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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Going to Cornell in 1930

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 2, 2011

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

Joe Merenda went to Cornell before there were dormitories, residence advisors, financial aid consultants and cafeterias.Born in 1912, Dr. Merenda grew up on a Long Island estate where his parents were employed as laborers.  As he was finishing high school, a Cornell graduate named Jack Sloan noticed the teenager had an affinity for animals. “Go to veterinary college”, he told him. “You go for one year. If you like it, you continue. If you don’t like it, you quit, but you will have had a year of college.”

Joseph Merenda, DVM and friend Ms. Rae Lazare, 2007
Photo by the author
Arriving at the train station in Ithaca with throngs of other students in the fall of 1930, Joe experienced independent living for the first time. “Now that was an experience! You are met up there by a Cornell student and he has a laundry bag—a big khaki laundry bag with a big red C—and you’re not going to be able to go through college unless you’ve got one of those big C laundry bags. So they sell you a laundry bag for 50 cents.

“Then another fellow says, ‘You got a room?’ and I said, ‘No.’ So he says, ‘Wait here’. And they’d get two or three other fellows who didn’t have a room. They took us up by car to a little office in Collegetown. And you’d sit there and they’d say, ‘What kind of room do you want? You want a room on your own, or with one or two people?’

“I didn’t know what I wanted so I took the first house that I saw. There were three of us in that house, sharing two rooms.”

Veterinary classes were also a new experience. The faculty warned the new students to look at the guy to their left and the one to their right because by the end of the term, one of them wouldn’t be there.

“It wasn’t going to be easy. You didn’t know whether you were going or coming; you were overwhelmed. You’re a kid away from home, you’re up there, you’re living in a house, you take your meals when you feel like it. You go to class, and nobody seems to give a darn about what you’re doing. It was just a whole new way of life.”

Joe was one of the 40 students (of 60) to receive his DVM degree on schedule in 1934. He accepted a position with Dr. C.P. Zepp, an accomplished small animal veterinarian with a clinic on West 53rd Street in New York City. It was an exciting time for dog and cat veterinarians. Dr. Merenda and his small animal colleagues were pioneers in every sense of the word, developing procedures that were in some cases more innovative than those used by their former instructors at Cornell.

Current site of the veterinary practice on West 53rd Street,
just east of the Sheraton Hotel.
As he had during his college days, Dr. Merenda continued to live modestly during the Depression, saving much of his weekly $25 salary so he could get married. He was called into military service in 1941, then returned to his small animal practice for an additional 30 years.

Dr. Merenda remained an active alumnus all his life, returning to Cornell yearly for reunions, even as late as 2009 at age 97. Not bad for a kid who had never been away from home!

You can read (and hear) my complete 2007 interview with Dr. Merenda at,%20Joseph%20J.%20'34%20BioInt.pdf

Dr. Smith invites comments at