In celebration of the sesquicentennial, Clarion University is taking a look back at its 150-year history – 50 years at a time. In this story, we celebrate and examine the years 1967 to present day and look to the university's bright future.
In 1967, the university and the town were at odds over the university's expansion and the town's subsequent real estate losses on the tax rolls.
According to Dr. Samuel Farmerie's history recorded in the 125th anniversary edition of Clarion Magazine, local government entities helped the expansion along. Clarion Borough Council tied the school's expansion into its federally funded urban renewal plan, and the Clarion County commissioners partnered with the school in an urban renewal plan.
Some of the buildings included in that expansion of the university include Carrier, Chandler Dining, Becker, Givan, Ralston, Nair, Campbell, Wilkinson, Carlson, Peirce Science Center, Tippin and Marwick-Boyd. Of those buildings, a few are completely gone, including Chandler Dining, Nair, Campbell and Wilkinson. Others, such as Peirce, Carlson Library and Tippin Gymnasium (currently being renovated), have been renovated or portions have been incorporated into new buildings.
Students loved living in the residence halls and still remember good times there.
"There are so many fond memories, but one that students now will not experience is the echo chant battles between Wilk and Nair. Especially when the sororities and fraternities would come for pledge pick-up, they would do their cheer, then another would do their cheer," said Annamarie Mellett ('80, education with a major in rehabilitation sciences).
"I can't think of anything better than the two years that I spent in Ballentine Hall," said Anthony Deter ('17, liberal studies, minor in history). I will never forget anything from my freshman year. There was only one floor of people so we did practically everything together. Game nights in the basement will be forever some of my best memories. I also loved my time being a community assistant there, up until the dorm's closing."
Part of the need for expansion was the rapidly growing student population. Farmerie reported that prior to Gemmell's presidency the student population was at 1,099 students. By the end of his tenure in 1976, the student population was at 5,000.
Venango also continued to expand. In January 1976, an 18,000-square-foot student center and instructional complex was built. The Robert W. Rhoades building cost $765,000 to construct and included a gymnasium, locker rooms, theater-lecture area, and a fully-equipped kitchen.
In addition to the Rhoades building, Venango campus constructed Charles L. Suhr library, featuring 24,000 books and space for work and circulation rooms, library employee offices and study lounges.
Throughout this time, the growing student population was politically and socially active.
"Students were involved in protests against on-campus activities of military recruiters,
as well as American involvement in the Vietnam Conflict. Streakers were also observed
darting about the campus," Farmerie reported.
Around the end of Gemmell's administration, student groups of all kinds were forming.
"The number of sororities, fraternities, clubs, interest groups, and other extracurricular programs increased as dramatically, as did curricular ones," Farmerie reported. "A student affairs office was created to coordinate programs and scheduling."
Thus began a golden era for Clarion University's organizations and athletics, with
students winning awards and acclaim. The first women's athletic teams were intramural
in the late 1960s, but became official a few years later.
The number of campus organizations has not waned. Student Life reports more than 130 campus organizations in which students can be involved. These include academic, athletic, Greek, political, multicultural, service and other special interest groups.
Some activities have even helped romances to blossom.
"A month into dating, we participated in a St. Paddy's Day UAB event where we had to practice the art of kissing with other couples on stage in front of an audience of our peers," said Kelsi Boyles, (Wilcox '07), who met her husband Charles at Clarion. "Twelve years, seven years of marriage and one beautiful son later, we are still together and reminisce often of our time as students at Clarion University. We give back our time and money to the university as participants of the ALF festivities, alumni events such as Pirates games, volunteering countless hours as the chapter advisor for Sigma Sigma Sigma, partnering with the university for educational work events, and going back to obtain two more college degrees from CU."
The special interest growth also coincided with curriculum developments. Clarion became the first former state teachers' college to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and master's degrees in several fields.
The year 1967 also saw centennial celebrations with special events and speakers.
New institutions and faces
Unionization became part of the university culture in 1969 with the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculty and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees becoming official representation for two groups of employees across the State System.
Another institution soon became a staple of university culture. The Clarion State College Foundation was formed Dec. 8, 1969, as a way to facilitate donations to the university.
Now known as the Clarion University Foundation, Inc., the foundation has raised more than $65 million in private dollars and more than $93 million in total support to the university since its inception. Some of the foundation's most notable projects include Reinhard Villages and the Suites on Main apartment-style residential complexes.
Former President Dr. Diane Reinhard praised the work of the foundation during her tenure. "They provided outstanding leadership for this university," Reinhard said.
Reinhard said during her time as president the foundation had a hand in two specific successful ventures: The Comprehensive Capital Campaign raised 40 percent more than its goal, and the foundation developed ways to fund better housing. The foundation continues to this day to raise money and conduct a diverse set of special projects, all in support of the university.
When Gemmell retired in 1975, the university was on good terms with the community and maintained a steady student population.
Gemmell's lengthy time at Clarion left an impression at the university and on its students.
Alumni Ralph Zema ('76, geography) shared a story of Gemmell from when he was a freshman. Zema said he was seated in Hart Chapel to see a show and was dressed down in comfortable clothes when Gemmell and his family and some colleagues sat all around him.
