A family with Cornell roots nearly 100 years old is helping the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences promote safe, high-quality foods well into the 21st century.
A $3 million gift from the George Gellert family – whose Gellert Global Group includes one of the largest collections of privately held food importing companies in North America – has created a new endowed professorship in the Department of Food Science. The position and its inaugural appointee, Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D. ’97, will focus on prevention and control of bacterial foodborne illnesses and zoonotic diseases passed from animals to humans, including persistent public health threats such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella.
“The association my family and I have had with Cornell has been a crucial element to our success in the food business,” said George G. Gellert ’60, MBA ’62, J.D. ’63. “It has helped us with relationships, ideas and solutions. As leaders in the food industry, it is important to contribute to a business environment focused on food safety. It is a privilege for us to see that Cornell continues its leadership role in this discipline. Professor Wiedmann is one of the world’s leading experts on foodborne illness and we are honored that he will be the inaugural appointee.”
The Gellert family connections to Cornell and the food industry started with Gellert’s father, Imre Thomas Gellert ’27, who sold the family’s luxury garment business to take over operation of a poultry farm in upstate New York. That business soon became one of the largest in the Northeast, and the genesis of a family entrepreneurial legacy that George Gellert and other family members expanded into the Gellert Global Group – now with more than $1 billion in annual revenue from food importing, real estate and restaurant operations.
The Gellert-Cornell legacy continues to expand, with 15 Cornellians and 25 Cornell degrees among the family members, including 14 CALS grads. They include a presidential councilor and trustee; four members on the University Council and members of the CALS and the Food Science advisory councils.
“George and the Gellert family have been part of CALS and Cornell for many years. Their efforts and expertise have contributed so much to the very fabric of our university,” said Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “This generous gift further extends the Gellerts’ great legacy. The faculty position it supports will allow our researchers to lead the way in protecting the safety of our food supply for generations to come.”
The Department of Food Science is one of the best such programs in the nation, applying principles of science and engineering to ensure the nutritional value, safety and quality of foods in the United States and around the globe. Wiedmann is an internationally recognized expert on microorganisms that cause foodborne deaths. The department integrates the disciplines of chemistry, biology, nutrition, physiology, biotechnology and engineering to ensure that all people have access to healthy, affordable food.
“I am so pleased to have the Gellert family associated with the food science department in this way,” said Olga Padilla-Zakour, M.S. ’88, Ph.D. ’91, professor and chair of food science. “The gift of the Gellert Family Professorship in Food Safety comes at an important time to ensure continued progress in this vital area of research.”
John Carberry is managing editor of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.