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The Johnson Family Legacy at Cornell University


President Dale Corson looks on as architect I.M. Pei greets Herbert F. Johnson Jr. ’22 at the May 1973 dedication of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Photo Provided.

The gift given by SC Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson and his company to endow and name the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business marks the latest chapter in a relationship between the Johnson family and Cornell University that extends more than 120 years.

“The Johnson family has provided remarkable leadership and support to Cornell over three generations,” said Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III. ”Their friendship, guidance and generosity have helped to shape the university we know today – from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, to the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management to the newly named college of business.”

In 1967, Fisk’s grandfather Herbert F. Johnson Jr. ’22, who served as a trustee from 1947-72 and a presidential councilor from 1972 until his death in 1978, committed funds that allowed Cornell to build the art museum bearing his name. He chose Cornell for its strength in chemistry, an area his father deemed crucial for the future of the family company. As a student, he met his future wife, Gertrude, the daughter of Olaf Brauner, a Cornell professor from 1896 to 1939 and founder of the university’s Department of Art.

Cornell trustees and members of Cornell University Council applaud the Johnson family at the October 1984 announcement of Sam and Gene’s gift to name the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Photo Provided.

Both of Fisk’s parents attended Cornell as well. Samuel C. Johnson ’50 was a trustee from 1966-88, presidential councilor from 1988 until his death in 2004, and longtime member of the Johnson School Advisory Council and Lab of Ornithology Administrative Board. Imogene Powers Johnson ’52 remains a presidential councilor and member of the Lab of Ornithology Administrative Board. Together, Sam and Gene made numerous landmark gifts to Cornell, including the naming of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management in honor of Sam’s grandfather in 1984 and the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity in 2000. Their $20 million gift for the Johnson School was, at the time, the largest ever from individuals to a business school. Over time, the school has realized more than $100 million in support from that gift.

Johnson Dean Robert Swieringa, President Hunter Rawlings, Samuel C. Johnson ’50, Imogene Powers Johnson ’52, and board Chairman Harold Tanner ’52 attend the Sage Hall cornerstone ceremony on Oct. 15, 1997. Photo Provided.

In addition, Fisk and his three siblings all attended Cornell. Fisk holds five degrees spanning the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the Johnson School, and he has served as a trustee, trustee emeritus, and presidential councilor, as well as an adviser to the Johnson Graduate School of Management. His brother Curt ’77 and sisters Helen ’78 and Winifred (Winnie) ’81 also attended Arts and Sciences. Curt and Helen are former members of Cornell University Council and Helen has served on the Athletics Alumni Advisory Committee and was inducted into the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame.

Fisk’s and SC Johnson’s new gift to Cornell places the Johnson family among Cornell’s most generous and loyal benefactors.

In 1984, then-President Frank H.T. Rhodes said of the Johnson School gift: “… there are certain events in the history of great institutions that represent turning points. Before these singular events, the future offers one set of possibilities. After these events, the whole range of possibilities is changed.”

The formation of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business amplifies and extends that impact for future generations of business students at Cornell.

President Frank H.T. Rhodes and Samuel C. Johnson ’50. Photo Provided.

 

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.