Bellisario College of Communications

John Vairo, founding leader of Brandywine campus, dies at 91

The Penn State community is mourning the death of Brandywine campus founding executive officer John D. Vairo, who died Jan. 1 following a long illness. He was 91.

“We are very saddened to learn of John Vairo's death,” said Sophia Wisniewska, chancellor at Penn State Brandywine. “Those of us who worked with him applaud both his contribution as founder and head of Penn State Brandywine and his extraordinary commitment to the Delaware County community. John was respected and admired by all who were privileged to know him. He was a Delaware County icon. No matter where you went, everyone knew of John Vairo. I was honored to learn from John. He was my best supporter and adviser, and he was a joy to work with. I will miss him.”

Vairo received a bachelor of science degree in navigation from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, N.Y.; a bachelor of arts degree in American history from Syracuse University and a master of arts degree in journalism from Penn State University.

Vairo’s interest in city planning led to the creation of three planning commissions in the State College area during his tenure there. He served as chair of these commissions and also was a member of the Pennsylvania Planning Association. Vairo Boulevard in State College was named in his honor in thanks for his many contributions to the growth of that area.

Vairo joined Penn State’s University Park campus in 1956 as associate professor of journalism. In 1967, with plans for a new Penn State campus to be located in Delaware County, Penn State’s Board of Trustees and then-President Eric Walker chose Vairo to serve as executive officer of Penn State Delaware County. Vairo had the vision to hire excellent faculty and create academic programs that propelled the campus from an enrollment of 236 students to what is now Penn State Brandywine in Middletown Township with more than 1,600 students. Vairo retired in 1986 as executive officer but remained active at the campus.

In 1995, the John D. Vairo Library was named in his honor. The John D. Vairo Library Endowment Fund also was established in his honor. Vairo and his late wife, Greta, created a scholarship that provides financial aid to campus students who continue their education at University Park. He took particular delight in meeting students who were beneficiaries of this scholarship.

Vairo was a frequent visitor to the Penn State Brandywine campus, attending many programs and events, and wore his Penn State pride on his sleeve.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to Penn State Brandywine, Office of Development, 25 Yearsley Mill Road, Media, PA 19063, or to Heartland Hospice, 5 Christy Drive, Chadds Ford, PA 19317.

John Vairo Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated October 17, 2019