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Cornell benefactor Carl A. Kroch dies in Chicago at 84

Carl A. Kroch, a legendary bookseller who was a foremost benefactor of Cornell University, died March 6 of natural causes at his home in Chicago. He was 84.

A 1935 graduate of Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences, Kroch served as a presidential councillor. In 1982 he endowed the position of Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, one of the first such endowed positions in the nation. In 1991 he provided the principal gift of $10 million for the construction of the $25 million Carl A. Kroch Library, which houses Cornell Library's renowned Asia Collections and Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Named a "hero of American culture" by the Library of Congress in 1986, Kroch shaped modern bookselling perhaps more than any other individual in the United States. In a career that spanned more than 50 years, he transformed his family's Chicago bookstores into Kroch's & Brentano's -- at one time the largest privately owned bookstore chain in the United States. He also pioneered many of the concepts in book display and store design that are common throughout the industry.

"Carl Kroch was one of Cornell's most cherished alumni and benefactors," Cornell President Hunter Rawlings said. "His love of books endures in the library named in his honor. We will always remember his generosity and his valued counsel."

Kroch was born into the world of books. His father, Adolph, an Austrian immigrant, opened a small German language bookstore in Chicago in 1907. Later, during World War I, he began selling English-language books, an endeavor that proved so successful he eventually abandoned the German volumes. By the mid-1930s, A. Kroch & Co. owned and operated three bookstores in the city.

Though he entered Cornell as a chemical engineering major, Kroch left engineering in his sophomore year on the advice of Cornell President Livingston Farrand, who urged him to follow in his father's footsteps, according to an interview in the Chicago Tribune in 1992. After graduation, he started as a clerk and moved through the ranks of his father's company as salesman, buyer and vice president. In 1952, he opened the Super Book Mart on South Wabash Avenue with an unheard of inventory of 15,000 titles, and later that year trademarked it as the "World's Largest Bookstore."

Kroch became the company's president and chief executive officer upon his father's retirement in 1952 and expanded the business to form Kroch's & Brentano's. Over the next 20 years, the enterprise grew to 20 stores. The company closed in 1995, after Kroch had retired.

Kroch assembled exceptional collections of rare books, Japanese art and unusual golf balls. He was the co-author of So Red the Nose or Breath in the Afternoon, a 1935 collection of the favorite cocktail recipes of authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Alexander Woollcott. In 1981, the Library of Congress published his American Booksellers and Publishers: A Personal Perspective. He also wrote a column on books, called "Tending Store," which was published for a number of years in the Chicago Tribune.

In 1989, as a memorial to his wife Jeanette "Jet" Kennelly, a former dancer who died in 1988, Kroch provided funds for the Jeanette Kroch Ballet Studio in Cornell's Center for Theatre Arts. He also provided a gift for the Kane Sports Complex throwing fields. He was a founding member of the Library Advisory Council, a member of the Cornell Council of Chicago and a former member of the Cornell Campaign Advisory Council (1990-95). He was honorary chair of the Library Campaign Committee and a member of the Honorary Committee for the Athletics Campaign.

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