Ivy Leaf - Fall 2004
65 Years of Support
Celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2004, Penn State Altoona traces its roots to a group of visionary thinkers in the Altoona community. In 1939, through the efforts of interested citizens of Blair County and the support of the local Chamber of Commerce, the idea of an undergraduate school located in Altoona was born. This local committee, headed by Chamber of Commerce President J.E. Holtzinger and supported by President Ellis of Juniata College and Dr. Levi Gilbert, superintendent of the Altoona schools, succeeded in getting state approval, and the Altoona Undergraduate Center of The Pennsylvania State College (AUC) was born.
The advisory board is a lot more business-like today than it used to be. We sort of played everything by the seat of our pants in those days. People would just do things. Now, you know, you have committees working on this and committees working on that. You have better reporting and recording with computers now. And I think it's a little better organized. Or course, we went through some tough times.
[This campus] has just been tremendous to this community. A lot of the people who go here, probably would never have been able to go to college if this campus weren't here. But due to the cost they could stay home, and the cost wasn't that much in the early days.
—Interview of June 1989 with Lew Gwin, Advisory Board 1967-97,
Located in downtown Altoona, the AUC's first location was the old Webster School on the corner of Lexington Avenue and Tenth Street, renovated with the $5000 raised by this visionary committee. With expansion in 1940 to the nearby Madison School, the AUC soon outgrew both of these buildings.
Knowing that a larger facility was needed in order to meet the educational needs of the young people of Blair County, the newly-formed Advisory Board of the AUC purchased the abandoned 55-acre Ivyside Park in 1948. Money for the purchase was raised through contributions from private citizens and local industries. But while the AUC had a home, it still did not have any actual classrooms.
Instead, the AUC had old amusement park attractions. Ivyside Park had been a very popular amusement park from 1927 to 1945. Located on land owned by Harry Gwin and his family, the park was founded and managed by E. Raymond Smith, a pharmacist in Altoona. The park attractions included a rollercoaster, ferriswheel, merry-go-round, tunnel of love, bowling alley and shooting gallery. But none were more impressive than the swimming pool.
With a length of 650 feet and width of 186 feet, the Ivyside Park pool was heralded as the world's largest concrete pool. Mr. Smith's love of trees caused him to leave an island in the center of the pool on which huge trees were located. With a capacity of 5000, the park at one point had to turn away bathers as they ran out of room to store their clothes. The pool held 3 million gallons of water and the nearby warming dam (now the campus' reflecting pond) held even more. Draining the pool took 12-18 hours and another 12 hours to refill it.
From the depression and the war to gas rationing, hard times befell Ivyside Park. Then, in November of 1945, E. Raymond Smith (who previously had purchased Gwin's interest in the land) passed away and the park closed that year. Mrs. Smith and her children had offers from several groups to purchase the park, but it wasn't until Robert Eiche, AUC's chief administrator, entered their drug store around 1947 with a proposal to buy the park for use as a college that she became interested. A college graduate who had seen all of her children graduate college, Mrs. Smith agreed to sell the park solely for the price of its back taxes. Thus, for the sum of $36,000, the park was sold and the AUC found its permanent location.
One of my favorite memories of those days at AUC was the days the students were called upon to be laborers for various causes in the neighborhood. One time we had to pick a field of yellow beans. Of course food was important then, and labor scarce in those days with so many off at war. Bob Eiche, AUC director, said that's fine and you can go ahead we'll excuse you from classes that day. But you have to report the next day – you only have that one day off. So we all – teachers and students – picked beans. It was exhausting work. I remember how tired I was, and the only person who missed the next day at school was Bob Eiche. He couldn't stand up straight after picking all those beans. But we touted it up to the war effort.
Bob Eiche always insisted that his faculty members become a part of the community right away. So they were involved in all the civic clubs, local drives, etc. It was plain and simple in those days. He said "how can we expect monetary support or any kind of support, if they don't know anything about you, or if you seem like you're apart."
—Interview of June 1989 with Marge Helsel, AUC 1942-43, daughter of J.E. Holtzinger, Advisory Board 1971-2003
The two-block long building that housed the dressing rooms for the swimming pool was renovated for use as AUC's classroom building and spawned the nickname of "Bathhouse U" for the college. The shooting gallery became a chemistry building, the refreshment stand became a steam plant, and the skating rink was transformed into the student union and cafeteria.
