Celebrating a Skidmore legend: Billie Tisch ’48
With touching tributes from family, students, faculty, and College leaders, Skidmore College recognized storied alumna, trustee, and donor Wilma “Billie” Stein Tisch ’48 by naming its ambitious new science center in her honor.
The new Billie Tisch Center for Integrated Sciences, the largest single academic project in College history, reflects both her profound generosity to Skidmore over many decades and her vision for the future of the College.
At a naming ceremony and dedication for the new facility on Friday, May 20, College leaders past and present spoke about her numerous contributions to Skidmore, recalling how Billie, who served on the Board of Trustees from 1994 to 2014, was the first trustee to speak in favor of the science building and even proposed its name.
“It was Billie who spoke up and said in her quiet way, ‘We should call it “the Center for Integrated Sciences.”’ That name, which seems so obvious today and that so effectively captures our purpose, was the product of Billie Tisch’s own creative thought,” recalled President Emeritus Philip A. Glotzbach. “More than any other person I could name, Billie Tisch exemplifies the virtue of generosity … She has responded to many, but we are honored that she has always assigned Skidmore the very highest priority in her philanthropy.”
Four former chairs of Skidmore’s Board of Trustees, Suzanne Corbet Thomas '62, Janet L. Whitman '59, Linda Toohey, and Judith Pick Eissner '64, joined current chair Nancy W. Hamilton ’77, President Marc C. Conner, and many other members of the Skidmore community at the ceremony. Hamilton called the dedication a “momentous occasion” that recognized a “beloved life trustee.”
President Conner counted Billie among the most impactful figures in Skidmore’s recent history and noted how he learned from her the importance of supporting both students and faculty.
“The Center for Integrated Sciences: This is more than interdisciplinary, which puts disciplines side by side; this weaves them together, creating new synergies and creative possibilities. This is how a college whose motto is Creative Thought Matters should teach science to its students,” Conner said. “Billie Tisch continues to drive Skidmore’s future as well as being an honored figure from its past. That in my estimation is the true measure of philanthropy — of one’s love for humanity.”
Faculty and staff spoke about how Billie’s enduring dedication to Skidmore continues to enhance their careers. Heather Ricker ’22, a recent chemistry graduate and recipient of a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, said she only wished she had been able to spend more time in the new science center.
“I can hardly imagine what the future will look like for scientists at Skidmore who get to fully experience the teaching and research facilities of the Center for Integrated Sciences. I'm thrilled — and only a tiny bit jealous — of the additional resources, opportunities, connections, and memories current and future students will have,” Ricker said. “More than just an updated science facility, the Billie Tisch Center for Integrated Sciences declares that Skidmore is as dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as it is to the arts and humanities.”
Denise Smith, professor of health and human physiological sciences, said holding the Tisch Family Distinguished Professorship has been a highlight of her career by strengthening her connection to the College, providing her time to engage in pathbreaking research into cardiovascular strain associated with firefighting, and supporting collaborative research with students.
Perhaps the greatest gift that Billie gave us is her example — an example that calls us all to give more freely of our talents and our energy to ensure that Skidmore continues to thrive and deliver on our collective promise to our former, current, and future students."Denise SmithTisch Family Distinguished Professor
The ceremony coincided with the completion of the project’s East Wing, the second of three phases of the project’s construction, which opens its doors to students this fall. The ceremony included tours of the stunning new space, which features the Glotzbach Atrium, named for President Emeritus Glotzbach and his wife, Marie Glotzbach; Toohey Tower, named for the former chair of the Board of Trustees and her family; the Schupf Family IdeaLab innovation center and makerspace; state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms, and more.
The first phase of the project, the North Wing, opened in fall 2020. The remainder of the project is on track for completion in 2024.
In addition to supporting the science center and the Tisch Family Distinguished Professorship, Billie and her family have supported the academic work of students and faculty in many other ways, including the Tisch Family Scholarship Endowment, the Tisch Chair in Arts and Letters, and the Tisch Learning Center, which honors Billie Tisch and her late husband, Laurence Tisch.
Billie also contributed to the establishment of an endowed chair with her graduating class, the Class of 1948 Chair for Excellence in Teaching, and has generously supported the Skidmore Fund, ensuring that all students have access to a dynamic Skidmore education.
Students perform a few of Billie Tisch’s favorite songs at the ceremony celebrating her many contributions to Skidmore.
The celebration featured performances by Skidmore student musicians, including “Edelweiss,” a favorite song of Billie, and, of course, a moving rendition of Skidmore’s Alma Mater.
Throughout the day, those close to Billie reminisced about Billie’s continuing legacy. Edgar Wachenheim III, a life trustee, shared “how important Billie’s creative ideas, general wisdom, and smiles have been to Skidmore.”
“A love for Skidmore, a love of her family, a love of others, a love of life— she is a constant source of joy and inspiration to all whose lives she touches,” he wrote.
Billie’s four sons, Andrew, Daniel, James, and Thomas Tisch, described how Skidmore would forever remain “her cherished alma mater.” Speaking on behalf of the family, Thomas Tisch noted how many essential aspects of her personality described in her senior college yearbook — her giggle, her “bright, practical, and able” personality, and her “vivacious efficiency” — endured throughout a lifetime of renowned philanthropy at Skidmore and beyond.
“I think you all know how much my mother loves Skidmore. It’s always been with her, and I just know how much she’d love to be here today,” Thomas Tisch said. “I also know how great she’d feel seeing the shape Skidmore is in.”