After spending most of his life working in the human resources field, Dan Fisher is now focused more than ever on serving others. Since completing his 35-year career at Welch Allyn, he has dedicated his time and resources to his growing family (grandchildren!) and improving the Central New York community.
When Dan began searching for a way to engage more deeply in his giving, he established the Dan & Colleen Fisher Fund at the Community Foundation in memory of his late wife, Colleen. Dan and Colleen shared interest in many organizations that have benefited from this fund, including the Skaneateles Festival, the Seward House Museum, and St. James’ Episcopal Church of Skaneateles.
Today, Dan’s concerns include the health of the Finger Lakes and our country’s social and political well-being. His interests are guided by his spiritual journey, which includes an embrace of the contemplative tradition espoused by Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. The fund continues to grow and allows his giving to reflect his evolving passions. Dan believes fully in John Stanford’s sentiment: “The key to success in life is to stay in love in all that you do.”
Staying in love is exactly what Dan intends to do, and this includes viewing today’s divided world from varied perspectives. He believes that it is important to embrace “differing viewpoints to find pragmatic solutions to improve life—that includes health and well-being, fair treatment, opportunities, and prosperity—for all Americans.” Dan is moved by the plight of people not as lucky as he has been in life. One of his other personal mottos is that “we are all connected.”
Growing up in Mandana, New York, just outside of Skaneateles, Dan was raised on the edge of affluence without being affluent himself. His father was a welder in a chemical factory and his mother a factory assembler who later ran classified ads at a small local newspaper. Dan learned a strong work ethic from his father and developed a love of reading from his mother. His father was president of his local union and leaned toward the Democratic Party; his mother “identified with management” (and was also very much a free spirit) and leaned Republican. Dan’s earliest experiences have helped him to appreciate that two apparently opposing ideas can be necessary and true at the same time.
Dan was shy, introverted, and lacking in confidence as a youngster. In elementary school, he stayed on the social and academic sidelines until 6th grade when his teacher Mr. Grakjo pulled him aside. “He said to me, ‘You know, you’re just as capable and smart as these other kids that you seem to look up to,’” Dan recalled. “That was a real turning point for me.”
First in his family to attend college, Dan went on to excel in academics. He earned undergraduate degrees at Auburn (now Cayuga) Community College and Hamilton College and graduate degrees at Cornell University and Syracuse University. Along the way, he was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa, a society that honors exceptional achievement in arts and sciences, and was awarded a Herbert H. Lehman social sciences graduate fellowship. While he worked hard towards his achievements, he acknowledges that he was fortunate to have had so much opportunity available to him. Through his giving, he hopes to help open doors of opportunity for others.
Starting his career with Mobil Corporation in Texas and New Jersey, Dan returned to Central New York to serve as the head of Welch Allyn’s human resources department. From early in his career, Dan served as board president of numerous Central New York not-for-profits. He has continued his civic involvement, holding the position of chair of our board of directors, chair of Nixon Medical’s board of directors, and executive advisor for Cornell’s Executive Master’s in Human Resource Management Program.
Dan’s late wife Colleen was also heavily engaged in the community. She loved in particular the Skaneateles Festival, for which she served many roles that included president, vice president, treasurer and “creator of delicious lunches and dinners for musicians.” Dan stated thoughtfully, “Colleen shared my sense of responsibility and the joy that comes from being a part of something greater than ourselves.”
When Colleen passed away in 2015, Dan entered another turning point in his life. “Moving forward after loss and renewing my commitment to community gave me a heightened sense of what matters most,” Dan reflected.
Dan stated that he was “lucky to find love again” with Lori Ruhlman, whose husband passed away the same month as Colleen. Lori and Dan married in 2017, blending homes, families, and interests in what they formerly described as their “merger project.” While his fund continues to support the “legacy” organizations for which it was originally intended, it also now reflects Dan and Lori’s shared interest in improving the social and political health of the country and conserving the environmental health of the Finger Lakes. Funds can evolve—just like philanthropists.
Dan is particularly interested in political reform to address “the stranglehold that the most partisan in the two major parties and their supporters have on our political process.” He added that “in this period of high conflict, when people are talking past each other and not being humble enough, curious enough, discerning enough, or critically thinking enough, we have to remind ourselves that we’re all connected, whether we readily recognize that or not.”
Dan continues to serve, study and evolve, all while remaining connected to his family and his community. His fund at the Community Foundation provides an easy way to support organizations that have been close to his heart for years, as well as new ones he discovers as his perspective — and the world around us — changes.