"Celebrating 150: The Pioneers and Philanthropists"

Celebrating 150: The Pioneers and Philanthropists

To honor Ursinus College’s 150 years, Ursinus Magazine is paying tribute to just some of the people who have made their mark on the college, as well as those who have carried the college’s mission forward through their work.

These are the names you know—the headline grabbers—and the ones you may
not recognize. This is the first part of a three-part series that offers a snapshot of Bears for Life— people suggested by members of our campus community, by the college’s 150th anniversary committee and by you, our readers.

While there is much to draw upon throughout a century and a half of history, we wanted to keep it contemporary (we’ll leave the narrative of the college’s first hundred years, rightfully and respectfully, to CALVIN D. YOST ’30, whose definitive Ursinus College: A History of its First Hundred Years can be found on bookshelves all over campus and beyond).

This series is not definitive. It’s meant to be a living document, one that is sustained throughout our anniversary year; one that grows as new names are suggested and added.

Up first: the pioneers and philanthropists.

Look closely. It seems that in every corner of the world, an Ursinus College graduate is leading the charge. A bear is making a difference, setting the stage.

We know the story of JOE DESIMONE ’86, P’12—entrepreneur and innovator—a cutting-edge visionary in 3D printing, nanoparticle fabrication and green chemistry. He fondly recalls the chemistry professors who helped set him on his course … thought leaders like RON HESS (see page 35), ROGER STAIGER ’43 and VIC TORTORELLI (more on them next issue).

Innovation, after all, is part of the entrepreneurial spirit that drives liberal learning at Ursinus. How would technology evolve if not for JOHN MAUCHLY, the Ursinus physics professor whose work here led to co-inventing (while at the University of Pennsylvania) what is considered the first all-electronic, digital computer?

The entrepreneurial spirit drives Ursinus graduates to set the bar high and effortlessly clear it. At Purdue University, Ursinus chemistry graduate ELSA JANLE ’63 developed a device used to monitor glucose in diabetics without the removal of blood. She has also investigated the potential of botanicals in the prevention of diseases, including diabetes.

Pioneering orthopedic surgeon RICHARD GUYER ’71—winner of the 2016 Ursinus Alumni Award for Professional Achievement— was one of the first surgeons to perform spinal disc replacement in the U.S. (in 2000), as well as the first to perform one in Chile and Brazil. MARGARET “PEG” WILLIAMS ’80 embraced mathematics at Ursinus and became senior vice president of research and development at Cray, which designs and develops industry leading supercomputers. CYNTHIA FISHER ’83 is a founder and board member of Patient Rights Advocate and is best known for her work as founder and CEO of ViaCord, Inc., a leading umbilical cord blood stem cell banking service which she started in 1993. THE REV. DR. PATRICIA (COX) MCGREGOR ’81, P ’12 serves Episcopal
missionaries in some of the poorest countries in the world and mentors women, assisting in the development of economic opportunities for them. PAMELA ODORIZZI ’09 researches the body’s immune responses to HIV, cancers, malaria and other diseases while mentoring scientists in developing countries. AUBREY PARIS ’15 was recently chosen as one of the world’s 118 top young chemists by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

This barely scratches the surface of people who can be considered pioneers. They are also risk-takers, and not coincidentally, championing risktaking is one of the seven objectives of the Ursinus strategic plan, which states that we at Ursinus “strive to be a community unafraid to test boundaries, recognizing that crossing disciplinary, social and cultural frontiers can lead to great achievement.”

Those well-versed in Ursinus history know of MINERVA WEINBERGER 1884, Ursinus’s first female student, and other pioneering thinkers: MEGHAN BRODIE ’00 and WYNTON RICE ’09, our first theater major and dance major, respectively; AARON RANCK ’02, the college’s first Watson Fellow; and AAKASH SHAH ’10, Ursinus’s first and only Rhodes Scholar (so far), who was honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for the work of his nonprofit, Be Jersey Strong, which helps New Jersey residents understand and access their health-care options. Where would Ursinus be if not for those who have helped bring the college to the present day by being bold and thinking outside the box? Those such as ROBERT CRIGLER ’56, the college’s first African American graduate and the namesake of our Crigler program, and PAULETTE PATTON, longtime director
of that program (who suggested it be named for Crigler), in which students
are given the opportunity to participate in a community service project, connect with Ursinus alumni and attend leadership workshops.

Ursinus STEM pioneer BLANCHE SCHULTZ ’41 was also a champion for Ursinus athletics—historically defined by the legacy of those who shaped women’s athletics in Collegeville: the legendary ELEANOR FROST SNELL,  who led the Ursinus field hockey team for nearly 40 years and developed the program into a national powerhouse; ADELE BOYD ’53, a revered coach and mentor who took over for Snell as head field hockey coach, beginning a 17-year career that would include 16 winning seasons; VONNIE GROS ’57 coach of the 1984 U.S. Olympic women’s field hockey team; and JEN SHILLINGFORD ’54, who started an annual symposium to honor Snell and whose own contributions to the United States Field Hockey Association (USFHA) are nationally recognized.

