Brunell, the longest-serving teacher at Cayuga, was also one of the longest-serving in the State University system. With 57? years of service, his seniority in the state's Teacher Retirement System was exceeded by only one other active employee.
Recalling Brunell's signal contribution to the college's first half century, Cayuga Community College president Dennis Golladay said, “A respected, and even revered, figure on campus, Professor Brunell maintained through all his 50 years of teaching the vigor, insight, and intellectual depth for which he was noted. Students flocked to his classes, and he delivered to them not only value and rigor in the classroom, but also his wisdom and guidance as they planned their futures. We will miss him greatly.”
Born June 5, 1922, in Gardner, Massachusetts, Brunell became a World War II veteran before completing college. A student at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, when the United States entered the war, Brunell was assigned to the U. S. Army intelligence for three years as a French interpreter. His war memories included teaching French to Army troops, participating in the D-Day invasion, action in the Battle of the Bulge, and reconstruction service in Paris.
Returning to Colby College after the war, Brunell obtained his bachelor's degree there in 1947 in Foreign Language/English. That same year, he received the French Consulate Award for scholastic ranking in language, and began his teaching career with the Little Falls (New York) Central School.
Brunell received his master's degree in Foreign Language/English from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1949. He went on to pursue postgraduate studies in the humanities at Syracuse University, and in the early 1950s, served as a language consultant for the World Language Dictionary.
From 1952 to 1954 Brunell taught at the State University College at Oswego. In 1954 he joined the English faculty of the year-old Auburn Community College (later to become Cayuga Community College). He remained a full-time member of the college faculty for the rest of his life, and also served as chair of the English department, professor of German, French, and Spanish, member and chair of countless committees, and dean of student personnel. In 1961, he authored the college's first self-study report required for initial accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Among the Cayuga student organizations he advised were Phi Theta Kappa, the Collegian newspaper, Nainrubua yearbook, and student government. A mentor to many students, he organized study groups, research projects, and writing experiences to assist and challenge them.
The college's unofficial historian, Brunell supplied considerable first-hand knowledge for Cayuga's semicentennial celebration in 2003?4. When asked about facts from the college's past, he often remarked, “Remember? Of course?I was there.” He served as the College's commencement speaker in 1974 and 2001.
Brunell garnered a number of local, statewide, and national honors during his tenure at Cayuga, including
National Outstanding Educator in America award in 1973 and other years
SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1974
Cayuga Community College Faculty Award for Excellence in 1991
Resolution by the New York State Legislature in 1994 in recognition of 40 years? service on the Cayuga Community College faculty
Honorary Alumnus Award from the Auburn/Cayuga Community College Alumni Association in 2001
Colby College's Alumni Outstanding Educator Award for 2002?3
The inaugural SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Faculty Service in 2004, honoring a half century of service to the College, its students and staff, and the community
In addition, the Cayuga County Legislature proclaimed May 20, 2001, “Robert H. Brunell Day” in Cayuga County. In 2003 Brunell received a citation from his hometown alma mater, Gardner (Massachusetts) Public Schools, for Educational Excellence and Significant Lifetime Achievements. That same year, he was honored by the Experience Works program at a ceremony at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And at the 2003 New York State Fair, Senator Hillary Clinton honored Brunell as New York State's Most Outstanding Older Worker.
A lifelong interest in music and the arts kept Brunell active in the community. An accomplished crafter, he regularly displayed his work at the college's annual crafts festival. The Key of C, a local musical quartet founded in 1971 and directed by Brunell, performed at the Willard Chapel for New York State Tourism Bureau radio spots. Just days before his death, the Key of C entertained the residents of Schwartz Towers, a senior citizen housing complex. Brunell also played the organ professionally at St. Luke's United Church of Christ in Auburn, along with other area churches and community events. This December he entertained at the annual holiday open house held by the Seward House.
Between academic years at the college, Brunell spent his summers in Arlington, Vermont, near his beloved Green Mountains. A favorite companion was his cherished golden retriever, Apollo, who died in 2003.
Brunell was predeceased in 1980 by his wife, Catherine Clark Brunell. He is survived by his son, Lee H. Brunell, and daughter-in-law, Martha Gay, of Virginia; his daughter, Rev. Martha Brunell, of Missouri; and his grandchildren, Nathan and Scott Brunell and Amanda and Molly Mehl. His passing is mourned by colleagues and close long-time friends including Dr. Linda Ann Townsend and family of Auburn, and Cayuga professor John Harty and his wife, Jane.
Professor Brunell was proud of his love of learning and academic excellence, and he bequeaths this legacy to his colleagues, students, alumni, and friends at Cayuga Community College and the greater local community. Funeral arrangements will be through Heieck-Pelc Funeral Home, 42 East Genesee Street, Auburn. At the deceased's request, no calling hours will be held. The college will schedule a public memorial service during the spring semester.