Robert T. Dean '49

A Tribute to Robert T. Dean '49, a True Gentleman of NY Alpha
By Hal Sieling '62

"On this day when the sun shines bright and the hills are beautiful with their autumn foliage," we regret to inform you of the loss of our friend, brother, and leader, Bob Dean. To Cornell, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and his friends, there was no finer man. When he was a young man, he excelled in football and brought many a cheer from the home crowd with his play. In business, he excelled by building a strong team. For those of us who knew him as a chapter adviser, he was a leader and a True Gentleman of his fraternity. He established the foundation for success of our beloved NY Alpha at a time when few thought it was possible to survive. No one did more to build the future of SAE at Cornell than Bob did, and his influence will never be forgotten.

In the late '70s and early '80s, Bob bailed out the house more than one time with financial help. He also developed a plan that would ensure continued success for SAE at Cornell. More importantly, he sold that plan to the CU administration at a time when they had little interest. Out of these negotiations came an unprecedented agreement: a three-way relationship between the active brotherhood, the alumni association, and Cornell that set the framework for a partnership that has endured to this day.

Bob was a gentle and gracious man, but also a determined one. He knew that his plan would work and would not give up, no matter the obstacles, until he got buy-ins from everyone. When he finished his job, he walked away and left a far better place for others to manage. That was how Bob operated.

It is fitting that Bob passed away on the very day he must have enjoyed the most: Homecoming at Cornell University.

"Bob was an extremely important person in the history of SAE and Hillcrest. I am glad we honored him when we did with the first True Gentleman award. He was truly touched by the award and expressed a strong emotional connection to SAE that day. There would be no NY Alpha chapter today without Bob Dean."
-- Mike Slusar '86

CFA will salute MacLeod, Dean, Thoren, Vanneman
By Jim Hanchett '53, Cornell Football Association Historian (exerpted)

The Cornell Football Association, now in its 17th season, will honor four of its foremost friends on CFA Awards Day at Schoellkopf on the day of the Harvard game, October 8, [2011]. [...]

The late Bob Dean '48, Ted Thoren, and Bill Vanneman '31 are to receive CFA's Joe King '36 Memorial Award, named for the former trustee and kingpin of alumni activities in Rochester.

Dean, who died [in fall 2010], was born in Indiana but lived most of his full life in Ithaca. He began a freshman year at Indiana University, but when World War II began, he went into Army Air Force bombardier training. After the war, he found his way to Cornell, where he earned football letters in 1946-'48. Sometimes he was a starting fullback and sometimes a T quarterback. His 88-punt against Colgate in 1948 established a long-long standing record and so did a 98-yard pass connection to Norm Dawson against Navy.

Cornell went into the fourth quarter 26-14 behind Dartmouth at Schoellkopf in '48. With 2:40 left, Dean plunged over from the one-foot-line to tie the score, then kicked the PAT that gave the Red a 27-26 win en route to an 8-1 season and mythical Ivy laurels.

After earning an electrical engineering degree, he latched on with an Ithaca electronic dealership and in due course founded Bob Dean, Inc., also an electronics firm. Deanco and its employee-shared ownership followed.

Throughout his alumni years, Dean could be seen on fall Saturdays seated in front of the press box at about midfield to experience both bitter and better days. He was active with football friends, a Cayuga Heights trusteeship, and significant contributions of time and treasure to his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He was survived by Maxine, who had been at his side since their youth together back home in Indiana; four adult children; and nine grandchildren.

[...] On Saturday, October 8, honorees, family and friends will meet at a 10 a.m. reception on the Tanner Terrace at Schoellkopf and, at 11:30, repair to the Football Tradition Room for the presentation ceremonies. At 12:30, the honorees--co-captains for the day--will go onto the field for the pre-Harvard game coin toss. After that, they'll return to the terrace to see Coach Kent Austin's guys hammer Harvard.

