Robert “Bob” Cornwell, a veteran high school counselor who prepared generations of young people for college with academic advice, life lessons and more than $61,000 in scholarship money, died Dec. 21 after a period of poor health, his family said. He was 87.
Mr. Cornwell spent 37 years as a counselor at San Juan High School in Citrus Heights. Besides the usual help with classes and grades, he guided teenagers facing tough adult issues such as personal conflicts, family dysfunction, substance abuse and pregnancies.
A compassionate educator, he helped students discover their strengths and encouraged them to work hard and believe in themselves. In return, he made them promise to go to college.
At his retirement in 1994, Mr. Cornwell created a way to help students keep their promise by asking friends to contribute to a scholarship program for San Juan graduates. Administered by the San Juan High School Alumni Association, the fund bearing his name has awarded more than $61,000 to young people struggling to get into college, said his wife, Maxine.
“He wanted it to go to deserving students who needed extra help, not valedictorians or those whose families could afford college,” his wife said. “A lot of them are the first ones in their families to go to college.”
Mr. Cornwell formerly chaired the alumni association’s scholarship committee, which also awards funds through other sources to San Juan High School students. He shared stories about working in manual labor after high school before deciding to go to college.
“That’s what really made him realize that an education is important, and he tried to convey that message to young people,” alumni association treasurer Bob Nielsen said. “He really had an interest in young people.”
The son of a gas station owner, Robert Glenn Cornwell Sr. was born April 5, 1926, in Wabasha, Minn. Boyhood adventures of fishing in Mississippi River sloughs in summer and ice skating in winter gave way to heavier responsibilities after his father died when he was 10. He went to work fixing railroad lines before his late father’s business partner encouraged him to go to college.
Mr. Cornwell graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., in 1948 and taught government while coaching basketball and football in Long Prairie, Minn. He earned a master’s degree at Colorado State College of Education (now University of Northern Colorado) and married his wife in 1953. They settled in California, and he taught for four years in Portola before joining San Juan High School.
Orangevale residents since 1961, Mr. Cornwell and his wife raised four children. He traveled to Alaska and many countries, including trips to the Olympics in London in 1948 and Helsinki in 1952.
A lifelong Democratic activist, he was active in local Democratic clubs and served as a delegate at state and national conventions. In 1997, he and his wife attended President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration.
Besides his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Caroline, Launa and Nancy; a son, Robert Jr.; and three grandchildren.
A memorial was held Jan. 5. Donations may be made to San Juan High School Alumni Association, Robert Cornwell Scholarship Fund, Box 103, Citrus Heights, CA 95611.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.