University Park

Tombroses and McWhirters commit million-dollar gifts to the Libraries

University Park, Pa. -- A joint gift of $2.5 million by Ann and Peter G. Tombros and Jeanette and John R. McWhirter will support the new Knowledge Commons in the Pattee Library, part of Penn State University Libraries, and represents the largest gift in the Libraries' history.

The initiative to create the Knowledge Commons ushers in a new era of learning, teaching, and research in the library and will touch the lives of current and future students in all disciplines. Key to this essential service is a technology-rich learning environment with flexible space, hardware and software, and expertise to nurture the intellectual development and creativity of students. The Knowledge Commons, a major renovation of central and west Pattee Library, will accommodate and integrate new forms of information technologies.

In addition to the gift for the Knowledge Commons given jointly with the McWhirters, Ann and Peter Tombros have pledged an additional $1.4 million to enhance the Libraries' collections in the Classics and Greek literature. The new gift creates the Tombros Librarian for Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, the Tombros Libraries Collections Fund to Support Ancient Greek Studies, and the Tombros Visiting Scholars Endowment.

"On behalf of Penn State University Libraries, I extend my thanks to the Tombroses and the McWhirters," said Nancy L. Eaton, dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications. "This extraordinary joint gift by two deeply committed couples allows the University Libraries to create state-of-the-art information services required of a great library in the 21st century. And the Tombros librarian, collections fund, and visiting scholar endowment will further strengthen the Libraries' collections in support of the Classics and Greek literature and help to recruit students and faculty to these areas of study."

"With the new Knowledge Commons facility we will meet the future needs of children just now entering kindergarten," said longtime Libraries Development Board member Sue Paterno, noting the new spaces give students both quiet traditional study areas as well as collaborative study spaces and availability of consultants who will assist with research or creation of academic multi-media productions.

The Knowledge Commons project will include a prominent consultation desk with interdisciplinary staff to assist students. A reading area expands students' interests and offers a place for needed relaxation time. A media center offers a high-tech, hands-on approach for students and others learning to create digital media, recordings, and presentations in a professionally designed, collaborative learning facility.

The gift is unique at Penn State in that it represents a joint gift from two couples. But even more unusual is the story of the evolving friendship. Jeanette (Dachille) McWhirter and Ann (Cullen) Tombros are childhood friends who grew up in State College and like many local children—Penn State's library was a resource for their junior and senior high school projects. Jeanette even worked in the library as a student employee while attending Penn State.

In 2007 both women returned to the library as members of the Libraries Development Board and began to bring the Libraries' new initiatives to conversations over regularly scheduled bridge games the two couples have enjoyed together for many years. "The Knowledge Commons and what it will do for student research is extremely important to Penn State," said Ann Tombros. As Jeanette McWhirter explained, "Knowledge is an asset impervious to recession, and as Ann and I talked, the more clear our mission became." Ardent supporters of Penn State, the two couples wanted to enhance the ability of the Libraries to better serve all students.

Jeanette McWhirter earned a bachelor's degree in science in 1969, from Penn State, and John (Jack) McWhirter earned master's and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Penn State in 1961 and 1962, respectively. They are CEOs and founders of Copper Beech Townhome Communities LLC, the largest privately owned national student rental property company in the U.S. and headquartered in State College. Jeanette was an instructor in the immunology and pathology labs in Penn State's Department of Microbiology and is professionally involved in Centre Region real estate. She was instrumental in the planning of the recent 150th anniversary celebration dinner for the University Libraries, among other volunteer activities.

Former vice president and general manager at Union Carbide Corporation and founder and CEO of Nittany BioDiesel and also of Mixing and Mass Transfer Technologies LLC, Jack was a professor of chemical engineering at Penn State from 1986 to 1999. He has received numerous prestigious national chemical engineering awards during his career, including the Outstanding Engineering Alumnus Award from Penn State's College of Engineering. He is the holder of dozens of U.S. and International technology patents some of which are assigned to Penn State.

He and Jeanette have been longtime donors to the College of Engineering and in 2008 pledged $1.05 million to create the John R. and Jeanette Dachille McWhirter Student Excellence Fund in Chemical Engineering for both undergraduate and graduate scholarships.

Ann Tombros is a longtime and dedicated supporter of the University, where she has volunteered in the University Libraries, including the 150th Libraries celebration dinner; the Palmer Museum of Art; the Grand Destiny Campaign; and the current For the Future Campaign. Ann taught elementary school in the State College and Philadelphia area public schools and later at the Lenox School, a private girls school in Manhattan, New York City, N.Y. In New Canaan, Conn., where they still reside, Ann founded and managed a property management firm. Ann has also served as a volunteer locally at the public library and hospital.

Peter Tombros earned his bachelor's degree in agricultural sciences and master's degree in agricultural economics from Penn State in 1964 and 1968, respectively. Peter also holds an MBA from the Wharton Graduate School of the University of Pennsylvania. Honored in 2006 with the Distinguished Alumni Award, he chairs the University's For the Future Campaign. He began his career at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, where he held a variety of positions including executive vice president, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, and corporate vice president for strategic planning. Following Pfizer, Peter became president and CEO of Enzon. After retirement from Enzon, he accepted a position as chairman and CEO of VivoQuest, a private biotech firm. Today, he donates his time as Penn State professor and distinguished executive in residence in the Eberly College of Science BS/MBA Program and also serves on a number of public company boards and non-profit organizations.

In 1996 he and Ann created the Tombros Libraries Endowment in the Classics. Peter and Ann joined the newly formed Libraries Grand Destiny Campaign Committee in 1997, and gave a significant gift for the Arts and Humanities Library renovation. In 2005, the couple created the George P. Tombros Ancient Greek Collection Fund in memory of Peter's father.

In naming the new Knowledge Commons, the Tombros and McWhirter gift will continue what Joe and Sue Paterno have said for years, "You can't have a great university without a great library." The University Libraries are so grateful for their support.

Last Updated March 22, 2010