History of Penn State Altoona


Pennsylvania State College offers classes at the Altoona Evening Class Center


Juniata College holds a Freshman College Center for 6 years. Due to financial constraints and community interest in an expanded program, discontinues their program.


A Citizens Committee is established. Led by Ted Holtzinger and Colonel John S. Fair, they request Pennsylvania State College to start an undergraduate center at Altoona. The College agrees to a trial program.

July 1939

The Citizens Committee kicks off an "AUC Fund Drive" to renovate the former Webster elementary school located at Lexington and 10th street.

17 Jul 1939

Classes held in YMCA (Lexington Ave and Nine Street) while Webster is renovated.

20 Sep 1939

Webster opens 119 students and 9 faculty participate in the beginnings of the Altoona Undergraduate Center.


The Citizen Advisory Board is established. Funds are raised to purchase and remodel the Madison school (Sixth Ave and seventh street) for science laboratories.

16 Sep 1940

Madison building opens 187 students.


During World War II the Citizen's Advisory Board purchases and operates a woman's dormitory, Annie C. Wolf, for women from "out-of-town" to take courses.


Servicemen's readjustment act of 1944. Commonly referred to as the "G.I. bill of rights."


February, close to 300 students are enrolled.


The era of "Bathhouse U." Buildings are renovated; the two block long bathhouse becomes a classroom building, the shooting gallery becomes the chemistry labs, the refreshment stand becomes the steam plant; and the roller skating rink becomes the student union.


Foreign film showings start.
ROTC starts.


AUC at Ivyside park opens to an enrollment of 700 freshmen and sophomores. Bathhouse U 1948-1958. The move was also referred to as "Holtzinger's Folly."


AUC wins Pennsylvania Junior College Basketball Championship.


Steven Adler is hired as Registrar.


Two year associate degree programs "Each spring members of the faculty and the student body participate in the Combined Arts Festival."


Pennsylvania State College became Pennsylvania State University Conferring of associate degrees at all penn state locations. [mission change]


The position of Dean of Faculty is created


Faculty have increased to 27 full time, 10 part-time. Administrative staff to 3, as well as a nurse and librarian. Other personal include 5 clerical staff and 3 full time custodians. Full time day students total 457.


We are Penn State! The Pennsylvania State University creates the System of Commonwealth Campuses is established and Continuing Education is reorganized. Fundraiser for a classroom/ administrative building named the Raymond E. Smith.


Gifted students program starts.


More buildings. Slep center and two resident halls. new dormitory is contracted, leading to labor dispute, picketing, restraining orders, damage to dorm, Protests on campus and in the community.


Altoona celebrates its silver anniversary May 10-16.


Enrollment surpasses 2,000.
Holtzinger Science Complex, Eiche Library, and the Adler gymnasium is built.


Edith Davis Chapel is built.


Robert E. Eiche retires in July, John Leathers succeeds him.


The Heald report is released, hearings follow.


Robert E. Eiche dies on May 2.


the Commonwealth Campus system and Continuing Education services are integrated to form the Commonwealth Education System (CES).

Narrative History by Mila C. Su


The history of Penn State Altoona is easily divided into three major sections; the early days prior to the move to Ivyside Park (1929-1947), the move to Ivyside Park and the beginning of growth and expansion (1948-1995), and gaining four year college status in 1996 and continual development. The purpose of this online exhibit is to highlight events and persons involved with Penn State Altoona from the early days through the 1970s. This narrative provides a brief history of the first four decades of the College history.

The Beginnings and the Altoona Undergraduate Center (1929-1946)