Visionary Ursinus leaders of the past four decades helped shape what Ursinus is today. RICHARD P. RICHTER ’53, P’87 (president from 1976 to 1994) moved toward creating a modern liberal arts college and transforming its physical appearance in the development of the Berman Museum of Art, Olin Hall and the main street residential village. During his 15 years as president, JOHN  STRASSBURGER (1995-2010) championed summer research fellowships, study abroad and a nationally hailed Common Intellectual Experience, which became the college’s hallmarks. BOBBY FONG (2011-14) believed that at Ursinus, the “cultivation of personhood” should be taken seriously and that education  contributes to the process of “individualization,” so that each student is afforded the opportunity to develop a sense of self in relation to the world—a legacy that continues to this day.

All members of our campus community—and particularly, Ursinus alumni—have a deep connection to the college. And if not for philanthropy, Ursinus would not have been the same (read a history of philanthropy in the Keep the Promise campaign newsletter insert in the print version of the magazine).

Members of the Ursinus community give back in more ways than one. SUSAN CALLAHAN ’85, P’21, chair of the Bear2Bear Benefit & Bash committee, may have said it best: “I’m a big believer in paying it forward and giving back to the college after you graduate, a college that gives so much to its students. Giving even a small amount keeps people engaged long after they’ve graduated and encourages a culture of philanthropy at the college.” She was a founding member and first chair of the Ursinus Young Alumni Programming Board (YAPB), today known as the GOLD Council, which has been integral in keeping alumni engaged with the college.

In addition to raising funds for students in need, the Bear2Bear Benefit & Bash also served to honor the contributions of JOAN AND WILL ABELE ’61. The couple are significant benefactors not only to Ursinus, but also to other causes and organizations throughout the Delaware Valley region—in fact, they were recently recognized with the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The Abeles’ decades of giving have been, in large part, inspired by the legacy of Stephen Girard, the namesake of Girard College, where Will attended. Girard’s model of philanthropy led the Abeles to seek out and support a variety of high impact priorities at Ursinus including the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund and the Abele Scholars Program— both of which they created—as well as campus safety, the U-Imagine Center, the Abele Science Equipment Challenge, an endowment for the head wrestling coach position and an essay prize in ethics. The latter is in honor of RICHARD T. SCHELLHASE ’45, another key figure in Will’s life, and promotes the discussion of ethics in a variety of settings at the college.

Ethical conversations embolden students to become responsible scientists and citizens though the Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good, named for DON ’55 AND JOAN PARLEE ’57, healthcare advocates who appreciate that the center prepares students with the skills of ethical decision-making and distinguishes Ursinus as a place where students cross academic boundaries to create a culture of interdisciplinary inquiry.

Visionary leader, philanthropist and friend of Ursinus College and the Berman Museum of Art, H.F. “GERRY” LENFEST and his wife, MARGUERITE, selflessly supported Ursinus for many years. Their generosity spanned more than two decades and included support of the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center (the Lenfest Theater bears their name), as well as extensive support for Berman Museum exhibitions and a significant contribution to the Berman Museum expansion project.

At Ursinus, a foundation was laid for a lifetime of service for HAROLD C. SMITH ’55, whose foundation provides significant opportunity for students to engage in vocational and faith discernment through experiential learning. NANCY OPALACK ’71 is a founding corporate member of that foundation and is executive director and founder of Educational Support Systems, Inc., which consults at the federal and state levels on special education issues.

Philanthropy isn’t just monetary. It’s about giving time, too, and community building, both locally and globally. Our BONNER LEADERS, after all, transform our campus and communities through service and leadership.

As the first Charles Rice Post-Graduate Research Fellows, ROSEANGELA HARTFORD ’18 spent a year investigating the intersectionality of religion and the healing process for survivors of domestic and sexual violence of women and children by chance; and DOUG HICKEY ’15 focused on the psychological impact of war and mental health among combat veterans, drawing upon spiritual practices.

The Ursinus spirit of giving is evident in the work of CHARLES ’63 AND CAROL HAEUSSNER ’63, who work with many charities supporting developing countries. SUE (PEIFFER) FERNANDEZ ’64 has devoted personal time to supporting young women from Africa and helping to make it possible for them to come to the U.S. to undergo extreme medical treatments. SCOTT CLEMENS ’69 works with LifePath, a support group for severely disabled children and their families. And STEPHANIE (HICKS) KILKENNY ’93 co-founded with her husband, Patrick, the Lucky Duck Foundation, whose mission is to alleviate the suffering of San Diego County’s homeless population. It has directed millions of dollars to fund bridge shelters, employment programs, transportation, community care kits, meals and other critical services for the homeless.

A love of dance at Ursinus led ROGER LEE ’10 to a career as an entrepreneurial arts and education professional. He started his own business, Roger Lee Arts, which produces performing artist resources and dance company concerts. ALEX PEAY ’09 founded the Rising Sons program at Ursinus to build a sense of community among the black male students on campus. That idea transformed into a service organization that has gained global recognition. Peay and MUBARAK LAWRENCE ’10 are the driving force behind Ones Up, a Philadelphia community service organization that aims to build young leaders and address issues affecting underprivileged populations.

We’re grateful for these pioneers and philanthropists for helping to shape our history and tell the Ursinus story.

But we’re not done. Is there someone you’d like to see on this list or in an upcoming issue? We’ll include them! Email us at ucmag@ursinus.edu and visit ursinus.edu/magazine. Let’s “author” our recent history—as well as the next 50 years—together.

The Mentors and Thought Leaders (Winter 2020).

The Unsung Heroes and Helping Hands (Spring/Summer 2020).