I wrote this Town & Gown contribution on Evan and Rebecca Pugh, marking Penn State’s Founders Day celebration this month. It’s a small tribute to the first couple that created a Pennsylvania institution that will likely last until the Commonwealth comes apart:
Evan Pugh was Penn State’s first president.
It’s great if you happen to know of Evan Pugh. In fact, it’s likely that knowing about him already puts you in the minority among students and alumni. But just knowing this bit of raw information isn’t worth much in and of itself. It’s available to anyone curious enough to wonder and with access to Wikipedia. Why care? …
Evan Pugh’s vision and devotion to the early Penn State was remarkable in its own time, but perhaps is even more remarkable in our own. Perhaps best exemplified by the carousel of football coaches since 2011, we seem to be exiting an era when one arrived in the Nittany Valley to make Penn State their life, not simply their job. Pugh, a man whose ability and professional qualifications meant he could choose his own career path, gave himself fully over to the fledgling cause of Penn State, internalizing the dream of higher education for the commoner in the “splendid isolation” of this place. He writes to Professor Wilson, Penn State’s Vice President, on September 18, 1863:
“I am resolved to stay with our College, while God gives me strength to perform my duties there, whatever may be the pecuniary inducements or prospects of honor elsewhere. It is my duty and my destiny to do so, and I shall seek honors in the path of duty and of destiny…”