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Dedicated College Supporter Receives President’s Medal

Dedicated College Supporter Receives President’s Medal

05/11/2016 

Louise M. Conley, chair of the Cortland College Foundation and one of the College’s most actively engaged supporters, received SUNY Cortland’s Presidential Champion of Excellence Award during the College’s Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies on May 14.

Conley, a licensed psychologist from Princeton, N.J., and the granddaughter of Francis J. Cheney, the second principal of the Cortland Normal School, is only the second person to ever receive the medal.

The award is given at the discretion of President Erik J. Bitterbaum to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the pursuit of excellence at SUNY Cortland. The medal, which expresses the College’s admiration and appreciation for extraordinary service and leadership, was first given to Brian G. Murphy ’83, the former chair of the foundation, in 2012.

Conley’s contributions have been transformative for SUNY Cortland. They include the College’s first endowed chair, an annual education conference, a scholarship fund, a golf simulator and support for the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House, to name just a few.

Perhaps even more important to the College than her philanthropy is the active leadership role she has played. Conley will step down as chair in July after leading the foundation board for four years.

The roots of Conley’s commitment to the College run deep. Not only did her grandfather serve as Cortland Normal School’s second principal from 1891 to 1912, but both her mother, Clara Cheney ’17, and her father, Rollin McCarthy ’16, both graduated from the school. Her parents and both sets of grandparents are buried in Cortland cemetery next to the College.

Conley grew up hearing stories about Cortland Normal School, but didn’t set foot on the SUNY Cortland campus until the 1990s when she attended the reopening celebration for Old Main. The enthusiasm she felt among students, faculty and staff inspired her to donate her time, expertise and financial support to the College.

Her contributions include:

  • The Francis J. Cheney Educational Issues Conference at SUNY Cortland. This free conference, named after her grandfather and held annually, brings influential leaders in education to the SUNY Cortland campus to share their strategies for improving teacher education programs and the education of students from kindergarten through college. Conley regularly attends.
  • The Louise M. Conley Chair in Educational Leadership. Endowed by one of the college’s first individual $1 million gifts, this initiative provides a SUNY Cortland faculty member in the Education Leadership Department with additional funds to support his or her research, teaching, student assistants or help in fulfilling departmental initiatives.
  • The Francis J. Cheney Scholarship. Conley’s generosity provides $1,000 annually for up to four years to admitted freshmen majoring in education and who demonstrate the highest academic achievement and greatest financial need.
  • Louise McCarthy Conley Room. Conley supported the purchase of the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House by the Alumni Association in 2004 and funded the Louise McCarthy Conley Room, which encompasses the mansion’s master bedroom.
  • Dr. Louise McCarthy Conley Golf Range. Comprised of two golf simulators in SUNY Cortland’s massive Student Life Center, it was funded by a $30,000 gift from Conley. An avid golfer who didn’t take up the sport until she was in her 60s, Conley wanted students to be able to practice this lifetime sport during Cortland’s cold winter months.
  • 24-hour giving challenge. Conley unhesitatingly provided a $10,000 matching gift to incentivize SUNY Cortland’s first 24-hour annual fund challenge. The unprecedented effort ended up raising nearly $103,000 in a single day.

“Louise helped set the bar for others to follow,” Bitterbaum explained. “She is self-effacing, humble and passionate about this institution.”