Many SUNY Cortland alumni include a gift to their Alma Mater in their will. Very few Red Dragons, however, do it while they are still in their 20s.
William “Bill” Bellingham Jr. ’17, M ’21, Binghamton University’s 28-year-old outdoor pursuits coordinator, has included in his will a donation supporting the William H. Parks Family Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education at Raquette Lake, where a summer education program changed his life.
“I gave specifically to Raquette Lake not only because of how much it impacted me but how it could affect students in the future,” he said.
Bellingham noted that not only recreation majors, but students in all disciplines use Raquette Lake, and the center also benefits kids in different high school programs and SUNY Cortland alumni who return summer after summer.
Without his Raquette Lake experience, Bellingham says he may never have traveled the path leading to his current position, which he loves.
It’s a path that has taken many twists and turns. Over the last decade, Bellingham has been a Marine, a college student, a bar manager, a border patrol agent, college lecturer and recreation coordinator at a ski resort and an assisted living facility. He is now in his dream job, planning and leading outdoor activities and teaching recreation courses at Binghamton University.
It was in the military, while training to serve as a U.S. Marine Corps reservist at Paris Island, S.C., that he drew up his first will and testament at the age of 18.
“I never deployed but I did it just in case anything happened,” said Bellingham, who was a reservist while enrolled as an undergraduate in criminology in SUNY Cortland's Sociology/Anthropology Department, serving as a grade E-5 platoon sergeant and vehicle commander with the reserve base Company E in Syracuse.
“The will was just made out to my parents. It’s always been the norm for me to think of those things.”
A native of Ontario, N.Y., Bellingham recently thought again about his estate planning when his Alma Mater reached out to him.
“When I got the bi-monthly email from (Cortland College Foundation through) the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association, one of the sections was about creating a free will,” said Bellingham, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminology, minoring in outdoor recreation, and a master’s degree in recreation with a concentration in environmental and outdoor education.
“I realized that since my will was last updated, I had bought a house and I had also acquired a dog that I wanted to be well taken care of in case anything happened to me,” Bellingham said.
So, he took the opportunity to fill out a new will for the sake of his loved ones, including his American Staffordshire terrier, Jax.
“At the end, there’s a portion of it that asks, ‘Do you want to leave anything to Cortland?’ I thought, ‘Yes.’”
He recalled how one summer’s Outdoor Education Practicum course at the W.H. Parks Family Outdoor Center had changed his life. So, he checked a box to pledge a gift to the center on the form updating his will.
His memory of the center had motivated him to return to SUNY Cortland for his master’s degree after his original dream of a law enforcement career left him unfulfilled. From summer 2018 to summer 2019, Bellingham worked as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Sonoita, Arizona, monitoring the U.S.-Mexican border, assisting in the care of interned individuals and transporting vehicles to and from headquarters in Tucson.
“The purpose behind my wanting to go into law enforcement was helping people,” Bellingham said of his disappointment in the reality of the work. “That was what I wanted to do, putting them on the right track. I thought recreation was going to be the best path for me to help with people in that sense.”
He recalled how, while he was at the Raquette Lake camps at the end of his Outdoor Education Practicum fulfilling his undergraduate minor in outdoor recreation, he had been approached about changing his major by Professor Sharon Todd, then chair of the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department.
“At the time, I didn’t want to spend that much time doing my bachelors, adding two more years to finish the degree or adding a second major,” he said. “So, Sharon said, kind of offhandedly, ‘Oh, maybe if you return at some point in time to do your masters.’”
Not likely, he thought. But a disappointing year patrolling the southern border and an earlier, positive experience working as a youth development professional at Elmcrest Children’s Center in Tully, N.Y., changed his thinking.
“So, lo and behold, three years later, here I was back getting my masters degree,” Bellingham said.
He also was glad to return to his undergraduate job of working at the Red Jug Pub. He also supported his post-baccalaureate studies as a graduate assistant in advisement and transition and later as an adjunct lecturer in SUNY Cortland’s Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department.
Bellingham now maintains close ties with SUNY Cortland’s Adirondack facilities. He is a member of SUNY Cortland’s Metcalf Board, which funds programs and student scholarships offered thought the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department. He is also a member of the Alumni Supporting Students Committee for the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association.
“The story of how (the Parks Family Center at) Camp Huntington was acquired by the Rec Department is stuff of legends,” Bellingham said. “It’s incredible. if I could even be just a little part of helping a student using Raquette Lake either to realize their dreams or at least to become the best part of themselves, I would love to have a hand in that.”