Fond Farewell to Nancy Cusumano

Nancy Cusumano.

Nancy Cusumano, longtime program/extension aide for the Northeastern IPM Center, retired in May 2022.

Late in the afternoon on April 30, 2022, Nancy Cusumano, longtime program/extension aide for the Northeastern IPM Center, wrapped up her work for the day. In a sense, it was much like any other workday, but this time, something was different.

It was the last time she’d ever do this. Because tomorrow was to be her first day of retirement.

Springtime in the Northeast—and particularly in the largely unspoiled natural surroundings of Ithaca, New York, where Cornell University and therefore the Center are based—is a time of transition, rebirth, and new beginnings. A vibrantly verdant hue returns to the fields, woods, and hillsides as the last vestiges of winter are washed away by the spring rains, the long nights and chilly days banished by the warming weather and ever-increasing daylight.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that Nancy chose this time of year for her own new beginning and the start of a new adventure.

Growing Up, Childhood Travel and the Performing Arts

The oldest of five siblings, Nancy was born in Kentucky on an Army base where her father was stationed. But she lived there only until age two and grew up mostly in the New York City metro area on Long Island.

Her father later became a teacher, which gave them the opportunity to travel extensively during the summers. “I credit those childhood trips with inspiring and cultivating the passion for travel that I enjoy to this day,” she says.

In high school, Nancy became involved with musicals and discovered an interest in theater. “I was all backstage,” she says. “No acting for me.” She built on that by majoring in technical theater at SUNY Stony Brook, where she trained as a stage manager—the person responsible for running shows during rehearsals and performances. “I always had a knack for it,” she says, “but the training solidified my attention to detail and organizational skills that I’d go on to use throughout my career.”

Previous Work

After moving to New York’s Finger Lakes region in 1990, Nancy worked for Cornell in alumni affairs and development. After several years there, she returned to her roots, serving as props manager for the university’s theater, dance, and film department, before moving on to other Cornell units, including Cornell Botanic Gardens.

In 2007, she left Cornell to pursue other interests and started her own dog-grooming business, The Grooming Room, which was voted Best Groomer in a 2012 Ithaca Times poll. But after five years, she decided it was time to move on. “I wore myself out grooming,” she says. “I had to close my business.”

In May 2013, she started her job at the Center.

Time at the Center

Nancy saw the Northeastern IPM Center as a logical next step for her career. “When I saw the position, I felt it aligned with my longstanding interest in nature and environmental issues, so I applied,” she says. Although she came into the job not knowing much about integrated pest management specifically, she was a quick study because of how IPM is founded on many of the same principles she already held dear.

If there was any learning curve she found particularly steep, it was the Center’s funding model. “I was brand new to the whole grant world,” she says. “I had never been funded by grants nor knew anything about how they were managed. It took some getting used to the terminology and reporting requirements, and also tracking the Partnership Grants that the Center distributes to IPM projects throughout the Northeast.”

“When I saw the Northeastern IPM Center position, I felt it aligned with my longstanding interest in nature and environmental issues.”

Reflecting on the lighter moments, she recalls the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) identification kits the Center created and sent upon request. One of the items included in the kit was a dead stink bug stored in a bottle of hand sanitizer for preservation purposes. Nancy had to request that researchers send her their deceased specimens, which arrived in large bottles of formaldehyde filled with them. She then had to transfer the bugs, one by one, from those containers into the small sanitizer bottles.

It was a tedious task accompanied by—to put it mildly—a variety of smells, which had a lasting impact. “I got to the point where the smell of hand sanitizer and the smell of dead BMSB were the same to me. When COVID-19 came along and we were all using sanitizer so much, I really had a hard time with that . . . and still do!”

