Remembering Don Cuneo, 1944-2018
International House grieves the passing of Don Cuneo, who as Trustee and President of International House over more than four decades, was loved and revered by thousands of residents whose lives he touched.
While deeply saddened, I-House alumni and Don’s former colleagues on the staff and board remember Don as a visionary leader. But they also knew him as a kind and generous friend, who mentored and supported countless residents as they embarked on new careers and journeys. Don cared deeply about those around him – including residents, alumni, and trustees – winning him legions of admirers and fans, today all heartbroken by the loss of this extraordinary man.
Don Cuneo was the first alumnus to serve as President of International House. Born in California in 1944 and a graduate of Lehigh University, he lived at I-House while earning his J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Columbia University.
In 1968 he founded a Harlem Tutorial Program at International House, which welcomed children from Morningside Heights and Harlem to the House and helped them with math, reading and other academic needs. Around that time, he founded and led the New York Area Alumni Council, known as NYAAC, which today remains an important vehicle to leverage the talents of local alumni to advance the mission of International House.
His service to the Harlem community continued after he graduated from Columbia Law School, when he deferred a job offer from Shearman and Sterling to devote his attention to getting the West Harlem Group Legal Services off the ground – which would become a critical source of legal help for low-income residents of Harlem.
He joined the law firm Shearman and Sterling in 1971 and was elected Trustee of the House in 1977. He served as Secretary of the Board for 17 years before being named International House President in 1993. Under his leadership, the House achieved record fundraising success, significantly increased its endowment and financial aid to residents, created the International Leaders Program, and greatly enhanced resident support services. He retired from the House in 2013.
But Don’s story is far more than this. Beyond his achievements as Trustee and President, Don Cuneo was for decades “the heart of the House.” He lived and breathed all things I-House and his kindness was felt by all the residents who came through the House during his tenure. Don inspired and brought out the best in residents and staff alike.
According to fourth generation Trustees William Rueckert and Peter O’Neill:
“Don was a colleague, a mentor and a dear friend, and we will miss him dearly. His spirit and legacy will forever live within International House.”
Said current I-House President, Calvin Sims:
“Today is an extremely sad day for all of us at International House. Much of what makes I-House special he transformed or made stronger. It is an honor to have succeeded him as President.”
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Don’s beloved wife Bonnie, daughter and son-in-law, Kristen and Brian Drake, son Lane, grandchildren Landon and Skylar Drake, and all of Don’s extended family.
As the I-House community pays tribute to Don’s memory, the staff and Trustees are grateful for his legacy and remain committed to building on it, continuing to nurture the residents he loved. And today I-House alumni worldwide remember and thank Don for teaching them so much about respect and tolerance – values deeply embedded in the core of the International House mission.
There will be many ways to remember Don. In lieu of flowers, the Cuneo Family requests donations to be made to International House in his honor.