The Gearans on the side porch of the President's House at 690 S. Main Street.

In the President’s Home

by Madeleine and Kathleen Gearan

When we moved to Geneva in August of 1999, we were looking forward to seeing our new home and meeting new friends as our dad became one of the country’s youngest college presidents. On our first night in Geneva, we ran outside to watch fireworks over Seneca Lake. Perhaps it was our affinity for fireworks that our dad sweetly said were meant for us, or maybe it was because we had just arrived in the best hide-and-go-seek house ever, but we could not have been more excited.

The Gearans in their first year on campus.

For the past 18 years, we have had the privilege of growing up on the campus of Hobart and William Smith and calling Geneva home. How lucky we’ve been to be surrounded by dynamic students, faculty, staff and visitors who broadened our understanding of the world and its challenges. At our mom’s Friday Open Houses that she hosts each week and during events on campus, we got to know students from all over the world who became treasured babysitters, tutors, mentors and friends. And as our parents welcomed guests like Eli Wiesel, John Lewis and Madeleine Albright to our home, we had the chance to learn how they committed their lives to combating injustice.

In the Geneva Public Schools, we had excellent teachers who prepared us well, and we made lifelong friendships. Growing up here shaped so much of who we both are, so it’s difficult to imagine a chapter without Seneca Lake right across the street and Ports Café down the road. Geneva welcomed us warmly 18 years ago and this community has become our extended family. Here, we learned from our mentors, teachers and Genevans that being part of a community means one has a responsibility to give back. We saw it every day in the Geneva schools, in service organizations and in public leaders who care deeply and work tirelessly to make 14456 such a wonderful place to live.

One of the most special aspects of growing up on campus has been watching our parents in these roles. Our dad was not a typical college presidential candidate. But the trustees took a chance on him, and we have watched him lead with extraordinary vision, humility, courage and wit. He possesses a skillful ability to lift others up, listen and offer sage advice, consider all perspectives before making a decision, and work toward a solution on any issue. Our dad has taught us, and so many around him, how one can inspire others to serve our community, country and world by example. Serving others and working toward social justice is who he is. And his dedication to broadening opportunities for current and future HWS students and commitment to the Geneva community through the creation of Geneva 2020 has made us so proud to be his daughters. Whether it was watching our father bring together a crowd for a rousing rendition of “Lean on Me” on the piano or perform with students in Koshare, we saw that what perhaps made him an unconventional college president, made him an outstanding one.

President Mark D. Gearan and Mary Herlihy Gearan with their daughters Madeleine
(left) and Kathleen (right), along with their dog, Dublin.

Our mom has made the President’s House not just a wonderful home for the two of us, but also a warm and welcoming haven for HWS students. She is an example of how living one’s life with kindness and generosity is how you can tangibly make the world a better place, starting right in your own community. The Happiness House, Rotary Interact Club, Martin Luther King Jr. Art and Poetry Competition, HWS Geneva Heroes, the Geneva High School Festival of Nations – these are all initiatives that our mom has devoted her unstoppable energy and compassion toward. It was no surprise in our house that she was named Geneva Citizen of the Year. Whenever anyone needs advice on careers and internships, a home cooked meal, an attentive listener, our mom is there. She’s the best advocate we know, which is the reason we’re not the only ones to affectionately call her “Mama G.”

From our admittedly biased perspective, our parents have taken on these roles and made a difference in the lives of many HWS and Geneva Public School students. We could not be more proud to be their daughters and throughout our own lives we will strive to follow their lead. By our humble estimation, the best decision our parents ever made was moving our family to Geneva. We love Geneva and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Helen Keller once said, “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” We’re thankful that HWS and Geneva will always be a part of us.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.