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benches atop Libe Slope

A bench honoring Steven Stein '61 and Susan Volpert-Stein '62 and their love for each other and Cornell now overlooks Libe Slope and West Campus from behind Uris Library and McGraw Tower. Photo: Joe Wilensky

New bench atop Libe Slope honors couple 'whose life paths crossed on this hill'

Susan Stein and Steven Stein in 1960

Susan Volpert-Stein and Steven Stein at a Beta Sigma Rho fraternity party in March 1960. The couple, who had met about a year earlier, were going steady. Image: Provided

In 1959, two Cornell students went on a first date.

Steven Stein, a sophomore, came from a downstate middle-class family, which generously funded his life as a full-time student. Susan Volpert, a freshman from an upstate New York family, worked long hours waitressing at Willard Straight Hall's Elmhurst Room in addition to her studies.

"My mother's time was aggressively budgeted," says Danny Stein '92, one of the couple's three children, all of whom were accepted to Cornell – but that's getting ahead of the story. "They had a study date," he explains.

Steven Stein '61 remembers that first date over books in Franklin [now Tjaden] Hall: "We sat at opposite ends of a conference table. After 15 minutes, the conversation started. We got very little studying done. That was the beginning of our life together."

On the 30th anniversary of that first study date, Jan. 23, 1989, Susan Volpert-Stein '62 surprised her husband by throwing a Cornell-themed party at their home in Connecticut and inviting old Cornell friends, who came from as far away as China.

"The invitations were sent out in blue [exam] books and everyone was encouraged to dress as if it was 1959," says Vicky Stein Feltman '99, their daughter.

Susan Stein photo from her memorial program

This photo of Susan Stein appeared on the program of her memorial service in 2014.

The couple's love for Cornell is now a permanent part of the Ithaca campus. In 2015, their three children (including Matthew Stein, who attended Franklin and Marshall College) gave a gift dedicating a bench overlooking Libe Slope to their parents, "whose life paths crossed on this hill," as the dedication reads.

Steven Stein still practices international law in Manhattan and lives in the family home, where conversation about Cornell was common around the dinner table. Susan Volpert-Stein died in 2014.

Along with the Libe Slope bench, a scholarship will be established in her memory. The scholarship will benefit a female student who is studying statistics, the field to which Susan Volpert-Stein dedicated her career.

"One of the reasons for our generosity to Cornell was because of the university's generosity to Susan at a critical point in her life," says Steve; when Susan was a junior, her father died unexpectedly. The Cornell dean of women found out about the loss and offered her a scholarship so she could finish her degree.

Susan got the help when she needed it, says Steve, going on to earn her Ph.D. in statistics from the City University of New York and then teaching at Baruch College for more than 25 years.

"We love the university," says Danny. "There's a special place in the Stein psyche for Cornell."

Dedicated benches on campus are a long tradition, of course; find out more about many more campus benches – and the wisdom often inscribed upon them – in this Ezra magazine story.

Another bench dedicated to 'true love'

bench dedicated to Nancy and Andy Sexton

Another new bench, dedicated by Nancy Sexton '82, MBA '86, in memory of her husband, Andy Sexton, MBA '86, overlooks a quiet brook in Wee Stinky Glen and is dedicated "To those who find true love and friendship at Cornell." Photo: Joe Wilensky

Nancy Sexton '82, MBA '86 and her husband, Andy Sexton, MBA '86, started dating while studying for intermediate accounting at Johnson. They were married for 26 years and had two daughters; Andy died in 2015 after battling neuroendocrine cancer for six years.

"Andy loved Ithaca as much as I did," Nancy Sexton says. "We had always tossed around the idea of dedicating a bench. I felt that rather than a tombstone in a cemetery with just his name on it, it was important to have something with both of our names on it, joined together in some positive way."

Their wooden bench, which overlooks a quiet brook in Wee Stinky Glen, is dedicated "To those who find true love and friendship at Cornell."

"I am excited at the thought of Cornellians, young and old, sitting on our bench, falling in love, maybe even a few marriage proposals," says Sexton, "or just sitting there and thinking about those that came before them and fell in love not only with each other, but with Cornell and the beauty of Ithaca."

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