Jan. 30, 2012
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab
Smith retirement gala raises $200,000
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Slippery Rock University’s “Farewell Gala Honoring the Presidency and Leadership of Robert and Ramona Smith” as they enter retirement, raised more than $200,000 in need-based scholarship support.
As part of a farewell address delivered at the event, Smith said, “I want to tell you what you did tonight. You raised more funds for our students, by a factor of two, than at any other single event the University has ever held. You provided four-year scholarships, by the way we allocate scholarships, to 50 students.”
Nearly 400 people attended the four-hour testimonial in the University Union. The gala was preceded by walking tours of the soon-to-open Robert M. Smith Student Center, named by the SRU Council of Trustees at the urging of SRU’s Student Government Association, in honor of Smith’s 12 years of leadership at the University. The $39.8-million, 106,869-square-foot student center will serve as the student living room on campus providing meeting rooms, lounge areas, restaurants, a ballroom for events and a movie theatre.
Among those offering well wishes and praising Smith’s leadership as part of the program were Joshua Young, chair of the SRU trustee council; William Williams, provost and president for academic affairs; Jace Condravy, professor of English and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State, College and University Faculty; Jessamine Montero, senior office for diversity and inclusion, and Jordan Bailley, president of the SRU Student Government Association. State Rep. Jaret Gibbons, (D-10, Lawrence/Beaver/Butler), presented a citation recognizing Smith’s leadership approved by the Pennsylvania House of Representative.
Smith, who in January was named the sixth president emeritus in Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education history, thanked Gibbons, and state Rep. Dick Stevenson (R-8th: Butler/Mercer) for their friendship and University support for SRU and the state system in the legislature.
Gov. Tom Corbett sent a letter, citing Smith’s leadership and value within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which was read by Robert Watson, vice president for student life emeritus, who served as master of ceremonies.
In part, the letter said, “As president of Slippery Rock University since 2002, you have been instrumental in leading this school to regional and national prominence. Throughout your tenure, you have exhibited outstanding leadership on the campus and in the Butler County community. I am privileged to have witnessed your unselfish commitment to making Slippery Rock University renowned for quality education”
A 15-minute video presentation of Smith’s year’s at SRU, prepared by the University Public Relations Office and describing his legacy of leadership, was shown. Nanette Solomon, professor of music, and Colleen Gray, associate professor of music, presented a special musical tribute, and the SRU Choirs, directed by Stephen Barr, assistant professor of music, sang four selections at the event. The video is available at: http://youtu.be/GfCkJDXVkWI.
Smith, who officially retires Feb. 10, used his final major campus event to thank those in attendance and those who have supported his presidency. He used the event to share the honor with faculty and staff, alumni, donors, supporters and reminded the audience of his oft-used line, “It is all about the students.”
In an emotion-filled talk, Smith said, “I want to take some time to really extend my appreciation to a number of people. There is just an incredible group of people gathered here tonight. I am pleased you decided to be with us and also to celebrate with us. It is a very special time – and a ‘Great time to be at Slippery Rock University.’”
“There really is no adequate way to express my appreciation,” he said in listing a number of supporters and event sponsors.
“As an institution, we ought to be very proud of the fact that in the last three years the Regional Learning Alliance and the University have won five ‘Best Places to Work’ awards – three of those were national awards and two were regional. I also want to recognize those who provide volunteer services to the University,” Smith said. He then asked the SRU Council of Trustees, the SRU Alumni Association members, the SRU Foundation board of directors, faculty and other event sponsors to stand. Those who were members of SRU’s Lifetime Giving Clubs were also recognized.
He cited his deep friendship with various members of those boards.
Smith asked his cabinet to be recognized, and said, “Thank you very much.”
Tina Moser, assistant to the president, and Kelli Rensel, administrative assistant in the President’s Office, were recognized for their work efficiency and representation of the office. “Without their dedication, it just wouldn’t happen,” Smith said.
Smith then presented the University’s first Diamond Lifetime Giving Program pin to Jerry Bejble, a 1963 SRU graduate and retired president and owner of The Armoloy Corp, who became the first SRU alumnus to reach a lifetime giving total of $1 million. (See related story in this issue of rockpride online.)
Among others, the president thanked former SRU President G. Warren Smith for giving him the opportunity to serve at SRU.
Smith thanked his wife, Ramona, for her work on behalf of SRU and the regional community, and joked about their retirement preparations.
“We have had an amazing life here in western Pennsylvania. We received many, many accolades. There is nothing on earth to be prized…as much as having true friendship. To that we are rich beyond any measure,” he said.
Smith said students come to the University from out-of-state, then remain in Pennsylvania. “We are a net importer of talent. These people are your neighbors; they are your future employees; they are your kids’ and grandchildren’s teachers; they are your community’s Little League coaches; they will be your accountants; they will become your financial advisers; they will become your medical technicians; your public health specialists; they will be your news reporters; they will be your physical therapists; your nurses – and for some of us, they are going to be our recreational directors in our assisted living homes.”
“So when you help them, you help this community. You provide the ability for them to realize their dreams. You make a direct investment in Slippery Rock University to make the community a much better place,” he said. “Your work, not mine, transformed this University, and did so in a way that will last forever.”
“We will leave here with dreams of friendship and love. No two people could be more richly blessed,” Smith said.
Six, finger-food and beverage stations at the gala were provided through a gift from AVI Fresh, the campus contract food vendor. Major sponsors for the gala included Butler Health System, AVI Fresh, Crawford Consulting Service and EDR Collegiate Housing.
The SRU Advancement Division and the Slippery Rock University Foundation Inc., served as hosts for the gala.
Smith Center tours were conducted by student members of the Green and White Society and SGA, who also provided guest assistance at the gala.
The Smiths announced last fall they would retire to Tennessee, where their son and daughter, make their homes.
They were also guests of honor at a campus reception last Thursday where hundreds of students, faculty and staff came to wish them well in retirement.
Smith joined the University in 1999 as provost and vice president for academic affairs. He was named interim president in 2002 and named to the presidency by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education board of governors in 2003. Under his leadership more than $250 million in academic and related building upgrades were completed. He is also credited for raising the academic profile of the University.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.