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January 31, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU opens 125th Anniversary celebration

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -With the Slippery Rock University Mace firmly in hand, Wilma Cavill, the longest serving faculty member at the University and in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Thursday stood outside Old Main, the oldest building on campus, to declare "The yearlong cerebration of Slippery Rock University's 125th anniversary open."

SRU will use the entire year to mark its founding, which was made possible by the residents of what was then Centerville who wanted to establish a State Normal School in their community in the late 1880s. In less than two years, they brought the idea of creating the school that would equip young men and women to be schoolteachers within the commonwealth to approval by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The first class of students began their studies at the Slippery Rock State Normal School March 26, 1889.

Cheryl Norton, SRU's 16th president, and the first woman president at the University, thanked nearly 100 faculty, staff, students and community leaders and members outside Old Main for joining the Grand March that helped open the yearlong tribute "celebrating our honored traditions and embracing our unlimited potential."

An Army ROTC Color Guard, the grand marshal, the president and a drumline provided by the SRU music department, led the assemblage from the original area of the campus across campus to the Smith Student Center, the newest building on campus. As the parade passed various academic building, additional faculty, students and staff joined the procession.

In its 125 years, SRU has grown from a so-called Normal School to a State Teacher's College, a State College and then a comprehensive university offering undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degree in more than 60 majors. SRU is a member university of PASSHE

An indoor ceremony at the Smith Center included remarks by Norton; Robert Taylor, chair of the SRU Council of Trustees and a member of the PASSHE board of governors; William McCarrier, an SRU trustee and Butler County commissioner; Laura Ordaz, a student trustee on the SRU council; Ken Harris, a Slippery Rock Borough council member; Robert Watson, interim vice president for student affairs and a descendant of the original founders; Rogers Clements, president of the Student Government Association at SRU; Katie Hill, president of SRU's Green and White Society, and Anita Stadler, president of SRU's University Program Board.

Cavill and Watson are honorary co-chairs for the yearlong celebration.

Laurel Dagnon, director of programming for SRU's Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, George Mihalik, professor of safety management and head football coach, and Judy Silva, library professor, are tri-chairs of the celebration planning committee.

Norton said, "We celebrate 125 years of Slippery Rock history - an inspiring story of community, resilience and bold innovation. We are, have always been and forever will be - The Rock."

Taylor, provided background on the school's founding: "In March of 1888, the stockholders of the Slippery Rock State Normal School Association elected 13 members to serve on the first board of trustees. Throughout the history of the institution, citizens of the community have been called to serve as trustees and to ensure the institution remained true to its mission of providing an excellent education to the youth of the commonwealth."

Harris, former Slippery Rock mayor and a professor emeritus of theatre at SRU, said, "It is my pleasure, my extreme pleasure to present the citizens of Slippery Rock Borough who first in 1889 envisioned and worked to create Slippery Rock State Normal School, and then, throughout the years helped to nurture the institution as it grew to become the great university it is today. Slippery Rock Borough is proud of our historical connections to the University, and we look forward to our continued partnership as together we embrace our unlimited potential for the future."

Watson, a 1970 SRU graduate whose great-great-grandfather was an original founder and who served the University in a variety of positions, including three years as vice president for student affairs, said, "I am honored and so very humbled to be representing the founding families at this, the 125th anniversary of the creation of our beloved Slippery Rock University.

In December, 1887, hardly more than a heaping handful of concerned citizens of the Centerville area, later to be named Slippery Rock, gathered in the Presbyterian Church to discuss the possibility of an education, beyond eighth grade, for their sons and daughters.

It is almost unfathomable to comprehend that in just 14 short months that small group of extremely dedicated people had acquired the original ten acres of land, designed and constructed three buildings, appointed a principal, selected a faculty of six, recruited and enrolled 168 students in the first class and laid the foundation upon which we stand today!

By profession or trade, these founding families were farmers, teachers, clergy, laborers, bankers, homemakers, livery stable workers, physicians, carpenters, general store proprietors, stone masons, bakers, attorneys, blacksmiths and custodians. By name, they were Bingham, Christley, Cooper, Covert, Doerr, Hockenberry, Hilgar, Humphrey, Kelly, Kiester, McQuiston, McConnell, Morrison, Miller, Patterson, Ralston, Sanderson, Sowash, Vincent, Watson and Wilson. Primarily of Scotch-Irish descent, their lives were framed by the principles of freedom, faith, family, and education.

Like descendants of all founding families, I am proud of my family's connection to this outstanding institution of higher education. My great grandfather was among that first group of "stockholders", an early member of the board of trustees, and a volunteer on many projects which provided the under pinning of this institution.

He became the first of the five generations of Watsons - including my grandfather and grandmother, great aunts and uncles, my father and mother, aunts, uncles and cousins, my wife and our daughter - to serve and or graduate from Slippery Rock University.

Clements brought a welcome from the student government saying he was proud to serve and proud of the work done by SGA to help students and the University's success.

The ceremony also include the launch of the "They are The Rock," initiative, a daily reading of the names of some 80,000 students who have attended SRU since its 1889 founding. The brainchild of SRU's Green and White Society, calls for volunteers to read approximately 450 names each day Monday through Friday to recogonize each student's importance to the University's history. The readings will take place at various locations on campus by students and invited guests.

The names of the members of the first graduating class, 1890 were read by Norton, with additional names read by Taylor, McCarrier, Ordaz, Harris, Watson, Clements, Cavil, Mihalik, Silva, Stadler, Hill and Dagnon.

Norton introduced the launch of the University's 125 website which is available at: The site includes a calendar of events, historical timeline and a toolkit

Following the formal presentation, students were invited to join the University Program Board-sponsored celebration festivities under way in the center's ballroom. A caricature artist, snow globes, T-shirts and other give-a-ways with the 125 logo were available.

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.