Obituary for Robert T. Dean

From the Ithaca Journal, October 5, 2010

Robert (Bob) T. Dean died peacefully Saturday evening, September 25, 2010, comforted by the presence of family. Born April 10, 1923 in Rensselaer, Indiana, Bob's early childhood was graced with the academic values of his father, a high-school principal, and the religious convictions of his mother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. Family values of individual responsibility, honesty, hard work, and community service blended naturally with Bob's outgoing and optimistic nature. The glass was always half full in his eyes. A love of physical activity and the outdoors propelled him into the family sport of golf, adding football and basketball during his teen years and skiing as a young adult. Bob graduated from high school in Bloomington, Indiana and went on to start his freshman year at Indiana University where he met his future wife, Maxine, in freshman English. World War II redirected Bob after that first year. He enlisted in the Air Force, spending time with bombardier training and continuing to play football with the military league. This led to his decision after the war to enroll at Cornell University. There he studied electrical engineering and played football with the Big Red during the winning years when the crescent was full, establishing records for kicking and the longest play from scrimmage. He was the Sun's athlete of the year in 1949 and admitted into the CU Hall of Fame in September 1986. It took very little to convince Bob to stay in the Ithaca area after graduating from Cornell in 1949. There were employment opportunities, many good friends and a quality of life in Ithaca that was perfect for a young family. Bob joined a local electronic distributorship before founding Bob Dean lnc., an electronic manufacturer's rep business and then Deanco, an electronics distributor which ultimately expanded to Boston, Maryland, Florida, and Chicago. Bob's optimistic view of people and their potential, along with his willingness to set up Deanco with an employee-shared ownership program, enabled this amazing growth. Community involvement was a natural extension of Bob's business and personal life. He was actively involved as an alumni with SAE, Village of Cayuga Heights trustee, trustee and past board chairman at First Presbyterian, active in Cornell Council, on the boards of Country Club and TCTC, and director and member of several trade groups. Bob's later years continued to be active; skiing and playing golf into his eighties, nurturing a large circle of friends, engaging his grandchildren on the lake and slopes while optimistically embracing new opportunities and supporting local business efforts. He was a loving and generous man who will be greatly missed. Bob is survived by his wife, Maxine, together since 1945; children, Jeff (Barbara Claas) Dean, Diane (Don) Carpenter, Debra (Alan) Ledet, Doug (Sue) Dean; grandchildren, Ryan, Dustin, Kelly, Kasey, Marissa, Kendal, Karen, Kali, and Jenna; sister-in-law, Betty; nephews, Ross, Richard, Robert, and Randal Dean and their families; and many friends. Preceded in death by his only sibling and mentor, Ross H. Dean. A memorial and celebration of a life well lived will be held Sunday, October 10, 2010, at 3 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Ithaca. The family invites you to join them for a reception immediately following in the church fellowship hall. In lieu of flowers, please remember Bob in a way of your choosing.

From the 2010 Cornell football program: Bob Dean '49 scores from one foot out and kicks the PAT with 2:40 left, giving the Big Red a 27-26 come-from-behind victory over Dartmouth in front of 30,000 fans at Schoellkopf field. The Big Red takes the mythical Ivy League Championship with a perfect record behind the feats of Hillary Chollet '50 and Pete Dorset '50.

A True Gentleman of New York Alpha

At Reunion 2004, SAE presented Robert T. Dean '49 with the True Gentleman Award.

The following is the text of the speech honoring Bob Dean, given by Alumni Association President Kevin T. Merriman '88:

A year ago we, as a board, decided it was important to honor alumni who have made important contributions to industry, the professions, or in service the fraternity; those whose lives exemplify the values and ideals of SAE, and it was decided that officers of the alumni assoc. would, from time-to-time, honor a brother in this fashion.

But, having agreed that this was important, we struggled with the question of what to name the award, and what criteria should be used in determining who should be selected to receive such an honor.

