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I have always enjoyed listening to my father’s stories about his days as a student at Cornell.  Whenever I hit a rough patch during my own academic career­ or wrestled with the prospect of applying to Ph.D. programs, my dad has always been ready with an anecdote from his own days in Ithaca. (Full disclosure: I am not a Cornellian, having earned my degrees at Chicago and Duke.)  One of the things I’ve always taken away from such stories is a sense of how much of my love of learning I owe to him.  We both are, and apparently always have been, hard-core academics. To put not too fine a point on it, we are the epitome of un-cool.

No one looking at my father, in his Cornell days or afterwards, would mistake

Ron and Dan at Ricks

him for Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider. Nor could anyone who knew him easily imagine him paddling out a board into the Pacific to ride the waves. So when my dad first told me about his old roommates, Dan Stern and Ron Schendel, I was more than a little curious.

Back in 1962, Dan and Ron each bought a scooter, and together they began tooling around New York State. Typically, they’d take trips out to Cortland, Syracuse or Saratoga. The longest trek they made in those days was the roundtrip between Ithaca and New York City, where they’d both grown up. The two were riding solo for

Ron and Dan with Harleys

a few years. Dan earned his Master’s in Electrical Engineering at USC before heading back to Cornell for his Ph.D. Ron left Cornell for a job in Niagara Falls after earning his Master’s in Chemical Engineering. But by 1971, both men were neighbors in California. They’ve been hitting the road together ever since, now on motorcycles.





Click here to join Dan and Ron on their Excellent Adventures

Typically, a summer excursion for Dan and Ron will involve heading up the


coast to Oregon, Washington State, sometimes as far as Canada. They’re just as likely to turn southward and head for Mexico. Over the last two summers, they’ve hit the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota, the biggest motorcycle rally in the country. And for their last three Cornell Reunions, the intrepid pair has made a trip that would do Fonda and Hopper proud. Shipping their Harleys out to New Jersey, where Dan’s brother lives, the two have driven up to Ithaca. At the end of each Reunion, they’ve headed westward all the way to Washington State, then down the West Coast and home to Southern California.
Alone, Dan has ridden even farther a field, cycling through both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. He’s an avid collector, not just of bikes but


of sports cars. The self-professed “gear head” currently owns three motorcycles and a Porsche 911. His past prizes have included Ferraris, Lotuses and Austin Healeys.

Apart from their mechanical interests, both men are avid surfers, though in this case, Ron was the pioneer. When he first moved to the Golden State in 1971, Ron’s neighbors were surfers, and they invited him to borrow a surfboard whenever he liked. But it wasn’t till the late 1990s when he started taking lessons through the City of Hermosa Beach. His determination to master the sport quickly cost him some painful learning experiences.

Riding the waves

“They call it ‘going into the washing machine,’” says Ron, describing the rough spills he endured. “You get turned over, the wave kind of pounds you around, and you get held under for a while.”

Eventually, Dan decided to follow Ron’s lead, taking lessons from the same Hermosa Beach instructor. For Dan, surfing is both fun and convenient to his Manhattan Beach home. “I can walk out of my garage, down the hill, and ten minutes later I'm not only in the water but outside where the waves are breaking, waiting for a wave,” says Dan. But he also readily admits that Ron is the more aggressive surfer. Ron travels up and down the California coast, hitting beaches as far north as Cambria and as far south as La Jolla. Back in 2005, he even had the golden opportunity to catch the waves off Oahu every day for six months, as a perk of a Hawaiian consulting assignment.
Even a dynamic duo like Dan and Ron need to take a break from the road and

Ron and Kelly

the waves eventually. Dan’s wife Gail, who holds an MS in Psychology from Kansas State University, often joins Dan on his trips back to Cornell. On their most recent trip to Ithaca, this past October, the Sterns had an introduction to the Dalai Lama. Also keeping Dan grounded is Macduff, his and Gail’s Border Collie. Dan notes that Macduff is smarter than him and nearly has him properly trained. Ron’s wife Kelly holds an MFA in Creative Writing from California State University, Long Beach. The Schendels share their home with Buddy, a Golden Retriever, and their cat Bullwinkle. Their daughter, Amy, is a graduate of the University of California at Irvine with a bachelor’s degree


in English.