Bradford campus a product of community

 

By KIMBERLY WEINBERG

Pitt-Bradford

            

The headline inThe Era the morning of Oct. 16, 1962, was about as big a news story as Bradford had had since Yuri Gagarin circled the earth the year before. “Pitt to Open Up Area Campus Here” stretched across the top of the page in 100-point type. 

            Fifty years later, that announcement is still felt throughout the community and the region, with the university serving as an economic engine, employer and source of qualified employees.

            The lead-up to the announcement began a year before in November 1961, when the University of Pittsburgh, expecting a mid-decade bulge in enrollment caused by the Baby Boom, announced that it would establish regional campuses to handle the influx of students.

            The Bradford Area Chamber of Commerce responded, sending a letter of interest to Pitt. The movers and shakers of Bradford, with the backing of historic oil money and industry, swung into action. 

            The 1962 announcement revealed that the community of Bradford had made some substantial promises to Pitt to secure a campus, including an initial enrollment of 100 students and agreeing to underwrite the costs of equipment, facilities and operational losses for the first two years.

            That’s what it took to beat out other communities, which included Connellsville and Kittanning. Greensburg and Titusville were the other two cities chosen.

            The regional campuses were part of then-Chancellor Edward Litchfield’s vision for expanding the university, and he moved quickly to hire a president for Pitt-Bradford, Dr. Donald Swarts, who had been the dean of academic affairs at the Johnstown campus. (Unlike Pitt’s other regional campuses, the Johnstown campus was established earlier, in 1923.) 

            Swarts was literally a one-man administration, taking on roles now provided by multiple offices – including admissions, fundraising, human resources, academic affairs and public relations. He recruited the students and the faculty and spoke at fundraising events.

            “Dr. Swarts was the right person at the right time” to guide the fledgling university, said Dr. Marvin Thomas, professor of history, who began teaching at Pitt-Bradford in 1969.

            Frank Rizzo ’64-’66 grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and remembers being interviewed by Swarts in the Biltmore Hotel in New York City, where he had traveled to recruit students. He recruited Bill Krieg ’64-’66 at a college fair held in Dunkirk, N.Y.

            By spring of ’63, a solid number was attached to the financial promises -- $542,015, or about $4 million in today’s money, would be needed to open the campus.

            Swarts would not have to raise the money by himself. Two volunteer boards were formed to do the job: a temporary campaign committee led by Robert Williams and a permanent Advisory Board led by J. Bertram Fisher, who was the head of Kendall Refining and who would later engineer the gift of land by Kendall that became the current campus.

            Organized like the Army veterans many of them likely were, they organized into divisions and subdivisions, each with its own captain and campaigners.

            Litchfield came to Bradford and spoke at the kickoff dinner May 2, 1963, when the goal was first announced before 375 potential donors at the Pennhills Club. The next evening, WESB radio broadcast the chancellor’s message at 8 p.m.

            “As I look into the future, one thing I am quite sure of,” Litchfield said. “Whatever I predict tonight will look small in 1970 but will seem extreme to your right now.”

            He painted a picture of a campus with 500 undergraduates, 1,500 students in adult education and 400 part-time students. He talked about dormitories to house 200 students and 80 percent of Pitt-Bradford’s two-year students going on to earn bachelor’s degrees at the University of Pittsburgh.

            Campaign chairman Williams told those gathered, “We are not collecting tokens, but are selling opportunity.”

            The crowd took the bait and ran with it. Within a month and a half, the campaign had exceeded its goal by nearly half.

            “It was easy to get people to give because we had something good to sell,” said Howard Fesenmyer, who worked on the campaign with his boss, Robert Galey, president of Zippo Manufacturing Co.

            Individual gifts to the campaign ranged from $5 to $50,000, but much of the money was raised by industry employees who gave through payroll deduction: $29,574 from the employees of Dresser Manufacturing Division and another $50,000 from Dresser itself; $634 from the employees of Hanley Co. and $5,000 more from the company; and $11,471.90 from the employees of Kendall, along with $30,000 from the company and $10,000 from Bert Fisher.

            Small businesses gave generously: $1,000 each from Harold F. Goldstein Insurance, McCourt Label Cabinet Co. and Goodbody & Co.; $600 from Goodman Pipe Corp.; and $750 from Graham Florist. That was a lot of flowers.

            And individuals pledged $25 or $500 -- whatever they could spare from Miss Helen Nusbaum working at The Bradford Era to Stephen and Marmie Hodges, whose son David sculpted the Panther statue to be placed in the Robert B. Bromeley Quadrangle for the campus’s 50th anniversary.

            Children and grandchildren of those founders are now attending Pitt-Bradford, just as they had hoped. And the Advisory Board and volunteers remain as enthusiastic and as much a part of Pitt-Bradford’s success as they did at its beginning.

            “Throughout its history, the Advisory Board has taken all kinds of pride in the college,” said Dr. Livingston Alexander, current president of Pitt-Bradford. “The zeal of that first group has carried over into every generation since.”

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