Employees look back on early days of Pitt-Bradford

Dr. Marvin Thomas





The early days at the Pitt-Bradford found staff monitoring students in a dorm that had been once operated as a hotel, professors who taught in classrooms at a former hardware store and office employees who worked at credenzas in a former hospital building.

Several former and current employees at Pitt-Bradford shared memories from years when the campus was still in its infancy in commemoration of the university's 50th anniversary. The recollections come from a time when students in penny loafers walked on campus sidewalks made of wood and rode a big, lumbering "Blue Goose" shuttle bus to classes in town.  

Louise Stoltz, bookkeeper at Pitt-Bradford, 1964-1971

When Louise Stoltz learned there was an opening for a bookkeeper at the new Pitt-Bradford campus during the spring semester of 1964 she decided to give it a try.

"I started out in Hamsher House, and I worked in the bookkeeping department," Stoltz said of the former Bradford Hospital building purchased by the college for classrooms, offices and a student lounge. "We didn't have desks because they didn't have very much money, so I worked at a credenza."

The business staff and administrators, who included Dr. Donald E. Swarts, college president, were located in upstairs rooms of Hamsher House while students studied in labs and classrooms downstairs.  

In addition to bookkeeping, the staff was required to type individual form letters to all student applicants seeking admission to the two-year college, Stoltz said.

"Dr. Swarts signed every one of those letters," she added.

Stolts said the college's shoestring budget at the time occasionally delayed the employees' paychecks.

"We were always paid on the 28th of the month, but sometimes we didn't get it until the following month because they didn't have the money," she said, noting she and her late husband, Harry, were raising three children at the time.

While the pay would typically come a week later, Stoltz remained loyal to her job, with her husband's blessings, as they knew the university needed employee and community support.

"They didn't know if (the university) was really going to take," she said of the young campus.

A year or so later, the business staff was moved to the former Emery Hardware building on Main Street in downtown Bradford. It wouldn't be long after that when the college started a campaign in the community to raise needed funds.

"They started a big campaign (in the mid-1960s) to raise millions of dollars," Stoltz recalled. "That campaign was ongoing for a number of years."

Stoltz said she left the college in 1971 to take an accounting job in town, but never forgot her years of helping the fledgling campus. This is evidenced by the Harry B. and Louise A. Stoltz Scholarship Fund established for nontraditional students.

Now, Stoltz attends events at Pitt-Bradford regularly, including community luncheons, banquets and fundraisers. She also enjoys the beautiful surroundings found throughout the campus.

"I think it's come a long way, and it's a beautiful place," she said.

Jay Monti, professor and dean, 1965-1971

It wasn't long after Jay Monti had returned from teaching English in Africa with the Peace Corps in 1965 when he stopped at the Pitt-Bradford book shop to look around.

When Monti told the clerk, Virginia Ball, of his teaching experience in Africa, as well as in the Altoona area prior to that, she pounced on the young man.  

"She said, 'You're a teacher, don't move,' and called Don Swarts." An interview set up that same day with the college president.  The interview with Swarts went well despite Monti's   concerns with his credentials.

"I only had a bachelor's degree, but if I was willing to work for an advanced degree the job was mine," Monti recalled. He remembers that his starting pay was $3,600 a year.  Later on, when he became the director of housing he was required to live in the dorm at Emery Towers to keep an eye on the students.

His first classroom was at Hamsher House where he taught English and French. In the ensuing years, his class was moved to the Emery Hardware building where he had a view of Main Street from the front classroom window.  In the following years, he was promoted to the positions of dean of student activities and director of housing. He also earned his master's degree along the way.

One of his more amusing memories occurred while living in Emery Towers.  At the time, several male students smuggled an iguana into the dorm. The dean of women at the time was concerned the boys would also try to sneak onto the girls' floors during the prank and called Monti for help.

"The boys were trying to get the girls to open the fire door on the fifth floor" to frighten them with the iguana, Monti said. As it turned out, the iguana got away from the boys, only to be immediately caught by Monti. He decided to hide the creature until he could take it to a biology teacher in Altoona, who kept it a number of years.