First and foremost, community investment to provide access for higher education opportunities has been a constant theme in the history of Penn State Altoona. In a community based on railroad and industry, Pennsylvania State College provided apprentice classes in engineering and technical processes at the Altoona Evening Class Center from 1928 through the early 1930s. According to L.D. Shaffer, "from, 1933-1939, the Altoona City Schools and Juniata College established a cooperative relationship following the discontinuance of Penn State's more formal apprentice engineering programs. Course work was offered by Juniata College during the late afternoon and evening." Juniata College offered basic college classes through the  Freshman College Center from 1933-1939 as part of their extension program. During this time according to Kaylor, 354 individuals took extension classes; 146 persons enrolled in the freshman program classes with 30 continuing on to graduate from Juniata.  In 1939, community interest was expressed for starting a junior college. Coincidently, with financial constraints and accreditation concerns, members of Juanita College, in discussion with members of the Altoona Community, chose not to continue offering classes at Altoona. Concurrently, members of the Altoona community led by J.E. (Ted) Holzinger (Chamber of Commerce), Colonel John S. Fair, E. G. Gegenheimer (PA Rail Road Middle Division), W. S. Gardner(president of the Brotherhood of Shopcraft Unions, Local 42), J.B. Brooks (local 3 president), Levi Gilbert (Altoona School Superintendent), G. G. Weber (Altoona Works) established a Citizens Committee that would rally for emotional and financial support from the community as proof of their commitment to higher education opportunities. After discussion with President Ellis at Juniata, the Committee contacted Dr. Ralph D. Hetzel at the Pennsylvania State College to see if the College was interested in expanding into the Altoona area. Hetzel agreed to a trial and sponsored the development of an Undergraduate Center. According to Dunaway, these centers supported freshman and sophomore levels that mirrored the parent institution's standards. Shaffer noted that additional support from "The Altoona School Board's action on April 22, 1939, ... it approved the concept of an undergraduate center and agreed to assist with such an operation. Superintendent of Altoona Schools, Dr. Levi Gilbert, and the Altoona School Board agreed to furnish heat, light, insurance, and other operating necessities as their contribution. Pennsylvania State College would pay all faculty and staff salaries.  It would also pay for the cost of all instructional materials." With all necessary approvals established, the next step was to find a facility.

On July 1939, the Citizens Committee started the Altoona Undergraduate Center (AUC) Fund Drive raising $5,000 in three months to renovate the former Webster Elementary School. With the renovations complete, the AUC opened in September, coeducational, with 119 students and 9 faculty members. Mr. Robert Eiche, previously at Hazleton, served as the director. Classes offered included chemistry, engineering, and English. Student activities included student council, theater, the newspaper, men's basketball, a glee club, and chess club. Smokers were commonly held after basketball games as a social occasion for males to discuss various topics and hang out. According to the December 8, 1939 student newspaper, Altoona Collegian, in the article "Boys to have William Jeffery as Smoker Guest" not only was there a speaker and opportunity to mingle with both basketball teams but "two selections by the men's quartet will provided the entertainment and light refreshments will be served. Tobacco, cigarettes and cigars will be provided and following the introductory sessions, it is hoped that the meeting will turn into an old-fashioned "bull-session."" The girls had social teas. There were also pep rallies, and five dances including a winter ball with an elected queen and entourage. There even was a faculty basketball team that played from time to time, much to the entertainment of the students. By the end of this successful inaugural year, Mr. Eiche petitioned and was eventually approved to offer second year engineering classes. Convocations were held from the very beginning to celebrate and recognize the achievements of the student body.

In 1940, the Citizen's Committee was reorganized as the Citizens Advisory Board. The Board was established with the main mission to serve as a coordinated fund raising body. Mr. Gegenheimer was elected as chair.  According to the Altoona Collegian, Altoona was the first of the Undergraduate Centers to have an Advisory Board, which would serve as an "intermediary" between the Center and Altoona citizens.  Additional funds were raised to purchase and remodel the Madison School for a science laboratory serving the academic needs of the sophomore science classes. In 1944, the Board was incorporated under Commonwealth Law as a non-profit corporation making it possible for them to borrow money as well as conduct real estate transactions.

A few minority students were mentioned or appeared in photographs during this time.  Wilbur Bryon (African American) in 1939 in one of the drama pictures and next year, representing Puerto Rico, Luis Albero Arrieta. No other minority students were indicated.

With entry into war by October 1942, the Altoona Collegian went from newspaper format to mimeographed handouts through 1946. News of former students, faculty, and staff were included. Mr. Eiche wrote to many students who were enlisted for support, encouragement, and news from the front. Other changes due to the war included commentary on the girl's bowling team in 1943, then in 1947, mention for mixed swimming team and later that year, a girl's basketball team. In September 1944-1947, the Altoona Center Advisory Board purchased a house on 1609 Thirteenth Street (3 stories, housing 20) and operated a women's dormitory. The Amy C. Wolf dorm, served out of town female students to help offset costs and recruit students to maintain enrollments. With the end of the war, student enrollment reached 700 maximizing the space constraints of the Madison, Webster, and YMCA buildings.

