surrounding the campus. As part of a partnership, the College agreed to provide office space for the Cortland Downtown Partnership.
Gallagher pointed out that this project helped both the city and College by bringing members of the campus community downtown to become involved in hands-on learning opportunities relating to urban revitalization efforts.
Additionally, many SUNY Cortland students have taken courses in the Cortland Downtown Partnership’s headquarters at Main Street SUNY Cortland, or based their community-related research projects and civic engagement endeavors there.
Over the past eight to 10 years, Thoma’s company has mentored student interns from SUNY Cortland, primarily those majoring in sociology or political science.
An estimated 30 percent of his staff are SUNY Cortland graduates. Thoma encourages them to give back to the community that has nurtured their careers, and their many hours of volunteer service benefit both the College and community.
| After the ceremony, Bernard E. Thoma '78, M '80, right, savors a moment with his family, including his son, Nathan, and his wife, Paula Thoma '76, M '80 and C.A.S. '01.
Thoma Ltd. was recognized as a leader in community development by the New York State Secretary of State under the Quality Communities Program in 2002. The company also was honored as a medium sized “Business of the Year” in 2006 by the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce.
Thoma is affiliated with the New York State Economic Development Council, the Tioughnioga Waterfront Commission, and the National Trust Main Street Center.
He has provided work time for himself and his staff to participate in the United Way Day of Caring and Catholic Charities’ School Lunch in the Park and Holiday Food Basket Programs. The company also has held a can drive for a food pantry and has adopted a planting area in one of the public parking areas.
Thoma grew up in Central New York, graduating from Liverpool High School. In 1975, he received an A.A.S. from Tompkins Cortland Community College and earned a B.A. in 1978 and an M.S. in 1980 from SUNY Cortland. Thoma served in the U.S. Army from 1972-74. His wife, Paula, also is a SUNY Cortland graduate. She earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Cortland in 1976, an M.S.Ed. in 1980 and a Certificate of Advanced Studies (C.A.S.) in 2001. Recognizing the value of a SUNY education, their son, Nathan, is a graduate of University at Buffalo.
In receiving this award, Thoma is somewhat unique in also being a SUNY Cortland graduate. Past recipients who also are alumni are Essie Eckler Vangeli '47 (1991), Marian Natoli Atkinson '54 (1997), Martin Mack M '76 (2009), and Dorothea Kreig Allen Fowler '52, M '74 (2010).