"Everybody was afraid to open the doors because they thought there was an iguana loose in the dorm," he said, clearly enjoying the memory. "The girls didn't know where it was and neither did the boys."

The iguana incident created such a stir that it merited a photo in Pitt-Bradford's early yearbook titled "The Interim."

Monti also remembers a mock anti-war demonstration staged by the students to give the local National Guard an opportunity to practice a drill in hostile situations.

"Oh my, do I remember that, I organized it," he said. "We were so good at it that we scared the National Guard, so they cancelled it."

The little Tuck Shop, which sold snacks and was run by Margaret Faye in Hamsher House, evokes fond memories for Monti.

"She was such a mother to the students and was a great contributor to Pitt," Monti said.

Monti said his strongest memories from those years were of the two Allegheny Airline airplane accidents that happened approximately a week apart during December 1968 and January 1969. Monti was an American Red Cross board member and helped with the second accident, which occurred at Pine Acres golf course on Jan. 6, and took the lives of three Pitt-Bradford students.

"I went right up to West Warren Road where they had set up a morgue," Monti remembered. "We knew there were kids (from Pitt-Bradford) on it."  He also had the sad responsibility of identifying the remains of the three students, a task made more difficult because he knew the young men.  To this day, he still remembers details from their lives and families.

Monti said he left Pitt-Bradford to teach at Bradford High School because his new job put him back in the classroom.

"It wasn't the money, it was just that I didn't want to be a director … and maybe teach one class a week," he explained. "But working at Pitt was good, or I wouldn't have worked there over five years."

Marvin Thomas, 1969-present.

Dr.Marvin Thomas had no idea what he was getting into when a colleague wrote to him in 1969 in Munich to tell him about an opening at the new university where she was teaching, which was, of course, Pitt-Bradford.

Thomas entered into a transatlantic negotiation with Dr. Donald Swarts, then-president of Pitt-Bradford, who interviewed his colleague, Marlene Reich, as a proxy. Swarts sent a telegram to Thomas to let him know he was hired.

He and his wife, Christine, arrived by steamship in New York harbor in late August. Thomas attended his first faculty meeting with 10 fellow teachers a few days later.

"I didn't know it was a hardware store," he said of Pitt-Bradford, which at the time consisted of Hamsher House near the hospital and the Emery Hotel and rented Emery Hardware store downtown. "But the story had a happy ending. You just have to hang on," he added, indicating the current campus.

At first, he and his wife lived on Chestnut Street, and he walked to work at the Emery Hardware building. Later, they lived in the Orchard Apartments, and he walked to Hamsher House. And sometimes he walked from Emery Hardware to Hamsher House. "I did a lot of walking," he said.

Two years later, he went to another faculty meeting, where Swarts made an important announcement: "It's official - UPB is going to be permanent."

"I never knew there was any doubt!" Thomas said.

As a professor, he quickly developed a reputation as exacting taskmaster. In his first semester, 125 of 172 students failed. Remarkably, Swarts was understanding of Thomas's stringent standards. Thomas decided to break European history down into smaller courses to make it more digestible. Some of those, he's still teaching today.

As the university grew and Dr. Rick Frederick was hired to teach American history, students no longer have to take a Thomas class.

"I basically have the crème-de-la-crème of students because no one has to take European history," he said. He and all those students seem to have come to some sort of peace. In 1997, he was one of the first recipients of the Pitt-Bradford Alumni Association's Teaching Excellence Award.

Margaret Bryner, dean of women, 1970-1972.

Margaret Bryner was fresh out of college and looking for employment when she learned Pitt- Bradford needed a dean of women and a physical education instructor. She had a bachelor's degree in health and physical education and was hired for both positions.

"I basically started (at Pitt-Bradford) a week after I graduated," she said of her hiring in June of 1970 at the age of 21. "I moved into an apartment in Emery Towers."

As the dean of women, she monitored female students on two floors.

"I would have to take care of the housing needs and be around if there were issues with the students," she recalled. She taught physical education classes and swimming at the Bradford YMCA on Boylston Street.  She taught bowling at the former Star Lanes on Barbour Street.

