The Sprecher legacy
Written by Lauren Cahoon Roberts
The library at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has always been an oasis of quiet and calm for aspiring veterinarians. Through the years, stacks of books and quiet corners for study have helped countless Cornellians prepare for exams and synthesize knowledge.
This library is there in part because of one of their own — an alumnus with an abiding love of learning with his wife who shared in his love of scholarship and knowledge. Isidor Sprecher, D.V.M. ’39, and Sylvia Sprecher’s generosity reached across the college, not only by making the Flower-Sprecher Library a center of world-class veterinary knowledge, but also by founding the Sprecher Comparative Cancer Center and the Frank and Rosa Rhodes Presidential Scholarship in Veterinary Medicine. While Isidor passed away in 2004, Sylvia Sprecher carried on their legacy until her recent death at the age of 107 in April 2020. Although they are now both gone, their impact will last into perpetuity through significant planned gifts.
Known as Foremost Benefactors of Cornell University, “both Isidor and Sylvia shared a deep love and appreciation for books,” the late Dr. Donald Smith, the Austin O. Hooey Dean Emeritus, wrote of them in a biography. “It was inspiring to observe them when they visited the college, sitting among the rare books and manuscripts of the veterinary collection, pondering the wisdom and learning that had impregnated the profession by generations of veterinary scholars.”
While the couple moved in the highest circles of Cornell leadership as philanthropists, they were down-to-earth with their family. Their nephew Averum “Jay” Sprecher recalls spending holidays with his aunt and uncle at their farm, where his uncle played the clarinet and crafted wooden clocks as a hobby. Sylvia was an avid skier, golf and tennis player, and worked at a local school helping children learn to read.
Both had an abiding love of learning. “Isidor was very scholarly and had a passion for veterinary medicine,” Sprecher recalls. “He was the type of veterinarian where, if your dog was hit by a car at two in the morning, he would wake up and take care of the animal.” Sylvia was also known to help her husband with emergency surgeries as well.
According to Smith’s biography, Sprecher was an inquisitive man who fashioned a small laboratory in his garage to create new designs of diagnostic instruments and orthopedic or dental appliances that met the special needs of his patients.
The Sprechers’ longstanding support of Cornell began in earnest in the 1970s, when they created a fund to support the pathology department in honor of Isidor’s former professor, Peter Olafson, D.V.M. ’25, M.S. ’26. From there, they created scholarships that helped both veterinary and undergraduate students at Cornell. “Over the next two decades,” Smith writes, “and spanning several veterinary deans and university presidents, the bond between the Sprecher’s and Cornell solidified and deepened. A special friendship was forged between Dr. Sprecher and Cornell President Frank H. T. Rhodes.”
At Isidor’s 55th class reunion, he and Sylvia celebrated the renaming of the CVM library to the Roswell P. Flower-Isidor I. and Sylvia M. Sprecher Veterinary Library (later shortened to the Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library) in 1994.
In Smith’s interview with Sylvia Sprecher, she recalled the impetus for the gift. “When he came to Cornell, there was a very small library. It was a one room thing, very little room to study,” she said. “He vowed then, that if at any time he could afford it, he would change that, which he did. I think that is very commendable.”
They followed this gift with the establishment of the Sprecher Comparative Cancer Institute, with the goal of linking cancer biology research and clinical research in multiple species. Both Sylvia and Isidor had lost people to cancer and were deeply motivated to help fight the disease. “When you see that, you can never forget it,” Sylvia said in her interview with Smith. “As long as we could afford to do it, we supported the cancer program.”
When they established the center, president emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes thanked the Sprecher’s for their continued generosity, noting, “The Sprecher Institute will be a jewel in the Cornell crown.”
According to Smith, Isidor responded, “I hope others will benefit from the institute and emulate what we have done to help make Cornell great.”
“Isidor was a man that, if he gave you his word, it was rock solid. He was an extremely honest, moral person.””Averum "Jay" Sprecher, nephew of Isidor Sprecher.
The couple’s deep generosity was just part of who they were, according to Jay Sprecher. “Isidor was a man that, if he gave you his word, it was rock solid,” he says. “He was an extremely honest, moral person.”
As the future marches forward, the Sprechers’ word continues to provide a firm foundation for the college. “I had the great honor of knowing Sylvia Sprecher, and have always admired both her and her husband’s dedication to the college, and to making the world a better place,” says Lorin D. Warnick, D.V.M., Ph.D. ’94, Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “Their value and long-term support of academic endeavors that serve humanity have truly enriched and empowered the college and Cornell.” •