SRU receives record $1.1 million estate gift from the late Joseph McCandless


McCandless memories

Joseph McCandless (front row, third from left) was a bombardier in World War II, who, along with his flight crew, flew several missions as part of the Mandated Islands Campaign and the Air Offensive over Japan, earning two Bronze Stars and the Distinguished Flying Cross. McCandless, who died in 2020, left more than a $1.1 million in an estate gift to Slippery Rock University.

July 9, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Even before Joseph McCandless passed away last year, Slippery Rock University was aware that he was leaving a significant amount of money in his estate as a gift to the University through the SRU Foundation, Inc. Until recently, that gift was a mystery.

"We always knew there would be a gift coming but with Joe's sense of humor, he'd tell you what he wanted you to know and that was it," said Edward Bucha, executive director of the SRU Foundation, Inc. "He would just say, 'Don't worry about it; you're going to like it.' Well, we obviously do."

McCandless, who died Jan. 14, 2020, at the age of 98, left a gift of more than $1.1 million to SRU, which is the largest gift by a private individual in the University's history. The gift will be used to establish an endowed scholarship named in honor of McCandless' mother, Sylvia Cooper McCandless, Class of 1909, and sister, Sara Jane McCandless, '50, both of whom are SRU alumnae.


   McCandless in 1944.

Although McCandless did not attend SRU, he was born in Slippery Rock and he had strong affinity for the University and its Normal School roots. Sylvia and Sara Jane were both teachers and McCandless and his sister purchased and donated a one-room schoolhouse for the University in 1988 to celebrate SRU's tradition of teacher preparation. The Hickory Corner Schoolhouse, which previously served as a school in nearby Franklin Township, Butler County, from 1891-1963, currently occupies a prominent space on SRU's campus along Maltby Avenue.

"Joe wanted people to know that his mother's and sister's names will be around for a long time and related to SRU and the College of Education," Bucha said. "He had a sincere love for them and he appreciated the education that they received at the University."

The scholarship will be eligible for an incoming SRU student majoring in early childhood and elementary education each year beginning in fall 2022, paying half of the recipients' tuition and half of their room and board if they choose to live on campus. The scholarship will be renewable for each recipient for up to three additional years.

"This is a huge investment on the part of the McCandless family," said Dennis Washington, vice president for University advancement. "We're grateful for this support and it's really amazing to have such a substantial gift that will directly benefit our students and have a lasting impact for years to come."

McCandless, a civil engineer who lived in Ellwood City most of his life, was a World War II veteran who served as a bombardier in dozens of missions in the Asiatic Pacific Theater, including the Mandated Islands Campaign and the Air Offensive over Japan. He later served with the Company A 807th Engineer Aviation Battalion, providing air support for the building of the Alaska-Canadian Highway and was discharged with the rank of captain in October 1947 after five and a half years of service.

Bomber that McCandless flew

   As a bombardier, McCandless rode in the
   nose of the B-24 Liberator bomber,
   nicknamed “The Curly Bird.”

McCandless earned several military awards including two Bronze Stars and the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded to those for "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight" while serving in any capacity with the Air Corps.

A graduate of Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, McCandless worked as an engineer and construction inspector for his father's business, B.J. McCandless Architect. He was preceded in death by his parents and his lone sibling, Sara Jane.

A more in-depth description of McCandless and his life will be published in the next issue of The Rock magazine.

More information about the Sylvia Cooper McCandless, Class of 1909, and Sara Jane McCandless, Class of 1950, Scholarship will be available on the SRU scholarships webpage once applications are being accepted for fall 2022. For more information about planned giving to SRU, visit the SRU Foundation, Inc., website.

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