Gene A. German passed away peacefully on October 9, 2023 surrounded by family which included his wife of 68 years, Jean H. German. Gene grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan, attended Michigan State University, and spent his summers in northern Michigan where he met Jean, his southern belle from Little Rock, Arkansas.
At Michigan State, Gene was president of his fraternity, Phi Kappa Tau, president of MSU’s interfraternity council, president of his junior class, and won the honorary Shideler Award for the most outstanding Phi Kappa Tau member in the United States. Gene was a cheerleader and chairman of the Spartan Spirit Committee, organizing all the campus pep rallies. His spirit was evident when MSU won their first Rose Bowl in 1954 and he led them in the Rose Bowl Parade. Gene was an ROTC graduate and was commissioned as an officer in the Army and served as a lieutenant for two years.
Gene and Jean moved to the Ithaca, NY area, from Michigan in 1963. Their relocation happened shortly after Gene acquired his Master’s Degree in Food Industry Management from Cornell’s Department of Agricultural Economics in 1958. Gene went on to fulfill a 40-year career of teaching, research, and extension work with the department. As the Robert G. Tobin Professor Emeritus in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, retiring in 1998, Gene shared his mentorship and passion for the food industry with students, faculty and staff.
During his years at Cornell, Gene directed the Home Study Program for food industry managers and employees and was honored by the National Association of Food Chains for his 10 years of service to the industry; completed his PhD in 1978; formally joined the faculty in Agricultural Economics; and taught numerous undergraduate classes. One of his greatest passions was his role as a faculty advisor. Gene touched the hearts of many students by dedicating his advisement in the form of biweekly meetings, supporting various career and life discussions, and fostering personal relationships by hosting spring picnics and chili dinners at their home with Jean. He also enjoyed serving for many years as the faculty advisor for the men’s hockey team. His commitment to his advisees and maintaining meaningful relationships was at the essence of his teaching and played a key role in his legacy at Cornell.
When he became the Director of the Food Executive Program in 1978, Gene helped advance the Food Industry Management Program into the robust program that it is today. Gene also helped form a Food Industry advisory board and led research projects that gave the program worldwide and national recognition and stature as one of the best in the country. He maintained an international network of industry leaders and hosted multiple student trips to Japan and Italy. Gene has truly been a pioneer in the food industry and left a profound legacy of integrity, passion, and mentorship across the globe and within the Cornell community.
Through his work, teaching, and research at Cornell, Gene was blessed with the opportunity to travel worldwide and on many trips Jean was his traveling companion. They both loved their traveling adventures and warmly embraced new cultures and experiences. Gene and Jean were known for their sense of kindness, joy, and friendship wherever they traveled, resulting in life-long friends from around the world.
Gene and Jean made their home and raised their three daughters in Dryden, New York. Gene’s appreciation for this small community was evidenced in the many ways he served in volunteer roles for the village and several community organizations. Gene served on the Dryden School Board, the Dryden Village Board, and served as chair of the Dryden Zoning Board of Appeals for many years. He and another colleague were instrumental in creating the Dryden Time Square, a commemorative community gathering spot. Gene was also active in their Ithaca church, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, where he and Jean served on committees and supported weekly church services.
Gene was never one to sit still for long and kept active on the basketball and tennis courts, including several years on the Ithaca Owls senior basketball team and winning a gold medal at the 2003 Senior Olympics. Gene’s favorite pastimes included gardening, fishing, raising Christmas trees, and biking. He was a true Renaissance man who painted, played the piano, loved jazz, and was a voracious reader. Making up games and family game nights were established traditions he inspired. His passion, intensity, and love of playing (all games!) is part of his legacy. Summers were often spent with family camping in the Adirondack mountains as well as a yearly return to the white sandy shores of Lake Michigan in Glen Arbor. Cornell athletics was also something close to Gene’s heart. He and Jean attended many a hockey game, as they were Lynah Faithful fans since their arrival on campus in 1963. They also found time for attending football, softball, basketball, and many other athletic events, not only supporting the teams, but often supporting his student advisees participating in the sports as well.
Gene’s love of family was all encompassing. He became a Justice of the Peace to officiate at marriage ceremonies and had the joy to marry many of his grandchildren.
Gene is survived by his wife Jean, and their three daughters Terri German Jackson (Clay Jackson), Nancy German Brook Heckel (David Heckel), and Amy German. He’s known as Papa G to his grandchildren: Beth Jackson Tillotson (JD Tillotson), Tracey Jackson Swiderski (Isaac Swiderski), Tyler Beck (Stephanie Rogers), Austin Beck (Kalee Walden), Alexa Beck, Kelsie Brook Eckert (Jeff Eckert), Lindsay Brook (Vince Theodorakis), Haley Brook (Tim Lewis), Kent Heckel (Jamie Wissman Heckel), Leland Heckel. And finally, the Elite Eight great grandkids – Addison Beck, Juliette Beck, Warren Eckert, Peter Eckert, Orion Brook, Isla Heckel, Wyatt Swiderski, and Sawyer Swiderski.
If you ask any of the family members above what they think of when they think Gene, Dad, or Papa G you’ll get a smile, a laugh and a resounding “pure joy,” for it was the grace, love, and thoughtfulness that he embraced with everyone. It’s his childlikeness in having fun, his courtesy and respect in business, his genuine love for his Cornell students and colleagues, and unconditional love and support for every family member that calls out his “pure joy.” A joy he would want all of us to embrace with each other.
Should anyone wish to make a donation in Gene’s honor, you may contribute to the Gene A. and Jean H. German Scholarship fund at Cornell University or to Cornell Men’s Hockey
Here are the links for online giving:
Gene A. and Jean H. German Scholarship
Cornell Men’s Ice Hockey
Or you may also mail a check. Send checks payable to ‘Cornell University’ to:
Boone, IA 50037-0334
Please note in paperwork or on the check that the gift is in honor of Gene German for either the:
Gene A. and Jean H. German Scholarship
Cornell Men’s Ice Hockey
Perkins Funeral Home, Dryden is assisting the family. Online condolences at www.perkinsfh.com