Beyond the challenges, the successes, and the amusing stories, what Nancy recalls most vividly are the working relationships she forged over the years—both at the Center and beyond. “I miss the connections I made with colleagues at the other IPM centers and with universities throughout the region and across the country,” she says. “The people who sent me items for the IPM News and Events Roundup time and time again, the regional IPM discussions, former director Carrie Koplinka-Loehr and current director Deborah Grantham . . . these are the connections that I will always carry with me.”

Life Outside Work and Beyond

Nancy Cusumano holding a hawk.

Nancy Cusumano holding a hawk.

Retirement gives Nancy an opportunity to focus wholeheartedly on the interests and passions she always cultivated outside of work.

“I’ve been involved in animal rescue one way or another for many years,” she says. “I started out fostering kittens and dogs for the Tompkins County SPCA and Cayuga Dog Rescue. I’ve also been involved in rescues of horses as well as other animals. Currently, I am a board member for Saoirse Pastures, the only not-for-profit in Tompkins County that deals with farm animals.”

“I also kayak, garden, and have really too many hobbies for my own good!”

“I miss the connections I made with colleagues throughout the region and across the country—the connections that I will always carry with me.”

Her interest in kayaking proved serendipitous when Nancy met her husband-to-be, Steve, in 2010 through the kayak club where they both were members. They married two years later.

They also share an interest in travel, one that they intend to pursue to the fullest now that they’re both retired. “In 2020, we purchased a small travel trailer, and early next year, we and our dogs will be hitting the road, long-term, heading south and west.”

Steve was in the Navy and has been all over the world, but he’s never seen all the U.S. has to offer. The extensive traveling Nancy did as a child took her across the country, including to many national parks, and she hopes to show her husband many of the same places she visited as a child.

Conversely, her first trip abroad was their honeymoon in Scotland. They hope to do more traveling outside the U.S. as well, especially to Italy and Sicily, where her family emigrated from.

What’s Left Behind

It could be said that the measure of a person’s impact is how acutely their absence is felt. Throughout Nancy’s nine years at the Center, she made lasting impressions on numerous colleagues and stakeholders through her many talents and contributions.

The Center’s program/extension aide position is distinct in its breadth and diversity of responsibilities. Although it includes the bulk of administrative and logistical duties, it would not be accurate to call it an administrative assistant position. It’s involved in just about everything the Center does, including handling certain communication tasks.

“Nancy demonstrated how someone can take a role and truly make it their own, leaving a unique, indelible mark. She will be missed.”

Deborah G. Grantham, director, Northeastern IPM Center

Nancy managed the Center’s social media channels—primarily Facebook and Twitter—promoting Center news, sharing outside information, and engaging thoughtfully with the public on emerging issues. In 2019, she launched the IPM News and Events Roundup, a weekly e-mail newsletter that compiles links to news, research, funding and career opportunities, and more throughout the world of IPM.

“It is no exaggeration or cliché to say the Center won’t be the same without Nancy,” said Deborah G. Grantham, Center director. “This in no way reflects on anybody who conceivably could have succeeded her, nor on any other member of our small, tight-knit team. But Nancy demonstrated how someone can take a role and truly make it their own, leaving a unique, indelible mark. She will be missed.”

Recalling her theater work, Nancy emphasized her focus on backstage operations to the exclusion of any actual acting. In some ways, that may serve as a metaphor for Nancy’s efforts for the Center—working diligently behind the scenes to keep things on track and help the group shine. But it may actually sell her work a bit short, considering the reach and visibility she achieved. Perhaps she proved more at home in the spotlight than she gave herself credit for.

The Center is confident we speak for many colleagues, partners, and stakeholders when we say we’re deeply grateful for the many ways Nancy contributed as part of our team. We wish her all the best in retirement, and in all her adventures yet to come.

The Center set up a Kudoboard to provide anybody who wishes it an opportunity to leave a note for Nancy. If you’d like to add something to the board, please visit

The Northeastern IPM Center promotes integrated pest management for reducing risks to human health and the environment. If republishing our news, please acknowledge the source (“From Northeast IPM Insights”) along with a link to our website.