The answer soon became obvious; the criteria could only be our creed, The True Gentleman by John Walter Wayland, as that is the truest statement of what each of us as brothers of SAE strives to be in our own lives. It is worth reciting now, both as a reminder to us of the ideals it pronounces, and, for those who are not members of the fraternity, to provide a better understanding of what we are recognizing today.

The true gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.
- John Walter Wayland

Thus, the True Gentleman Award. With these words in mind, it is befitting that our very first recipient of the True Gentleman Award is Bob Dean.

Bob could receive this award for many reasons, among them being:

  • He graduated from Cornell's College of Engineering in '49
  • He was a star football player, having lettered in '46, '47, and '48 as a back, punter, and kicker.
  • Bob set Cornell's all-time record for long plays, passing for a TD in a game with a 98-yard TD pass against Navy in '47.
  • For these achievements, he was inducted into Cornell's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.
  • Bob has also been involved in many civic organizations, including as a trustee of the Village of Cayuga Heights, and as chairman of the Presbyterian Church.
  • In addition, he is an accomplished businessman.

But while all of these accomplishments are certainly noteworthy, we honor Bob today as a True Gentleman because of his dedicated service to the fraternity.

At our lowest point in NY Alpha's long history at Cornell, fraternities were unpopular and membership was down considerably; so much so that it could not keep pace with its operating costs. This, in turn, led to borrowing, which led to substantial debt. By the late 1970s, the house was essentially bankrupt.

Bob Dean entered the picture, and spent many thankless years negotiating with CU to assume ownership and financial stewardship of the house and, at the same time, to preserve Hillcrest for generations of students to come.

Out of these negotiations came an unprecedented agreement; it resulted in a three-way relationship among the active brotherhood, the alumni assoc. and CU that set the framework for a partnership that has lasted two decades. It remains at the very heart of our organization. Indeed, we still operate today in accordance with its terms, which can be viewed on our website. Bob's tireless efforts built the foundation for a new beginning, a beginning that attracted new leadership and inspired new generations of actives, and continues to endure today.

Bob Dean '49 receiving True Gentleman award, with Charlie Kunken '05 looking on, at the awards ceremony during Reunion Weekend 2004.

A Profile on Bob Dean
From the New York Alpha News, Spring 2004

Robert T. Dean graduated from the College of Engineering with a degree in electrical engineering in '49. He was also an outstanding football player and was inducted into the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986. Bob is also a successful businessman and established Deanco, a limited line technical distributor in 1964. This June, he will celebrate his 55th reunion.

Bob has also been involved in various civic activities including being a trustee of the Village of Cayuga Heights and past board chairman of the Presbyterian Church.

He has also worked with the United Fund, was a board member of the Country Club of Ithaca, and has been involved in various local, state, and national organizations related to his business. By virtue of being a past chapter adviser, he is also a member of the New York Alpha alumni board.

Bob and his wife, Maxine (Indiana '45), live on the east shore of Cayuga Lake. They have four children, two of whom received degrees from Cornell University.

In football Bob excelled. He lettered in '46, '47, and '48 as a back, punter, and kicker. He won many games for the Big Red with his last-minute heroics. He set Cornell's all-time record for long plays, passing for a TD in a game with a 98-yard TD pass versus Navy in '47. That record still stands. He was named Cornell Sun Athlete of the Year for 1948-49.

What every New York Alpha brother should remember brother Dean for, however, was not played out on the football field. His unparalleled dedication and commitment to SAE in the late '70s and early '80s as chapter adviser were critical to our survival as a fraternity. Others gave up, but not Bob. The house was a mess both physically and financially and without help was sure to go under.

Bob personally shelled out money for repairs and operating capital. He worked tirelessly with the university on a plan to transfer ownership of Hillcrest to Cornell as a means of saving SAE and our rights to occupy Hillcrest. The result of his focused effort was the '85 agreement, which, to this day, serves as the operating platform between Cornell University, the active brothers in the chapter, and your alumni board.

Thank you, Bob, for all you did. You are a very special brother, The True Gentleman.