Beyond Vassar

Hometown Spirit: Cornelia Dettmer '53

By Baize Buzan '10

During this year’s Presidents’ Hour at Reunion, AAVC awards the 2008 Spirit of Vassar Award to Cornelia Dettmer ’53. The award is granted to an alumna/us whose volunteer efforts exemplify caring and community action.

For years Dettmer, who began her multifaceted career as a radiation oncologist, directed hospice services and served cancer patients in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. In the 1980s she found that a house she had long admired in the town of Manchester was up for sale, and she bought it. Manchester, the fourth oldest settlement in Ohio, was at the time a crumbling vision of the prosperous town it had once been—vacant storefronts and deteriorated buildings were all that US 52, Manchester’s main thoroughfare, had to offer. But for Dettmer, these conditions were anything but discouraging. They were a sign for help, a terminal “patient” in dire need of someone to save it.

She soon turned her new home, called “The Ridge,” into a bed and breakfast. When the town’s only doctor moved away, Dettmer inherited his practice and became a local figure in Manchester’s daily life. The relationships and trust that developed between Dettmer and many longtime residents encouraged her to venture into a new aspect of Manchester life: politics. Dettmer volunteered to be the town’s flood-plain administrator in 1998, and just two years later, running on the platform “Restore Pride in Manchester,” defeated the incumbent and was granted the title of mayor. “AAVC chose to recognize Connie because of her enduring commitment to serving others, and her willingness to take on new challenges to better her community,” said awards chair Joseph Heissan ’87.

Now in her third term as mayor, Dettmer has kept her promise. Three town-wide events have been established to commemorate Manchester’s history; the Ohio River waterfront area is under development; and the town now proudly shows off its murals of historical scenes in once-empty storefront windows, new benches and awnings, clean sidewalks, and historical plaques. Even US 52 was designated a National Scenic Byway in 2001. As if her roles as town mayor, physician, and innkeeper weren’t enough, Dettmer also owns the Manchester Emporium, which features consignment sales of regional arts, crafts, and antiques. (And for a while she even found time to breed Shar-Peis, one of which won Best in Show at the Virginia Dog Fancier Dog Show in 1998.)

“This is one of the finest honors I have received and the least expected,” Dettmer commented upon receiving AAVC’s award. “This has led me to think about what Vassar did to prepare me for a life of service…we were taught that it was our responsibility to give back to society.” The essence of Vassar truly lives on in all of her remarkable efforts, making Dettmer a most fitting recipient of this year’s Spirit of Vassar Award. To learn more about Cornelia Dettmer, visit the Summer 2003 VQ at