The University has taken a giant step toward securing its reputation as the preeminent center for the study of the Civil War, thanks to a $3 million gift from George and Ann Richards of Simsbury, Conn. Their gift will create a permanent endowment to support the Civil War Era Center, established six years ago in the College of the Liberal Arts' Department of History.
Now a retired business executive, George Richards earned a bachelor's degree from Penn State in 1954. Two of his great-grandfathers served in the Union army during the Civil War, one in an infantry unit and the other in an artillery unit.
In recognition of the Richards' generosity and vision, the University will name the center the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center, according to President Graham B. Spanier.
Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, said the Civil War Era Center is distinctive because it encourages innovative scholarship that goes beyond the four years of war (1861-65) and includes social, political, economic and cultural analysis of the decades from the Mexican War through the end of Reconstruction.
Center faculty stress that because that period brought such enormous changes to many aspects of American life, especially a new meaning of freedom and citizenship, the entire period is important to our understanding of the war's lasting impact. The center, therefore, encourages a broad consideration of this period along with the more traditional study of the military operations during the war itself.
"Our recent graduate applications attest that Penn State ranks among the top four or five institutions in the country that students seek for furthering their understanding of this field," said William Blair, director of the center. "A gift of this magnitude not only gives us the chance to become the premier place for pursuing graduate work, but provides the center a greater capacity for supporting faculty research and welcoming outside scholars to Penn State in ways that will help shape the direction of the field itself."
Specifically, Welch said that funds from the endowment could support such scholarship and research activities as:
* a director's fund to recruit students, provide seed money for research projects and otherwise encourage the strategic development of the center;
* a visiting professorship in the Civil War Era to attract other top scholars to Penn State;
* postdoctoral fellowships to enable emerging scholars to work in-residence on developing a dissertation into a publishable work;
* graduate fellowships to help recruit and support exceptional advanced-degree students; and
* a library fund to purchase relevant research and archival materials for the University Libraries.
Welch also said that the Richards' endowment could boost outreach programs through support of partnerships with battlefield parks, museums and other institutions; the publication of Civil War History, the nation's preeminent Civil War publication, now housed at Penn State; undergraduate internships at museums, historical societies and the like; and the center's Summer Public School Teacher's Institute, a popular program aimed at keeping school teachers from around the country apprised of the latest Civil War era scholarship and thus enhancing what their schools can offer students.
The Richards' previous philanthropy to Penn State includes a 1994 endowment of the Bart Richards Award in Media Criticism in the College of Communications. The award honors George Richards' father, who served as editor of the New Castle (Pa.) News, and is given annually.
George and Ann Richards were owners, and George was CEO, of Vitex Packaging, a manufacturer of materials for the world wide tea bag industry. At Penn State, he was president of Sigma Nu fraternity, chairman of the Spring Week festival and a member of the boxing team.