Gerlings to Receive Honorary Degrees – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Gerlings to Receive Honorary Degrees

During Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Commencement 2009 ceremony, President Mark D. Gearan will honor Rev. W. James Gerling and Jane Rea Gerling with honorary degrees in recognition of their commitment to the betterment of those living in the Geneva community.

“Through their involvement Rev. James Gerling and Jane Gerling make Geneva a better place to live, work and study,” explained President Mark D. Gearan who will present the honorary degrees on behalf of the Colleges’ Board of Trustees. “The Gerlings’ efforts have impacted the lives of countless area residents, from the young people impacted by Head Start and Success for Geneva’s children to the older residents whose lives have been improved by the Finger Lakes Health Foundation’s senior living task force.”

The ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 17 on the Hobart Quadrangle. Commencement 2009 marks the 98th Commencement for William Smith College and the 184th for Hobart College. Approximately 400 undergraduates and nine MAT students will graduate. Also receiving an honorary degree will be Commencement Speaker Carol M. Browner, Assistant to President Barack Obama for Energy and Climate Change, and a posthumous honorary degree will be given to the late-Trustee C. Dixon Kunzelmann ’64, P’93, former director of European Human Resources and adviser for Russell Reynolds Associates, London.

Since his arrival in Geneva nearly three decades ago, Rev. Gerling has touched the lives of thousands of local residents as senior pastor of the Presbyterian Church. His involvement in the community is extensive.  A listing of his civic and leadership engagement shows a variety of roles on many different projects: Unity Day, Celebrate Service, the Community Playground, the Community Lunch Program, the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, and the Campaign to renovate the Geneva Public Library. He has worked on Community Unified Today, an advocacy group for people of color in the areas of housing, childcare, human rights and social justice, and is a member of the Martin Luther King Committee.  Focusing additional efforts on the wellbeing of older Geneva residents, Rev. Gerling serves as member and past chair of the Finger Lakes Health Foundation Board. Recognizing that older community members were not being served, he took it upon himself to chair a task force to assist the health system in planning a senior living facility.

Rev. Gerling advocates for the young people of Geneva as the board president of Success For Geneva’s Children, a community collaboration of agencies and programs that serves Geneva’s children and their families. He is the co-chair of the capital campaign for the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva which has raised more than $4 million and allowed for the construction of a community center. He is also the co-founder of Miracle in the Park, a triathlon fundraiser to combat hunger in the community.

He holds a bachelors degree from Muskingum College with a masters degree of divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary.

During those same three decades, Jane Gerling has contributed to the future of Geneva by serving as an advocate for its children and teens. As a teacher and coordinator of education and disabilities programs, and now as the director of Geneva Head Start she has worked to better the lives of generations of young people.  Her leadership support of the Head Start Program has made it one of the most successful programs for youth in the area. That success has led to the implementation of the Follow-Through Program which has enabled Head Start to continue to support parents for another year after their children have gone from pre-school to kindergarten. 

With a passion to improve the lives of children that extends beyond the classroom, she is a board member of Success for Geneva’s Children, a community collaboration of agencies and programs that serve Geneva’s children and their families. She also leads a local program for teen parents, helping young mothers gain the life skills necessary to support their children. In the Presbyterian community, she is the youth adviser at the Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church of Geneva where she also serves on the Worship and Mission Committees as well as the Faith in Families Team.  She spent several years as chair of the Christian Education Task Force of the Geneva Presbytery and has worked tirelessly to create within the Church a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Jane Gerling earned her bachelor of arts degree from SUNY Buffalo and a masters degree in education in reading from the University of Missouri.



High resolution photos of the Gerlings are available at and