According to a 1989 interview with Ray Smith, E. Raymond's son, a few years later a man by the name of Andy Whiteman entered the Smith's drug store. He owned the land upon which the College's baseball fields today are located. Whiteman knew he had a bad heart and asked Smith if he knew anyone "back at the campus." He knew the campus could use this land and was concerned that if his children inherited it, they would charge the college "an arm and a leg for it." Smith passed along the information to folks at the college, but apparently nothing happened.
Whiteman soon approached Smith again, concerned that no one from the college had contacted him. As Smith's urging, Ted Holtzinger contacted Whiteman and the land was purchased for the college for a reasonable sum. A month later, Whiteman died.
However, with the continuing growth and success of the college, the Advisory Board's work was far from complete.
Throughout the course of the following decades, the Advisory Board was instrumental in raising funds to help AUC – and later Penn State Altoona – acquire the land and build the buildings necessary for its success.
From raising approximately $500,000 in 1956 to construct the E. Raymond Smith building (the first modern classroom and administration building on campus) to launching a $1 million fundraising drive for the construction of the Community Arts Center in 1984 (later combined with a $1 million state grant), to its participation and support of the $1.7 million campaign to build the Ralph and Helen Force Advanced Technology Center in 1997, the Advisory Board has been a prized asset of Penn State Altoona.
In fact, 35% of the buildings on campus have been funded by the Advisory Board through capital campaigns. Over the years, the Advisory Board also has raised funds to purchase much-needed land for the College's future growth. The last two parcels owned by the Advisory Board were donated to Penn State in 2004, bringing the College's total to over 150 acres. In addition to funding land acquisitions and building projects, the Advisory Board has established an endowed scholarship for the College, the interest of which is awarded each year to recognize the academic success of Penn State Altoona students.
The purposes of the Advisory Board are stated quite simply in its Constitution:
Looking back at the past 65 years, by all accounts, the Advisory Board at Penn State Altoona receives high marks in fulfilling its purpose and meeting its mission. And the future looks nothing but bright for Penn State Altoona and this group of extraordinary community leaders committed to the success of our College.
It has been a great pleasure to serve on the Advisory Board and to have the opportunity to witness first-hand the unbelievable growth of our beautiful campus. I personally knew the founders of the Altoona Undergraduate Center both as a student at the center and later in my business career. I know they never imagined having a campus as complex as it stands today.
I attended the AUC at Webster and Madison building in 1947 and 1948. I always felt that I attended at a special time, to have had a great opportunity to go to the Webster and Madison Buildings, and then to Ivyside Park and University Park.
The Advisory Board has been the catalyst in this growth through its fundraising efforts that have been supported by our great community time and again. Being on the Advisory Board has been rewarding both by having a hand in the growth of the campus, but more so in having the opportunity to work with the administration and faculty to this end. We have been most fortunate to work with such great and dedicated leaders during these 65 years.
—John Beyer, AUC 1947-49, Advisory Board 1975 to present
Bob Smith: A lifetime of Penn State Altoona dedication
Penn State Altoona has seen many changes during its rich 65 year history. From a location change from downtown Altoona to Ivyside Park to name changes from the Altoona Undergraduate Center to Penn State Altoona, from the addition of residence halls and classroom buildings to the addition of degree programs and intercollegiate athletics, the College has not stood still for long. Yet one thing has remained constant: the presence and dedication of one man since he began his employment in July 1939. Yes, Bob Smith truly has seen it all.
Smith holds the distinction of being the first employee of the Altoona Undergraduate Center when he was hired in 1939. His varied job duties included administrative assistant, registrar, financial officer, and business manager. In 1948, upon receiving his master's degree, he became a member of the faculty and achieved tenured status in 1955. He taught economics, accounting, and business administration usually on a part time basis, except during the "lean years" of World War II and the Korean War. During these times, all of the administrators served as full-time faculty because there was not enough money to hire additional professors. As Smith put it, "you had to kind of wear a couple hats, because the enrollment was so low."
Smith's retirement as Associate Director Emeritus in 1983 was not the end of his commitment to Penn State Altoona. He became a member of the College's Advisory Board in 1942, and continues to serve as its treasurer to this day. As a tribute to his legacy, the Advisory Board held a special recognition ceremony this fall to honor his lifetime achievements. He will be remembered for years to come, as an appropriate space in the soon-to-be renovated library will bear his name and his portrait will adorn the adjacent wall. Yet, even without this formal recognition, he could not be forgotten.