"I sort of wanted to leave ASAP because I felt so out of place. The group started introducing themselves and giving their titles within the college. When asked who I was, I told them my name and that I was 'just a student.' The college president immediately remarked, 'No, no. You are not just a student: You are the reason why we have this institution and why all of us here have a job.' We all laughed a bit and, even though I still felt uncomfortable being there, it gave me a whole new perspective on Clarion, its administration, and its role in my life."
At the retirement of Gemmell, Dr. Elizabeth Rupert, dean of library, media and information sciences, served as interim president before Dr. Clayton Sommers became the 11th president.
Sommers' tenure was one of keeping the status quo and maintaining strict budgets.
Just before Dr. Thomas A. Bond arrived, another prominent Clarion figure would arrive on the scene – Ernie the Eagle. Ernie the Eagle made his debut in 1979, according to the Clarion Alumni Bulletin. The Clarion Alumni Bulletin also reported Denny Morelli was inside the first mascot costume, which was criticized as looking more like a chicken than a Golden Eagle.
In the 1986 edition of the Sequelle, writer Sue Folmer wrote an article called "What your mother never told you." One of the bullet points of that article was that your mother never told you your "mascot would be a chicken – granted a golden one, but still a chicken."
However, this was just the first of many Ernie looks. He's undergone a variety of makeovers throughout the years and has starred in some of Clarion's music videos, including the "Harlem Shake" and "Happy."
The Bond years were of considerable growth and change, both in the number and constitution of faculty and students.
According to Famerie's history, enrollment rose to 6,600 students during the 80s. Venango Campus set an enrollment record in fall 1985, with 235 full-time and 377 part-time students.
During this time, 80 faculty members and 95 staffers retired, opening the door to hire more people with terminal degrees, more females and more minorities. The student body also had become more diverse.
A notable change during Bond's presidency was that state colleges were separated from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in 1982 and became part of the State System of Higher Education.
Bond quipped that he was the last president of Clarion State College and the first
president of Clarion University.
In an interview to kick off 150th celebrations, Bond said his presidency was marked by the establishment of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Venango campus and starting the certification process for the then-College of Business.
Reinhard years of civility
Reinhard assumed the presidency June 1, 1990. Her interest in applying to the presidency at a public institution was a personal one.
"I'm very much a product of public schooling and universities, and I believe in the mission of public universities," Reinhard said. "Clarion is an outstanding public university."
Because Clarion is a public institution, Reinhard believes the institution should be a strong resource in helping regions address problems and concerns. Much like former President Karen Whitney helped develop the opioid certificate, Reinhard said during her time at Clarion, there was much concern over the growing HIV and AIDS crisis.
"The focus may change, but the role of the university in responding to the needs of not only the local community, but the region and state, stays the same," Reinhard said.
When Reinhard retired in 2003, Dr. Joseph Grunenwald became the 15th president after a long history of service to the university. His positions before he became president included professor of marketing and department chair, interim executive dean of the Venango campus, director of continuing education, dean of the College of Business Administration, and provost and academic vice president.
Grunenwald said college presidents are supposed to boast a list of buildings, enrollment numbers and services as their greatest accomplishments.
"I can tell you that my greatest pride is recruiting the finest people we could find and building a team that would deliver the services that drew enrollment, that allowed us to build those buildings, that allowed us to move forward," Grunenwald said. "That was an achievement that no money can buy."
Grunenwald said when it comes to challenges, every president will tell you finances and enrollment management are the two biggest concerns, and his years were no exception.
Grunenwald said he continually reminded himself of some other truths.
"I knew that everybody's job was on the line and every student was here to graduate. I thought about that every Monday morning, and I'd take a deep breath in hesitation in the hallway before I stepped into the office," Grunenwald said.
He also strongly believes in the Clarion promise that you can become something that you don't even know you can be. "You can be that, whatever 'that' is."
Whitney's tough decisions
When Karen Whitney became the 16th president in 2010, she began her presidency with
a listening campaign.
Whitney's presidency would be during a time that Whitney herself called an "exceptionally challenging period of higher education."
During her presidency, the university also demonstrated a renewed focus on teaching, health and human services, and business, which she acknowledged in an interview kicking off the 150th celebrations.
Her willingness to make tough decisions may have caught the eye of the State System when she was asked to become the interim chancellor in September 2017.
"Karen Whitney has provided strong, steady leadership as president of Clarion University for the past seven years," said board of governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira in a statement. "She is smart, strategic and pragmatic.
Looking to the future
With the appointment of Whitney as chancellor of the State System, Peter Fackler filled in as interim president until the next president was selected.
Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson was officially hired July 1 as the 17th president of Clarion University.
She brings with her more than 25 years of experience in higher education, beginning her academic career as an affiliate faculty member and clinical supervisor for counselor education at Idaho State University in 1991. She also has worked in the healthcare field, as both a counselor and registered nurse.
"Dr. Pehrsson has a unique set of tools that makes her an ideal fit for Clarion University and its focus on professional programs," Whitney said. "They are a perfect match. I am certain Dale will be a great addition to both Clarion University and the State System. I am thrilled that she is joining our leadership team."
Pehrsson said she is excited about the opportunity to serve as Clarion's next president.
"I am highly honored to have been chosen as the 17th president of Clarion University," she said. "The strengths of the faculty, staff, community and stakeholders are inspiring. I will seek and welcome advice and support from all constituents. Clarion University has a strong reputation, and I look forward to building on our long tradition of excellent teaching and service to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."