"I remember teaching class at 7 o'clock in the morning at the Y," she said, recalling that the students were often very groggy at that hour. "They survived it; that was the good thing."

"In January of 1972, we moved all the students out to the new complex on campus," she said of the college's new property at the former Harri Emery Airport. "Just the apartments were built, and we had our meals in the hangar" which also had served as the student union.  Since the move was in the middle of winter, the sidewalks on campus were made of wood.

"That was not fun … there was lots of mud," she said remembering the slippery walkways. "And the students would take a bus from the hangar to Hamsher House" for classes.

She lived in one of the student apartments on campus, which were comfortable and more spacious. The remainder of the campus was still an open area with plans for construction still in the works.

Bryner resigned from her position in June of that year and traveled to Europe. The following year, she returned to college and obtained her master's degree in counseling from Indiana University. That was followed by a teaching position at Bethel College in Tennessee from 1973 to 1975. She returned to the area in 1975 to accept a position at St. Bonaventure University where she taught physical education and served as a women's volleyball coach. For the past 30 years, she has worked in St. Bonaventure's Higher Education Opportunity Program for academically under-prepared and economically disadvantaged students from New York state. She has served as director of the program for a number of years.

Bryner said Pitt-Bradford will always be special to her because it was the first job in her profession.

"It gave me the opportunity to work and teach at the college level and thus begin a most satisfying journey, which has taken me to a variety of educational institutions," Bryner said. "It was a wonderful experience, and I was glad I could give back to my home community. I got my start there … and I'm still connected to Pitt because of those two years."

Bryner said she enjoys visiting the current campus with its many expansions.

"It offers a lot to our area, and we've been lucky with our administration here," she said. "It was fun to be part of the early growth process."

Donny Johnson, Pitt-Bradford mail carrier, 1979 - present

For the past three decades, mail has been delivered to offices and departments on the Pitt-Bradford campus, rain or shine, thanks to the diligence and dedication of Donny Johnson.

Johnson is so devoted to his job that he insisted on walking his mail route around campus while sharing the story of his years with the university. His first employment on campus was with the food service department not long after he graduated from Bradford High School in 1969. That was followed by employment with a cleaning crew from Futures Rehabilitation Center that worked in the dorms. When Johnson was offered a job as the mail carrier on campus, he readily accepted.

During his early years on campus, Johnson rode the "Blue Goose" student bus to and from work while sharing a home with his late mother, Helen. Johnson now lives in his own apartment and takes an ATA bus to and from work.

In the 30 or more years that he has delivered postal and campus mail, Johnson has made many friends among the staff and students.

"I like to talk to people, they're friendly and it's a nice place to work," Johnson said during his brisk pace around a campus that has expanded in the years he has delivered mail.

Colleen Gleason, supervisor of the Mail Center on campus, said she has enjoyed working with Johnson over the past 20 years. Her late mother, Dusty Gray, had worked with Johnson in the center prior to that time.

"He's always willing to help and do extra things outside of his job," Gleason said.  "If he's out there in the field (delivering mail) and sees a family, he's more than willing to give them information. He's a good ambassador for the university."

She said Johnson delivers mail to offices in all buildings on campus, all seasons of the year.

"He doesn't complain (about the weather), he'll walk around when it's raining and say 'I'm a duck,'" she said with a smile.

Gleason said Johnson is loved and admired by all of the staff on campus. It's not unusual to see him dining or attending social functions in the community with university employees. He also assists with sports teams on campus, as well as travels with them on occasion.

Johnson's enthusiasm on campus and in the community has not gone unnoticed over the years. In 2005, he received the university's Chancellor's Award for Staff for Service to the Community.

Patrick Ryan, county coordinator for McKean County Special Olympics and a friend of Johnson's through his previous employment at Futures, had written a letter of recommendation for Johnson in support of the award. In it, Ryan wrote that Johnson is not only a benefit to Special Olympics as a certified track and field coach, chaperone and volunteer, but also to the community.

"His enthusiasm and spirit are infectious … he is most deserving," Ryan wrote of Johnson.


Kimberly Marcott Weinberg contributed to this story.