In celebration of the sesquicentennial, Clarion University is taking a look back at its 150-year history – 50 years at a time. For this story, we celebrate and examine the years 1917-67.
In order to fully understand the beginning of this 50-year era, we must take a look back by a couple of years to the purchase of Clarion State Normal School in 1915.
According to Samuel Farmerie's history in the 125th anniversary edition of Clarion Magazine, several schools that we now know as part of today's state system were marred by business scandals, including Clarion. These scandals led the state legislature to authorize the purchase of these schools.
Clarion was purchased in December 1915 with the state paying $20,000 to satisfy stockholders. Another $49,653 was paid to satisfy debts.
World War I
The United States' entry into World War War I in April 1917 brought with it a sharp decline in enrollment as the number of students fell to 287 and Stevens Hall was closed as a cost-saving measure, Farmerie reported. Once the war was over, enrollment reached 913 students for the 1924-1925 school year.
Dr. Clyde C. Green was principal of the school at the time, and his administration seemed to pull the university out of its enrollment slump by raising teaching standards, increasing student activities and making physical improvements to the campus. Physical improvements included a new athletic field, tennis courts, a remodeled library, a new heating plant and renovations to existing buildings.
According to Clarion's history, Dr. G.C.L. Reimer was named principal in 1928, and Clarion became Clarion State Teachers College May 28, 1929. He is responsible for changing courses to the semester system in addition to making it through other obstacles.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression would begin with the crash of the stock market on Black Thursday,
Oct. 24, 1929.
Farmerie wrote in his history that, "Education does not operate outside the pale of society, but rather is influenced by and influences society. The Depression had profound effects upon state appropriations and student enrollment at Clarion."
Before the Great Depression, Clarion received a yearly allocation of about $181,000
from the state. Once the Depression was underway, Clarion received $67,000 per year
– a 63 percent cut, Farmerie reported.
The university would weather this storm but not without making some significant changes. Some of the changes included charging tuition for the first time since 1901 and lowering admission standards to attract more students.
Reimer retired Jan. 31, 1937, leaving the role of president to Dr. Donald Pierce, quickly followed by Dr. Paul Gladstone Chandler.
Chandler would serve as president for 33 years and retire in 1960. In his time as president, Clarion would recover from the Great Depression only to move into World War II.
World War II
Before World War II, enrollment would improve and, appropriations, while not completely restored, would receive a boost to $90,000. Also, another major gained popularity in 1937. Clarion was designated as the library science school for western Pennsylvania. Library Science remains a popular major to this day and boasts many accreditations including the American Library Association.
According to Farmerie's history, the governor's Public Works Administration was created, which led to a new laundry facility, Egbert Hall and A.J. Davis Hall.
Both of the halls were built in 1938. The Clarion Call reported that Egbert cost $110,000 to construct and was a men's dormitory. It was named for Walter R. Egbert, former dean of men at Clarion.
Clarion University alumnus Floyd Barger ('58) recalls living in Egbert Hall as one of his fondest memories of his time at Clarion. A small dormitory, Barger remembers people gathering around a piano in Egbert's lounge, singing songs they'd made up about the faculty.
"Some were not very complimentary to certain faculty members," he quipped. "They weren't meant in anger."
After the war, the GI Bill brought the enrollment numbers back up to 723 in 1949.
Another factor may have influenced enrollment. In 1948, the school gained accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. This accreditation has been continually renewed to the present day.
"The accreditation was vital because it implied that Clarion's course offerings were now of collegiate quality in name as well as in fact," Farmerie's history stated.
The 1950s also meant successful athletic teams. According to Farmerie, Clarion boasted winning basketball and football teams.
Chandler's time also included the Korean War, which brought veterans to the school when it was over. Upon his retirement in September of 1960, the school was stable and growing, despite the world events that affected the school during his presidency.
Chandler is remembered as an involved president who could be seen on campus among
Barger remembered that Chandler and his wife had dinner every night in the dining hall, then located in Becht Hall.
"He was quite a southern gentleman," Barger said of Chandler.
The school received a new name the same year Chandler retired. On Jan. 8, 1960, a legislative act was passed that gave the state system schools the right to be renamed from State Teachers Colleges to State Colleges, and Clarion State College was born.
It was the right time for another campus.
Clarion University – Venango
Clarion's master plan noted that partnerships in the private sector led to the creation of Venango campus in Oil City. It officially opened in fall 1961 with 131 students.
In a presentation for the second annual Community History Days, Dr. Christopher Reber, former executive dean of Venango, spoke about the formation of Venango campus.
"It began in 1960, when a group of community leaders envisioned the need for a higher education presence in Venango County and advocated the creation of what was to become Clarion University – Venango Campus," Reber said.
The request to start a branch campus was approved in 1961.
"This was the first time permission had been granted to any present-day State System university to create a branch campus, and the Venango Campus remains today the oldest regional campus in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education," Reber said.
The Oil City Chamber of Commerce led a regional campaign to raise $350,000 to obtain land and construct its first building.
"Within three months, more than $382,000 had been pledged by nearly 1,800 individuals,
clubs and organizations, and building of what was then often referred to in the press
as the college annex, commenced," Reber said.
There were 132 students enrolled for the 1961-62 academic year, and students took classes in the Oil City Trust Building. The first building completed on Venango campus was Richard C. Frame Hall in January 1962.
The Clarion Call confirmed that Frame Hall was originally known as the Venango Campus Building and was financed through a community drive of about $350,000.
According to Venango's history, there were 63 students in the first graduating class, May 26, 1963.
Growth under Gemmell
Dr. James Gemmell began his tenure at an exciting time when the student body was growing and the commonwealth was supportive of state schools, Farmerie noted in his history.
Keeping up with the growing student population presented its challenges.
One such challenge came from the students themselves, when they were dissatisfied with the food at the cafeteria in 1960.
Clarion University graduate Elisabeth Fulmer ('64, '80, '97) recalls biting into her
roll one day, only to discover it was moldy. However, one moldy roll didn't cause
Student Senate to lead a protest. Fulmer said there many other reports of students
finding things such as band aids and metal in their food.
Fulmer said 90 percent of the student body didn't eat at the cafeteria one day, and she remembers Gemmell for not interfering with the protest.
"He let the students handle it, and I thought that was pretty amazing, even then,"
After the protest, Gemmell addressed the issues of the cafeteria food, and students became satisfied with their food once again.
In addition to helping the student body in the cafeteria, Gemmell couldn't ignore the fact that the number of students was growing.
When Gemmell began in 1960, there were about 1,100 students and 10 buildings, Farmerie reported. By the time he left the university in 1976, there were 5,000 students and 25 buildings.
The university needed more buildings and space – but it needed the town's support in order to acquire the land. And that meant getting the townspeople on board with the idea of additional land being off the tax rolls.
"During these years, and to some extent down to the present, the institution has been diligent in its efforts to fully educate the public on the merits of an institution of higher education. The college was a distinct asset to the community, and the concept was constantly being reinforced," Farmerie wrote.
Today, Clarion University sits on 201 acres between two campuses and there are about 50 buildings total. Clarion's direct impact on the Pennsylvania economy is $160.9 million.