Skip to main content




March 28, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU 125th celebration includes reminiscences, proclamations

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -March 26, 1889, 125 years ago, marked the first day of classes at the then-Slippery Rock State Normal School. March 26, 2014, marked the accomplishments and outstanding growth of that institution into Slippery Rock University and included reminiscences, proclamations, celebrations, balloons and greetings from U.S. President Barack Obama.

SRU President Cheryl Norton, the University's 16th president, opened the formal part of the day with remarks in the Russell Wright Alumni House and Conference Center and collected 20 resolutions, proclamations, commendations and greetings marking the momentous occasion.

President Obamas' greeting read:

"I am pleased to join in celebrating your school's 125th anniversary."

"America's schools serve as gateways to opportunity and engines for our nation's progress. Inspiring students to be the best version of themselves and equip them with the tools to thrive, our halls of learning can instill in our next generation the fundamental belief that with hard work nothing is beyond reach."

"Since your school's founding, faculty and staff have prepared students to meet the challenges of their time. And by cultivating passion for learning, schools like yours help ensure the doors of opportunity continue to open wide for all who are willing to dream big."

"I hope your community takes pride in the ways your school has touched lives. As you celebrate this special milestone, I wish you all the best for the years ahead."

More than 125 faculty, staff and students joined in the 10 a.m. Founders Day ceremony in led by SRU's Grand Marshal Wilma Cavill, assistant professor of safety management and honorary co-chair for 125th anniversary events.

President Norton said, "It is a very special occasion, our 125th anniversary. And I welcome you all."

Norton introduced special guests and said, "My heartfelt thanks goes to all for what you have done to make this a year to remember. It is certainly an honor to serve as president of Slippery Rock University, especially during this 125th anniversary. We have come a long way since we first opened our doors March 26, 1889, as Slippery Rock State Normal School, welcoming a class of 168 students."

"Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania is now a comprehensive university offering a broad array of undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 8,300 students. The University's history is an inspiring story of community, resilience and bold innovation. It is a story woven into the generations of families all seeking an affordable and accessible education for their children and the children of the community," she said. "This indeed is the mission we maintain today."

Norton introduced the event's keynote speaker, Robert Watson, interim vice president for student affairs and honorary co-chair of the anniversary, who offered a brief history of the founding of what was to eventually become Slippery Rock University.

Watson, who retired in 2006 after 34 years of service, including that of vice president for student life, traces his roots to the founding of the Normal School, where his great-grandfather was involved in both the formation and building, as well as a stockholder, in the original community plan to create the institution.

Watson is the fourth of five generations of a family that has been dedicated to Slippery Rock University. In the early hours of the morning of Founders' Day, his daughter, Emily Elizabeth Watson Snipes, a 2007 SRU alumna, and her husband, Anthony, gave birth in Manhattan, Kan., to Grant Watson Snipes, a grandson who he hopes will be the "the sixth generation of our family to be proudly associated with our alma mater."

"I am honored and so very humbled to be representing the founding families at this, the 125th anniversary of the founding 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. At that gathering, foresight prevailed. Fathers and mothers argued that the very higher education many were without was indeed the key to a brighter future for their progeny."

"It is almost unfathomable to comprehend that in just 14 short months, that small group of extremely dedicated people had acquired the original 10 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 very foundation upon which we stand today," he said.

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," he said.

"A total of 48 individuals representing at least 21 families worked together to purchase 1973/4 shares of stock at $100 per share. This was accomplished at a time that the average annual income of those very families was less than $500," Watson said, adding "It was not a grant from Washington, D.C. or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that provided either the impetus for the beginning or the financial support for the construction of that early campus. No, it was the desire for something better for their sons and daughters, fostered by families with very humble backgrounds."

Watson detailed the fund raising efforts, and the volunteer work of the townspeople in creating the school along with its construction and final approval by the state.

Before reciting the words to the SRU Alma Mater, Watson said, "If we pause quietly and listen carefully, we will hear the voices of those ancestors singing the alma mater.

Watson's complete remarks are available at:

The ceremony continued with a stream of well wishers bringing commendations on behalf of their organizations. They included: William McCarrier, a member of the SRU Council of Trustees and a Butler County commissioner, who delivered a Resolution from the U.S. Senate and a resolution on behalf of the Butler County Commission; Stephanie Stevenson, a 2012 SRU elementary education graduate representing U.S. Congressman Mike Kelly, who presented a Resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives and a statement read into the Congressional Record by Kelly on the afternoon of March 26 extolling SRU. She also delivered President Obama's greetings. Kelly's remarks may be heard in full at:

Jaret Gibbons, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 10th District, offered a Resolution on behalf of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and one from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; Laura Ordaz, a student member of the SRU Council of Trustees from Cooperstown, presented a resolution on behalf of the Pennsylvania Senate; and Peter Garland, executive vice chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, presented a proclamation on behalf of PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan.

Ron Foder, mayor of Slippery Rock, represented the Slippery Rock Borough; Paul Dickey, a Slippery Rock Township supervisor, represented the township; and John Hicks, SRU professor emeritus and trustee emeritus of the SRU Council of Trustees, presented a certificate of commendation on behalf of the SRU trustees and emeritus trustees.

Doug McMullen, president of the Slippery Rock University Foundation Inc., spoke for the foundation, and Kim Hudak Jones, 1996 SRU English graduate and president of the SRU Alumni Association, represented the association.

Patrick Burkhart, SRU professor of geography, geology and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State, College and University Faculty, presented a resolution on behalf of APSCUF; George Mihalik, SRU professor of safety management presented on behalf of the coaches; and Karl Fisher, a police specialist in University Police, presented on behalf of International Union, Security, Police, Fire Professionals of America. Vonda Kuhn, SRU fiscal assistant in accounting services, presented a Certificate of Recognition from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Grace Hajave, a registered nurse in SRU's McLachlan Student Health Center, presented congratulations on behalf of the Professional Nurses Association; Jason Kleemook, assistant director of residence life at SRU, presented on behalf of the State College and University Professional Association; and Buddy Clements, an environmental geoscience major from Charlestown, Md., and president of the Student Government Association at SRU, represented SGA.

Following the formal ceremony, those attending joined students in the Smith Student Center for a "Birthday Bash" complete with cake, party games and green and white balloons. SRU's Green and White Society sponsored the event.

A group photo, including students, faculty and staff sporting SRU's colors was taken in the center's lobby.

The celebration continues today with the College of Humanities, Fine and Performing Arts presenting an "Evening of the Arts," featuring art, theatre, dance and music in the Smith Student Center Ballroom. An opening reception and art exhibition begins at 6:15 p.m., followed by the performances.

Thom Cobb, associate professor of dance, and Gordon Phetteplace, associate professor of theatre, are directing the show. The reception and show are free. Additional details are available at:

The yearlong celebration is being coordinated by tri-chairs Laurel Dagnon, director of programming for SRU's Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, Mihalik, professor of safety management and head football coach, and Judy Silva, library professor.

For more information about SRU's yearlong celebration visit: The site includes a calendar of events, historical timeline and a toolkit for logos and related materials.

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.