"Bathhouse U": the Move to Ivyside and a new era. (1946-1970)

By 1946, it was clear that enrollment would continue to grow. A smoking ban was enforced in certain locations in both buildings due to a safety concern with the building conditions and population that smoked. With no room for expansion at the current location deliberation for a new location became a major focus for the AUC administration and the Board. 12The Altoona Collegian article headline "College takes Option" was the first public indication of interest in consideration of the purchase of 38 acres of the defunct Ivyside Amusement Park. The 38 acres Park had been run for the past twenty years by E. Raymond Smith. According to the Pennsylvania State College Extension News Ivyside closed in 1944 because of the war and gas rationing. By October, the Board had set up the "Ivyside campaign." The hopes were high for acquisition and renovation for use for the start of the following year. January 14, 1947, the formal purchase of the park property was negotiated and by the end of the month, the deed for the Ivyside Property had been filed at the County Court House, 38 acres were purchased for $40,000. Neighboring properties would continue to be purchased over the next fifty years, expanding to over 100 acres by the 1990s. To this day, the Advisory Board continues to invest in expanding property lines.

It would take another year and a half to renovate and convert park buildings to classrooms and related facilities. The bathhouse was recreated to house offices, classrooms, laboratories, and library, the swimming pool was converted to parking lot, dance hall to roller skating rink to student union, and cafeteria; bowling alley to athletic facility. The shooting gallery was altered to the chemistry building and the concrete refreshment stand became the service building and heating plant.

Campus support of the project came though two scrap days, the inspiration of Jim McNeil, on November 1946 and January 1947. This fundraiser brought students and faculty together as they collected newspapers, rag scraps, and other recyclable materials. The drives were considered successful raising close to $5,000. As a form of appreciation, on May 10, 1947, there was a picnic at Ivyside. A number of activities in addition to the food were offered including two softball games, archery, ping pong and bowling and an opportunity to allow students to get a glimpse of the status of renovations.

The AUC continued their support in the Arts as seen in the sponsored weekly film series which started around 1947. From 1946-1948, interest in various foreign languages were so strong, that clubs in German, French, Spanish, Russian were formed. The French club continued the longest after interest in the other languages faded.  Additional student activities included a work program was established in 1947, so that each student "volunteered" one hour a week to help with trash, projects at Ivyside, helping in the library, and so forth.  By 1949, the program had grown to students volunteering over 2,800 hours of service. This program evolved into a program called cleanup day and later workday occurring in the spring, was first organized on May 10, 1950. Classes were suspended and all faculty and students participated in the event usually with specific areas of the campus identified for cleanup. One of the outstanding projects was "Carney's Wall" where former chemistry professor Dr. Albert Carney and his students,  built a retaining wall to protect the embankment of Spring Run. By the sixties, the program had been filtered out.

September 1948, found the Altoona Undergraduate Center (AUC) officially relocated to Ivyside Park and began the era referred to as "Bathhouse U."  As the faculty, staff, and students settled into their new location, the Student Council in agreement with the Administration set the speed limit to 10 miles per hour. The AUC was identified in 1949 as THE area extension service contact point serving Blair, Cambria, Bedford, Huntingdon, Somerset and Fulton Counties for Continuing Education purposes.

A campus arts festival started in 1949 as a venue for students to display engineering projects, art, photography, as well as have poetry, choral, and dramatic events. Social activities included at various times, teas and dances. Prior to this time, several departments hosted on-campus "get togethers" for students to show their semester projects, this was the first time the public and parents were invited to this event.

On June 1, 1950, the Altoona Collegian ran an informal survey on students' attitudes towards the AUC. Some of the comments students made about the AUC include positive statements such as "Small classes and personal attention by instructors," "Bull sessions at the Student Union," and "hours I did not have classes." Negative commentary included statements such as "the tank-testing rounds called a road that leads to the swimming pool," "poor attendance shown at all the social functions held by the school" and "The fact that you must attend all classes."

Early expansion (1950-1972)

The 1950s heralded a number of transitions that reflected dynamic changes and affected the AUC on many levels. Steven Adler was hired as Registrar in 1950, indicating the enrollment and campus growth was significant enough that someone needed to focus on those issues.  At State College, Pennsylvania State College received University status in 1953 and the affiliated centers were allowed to award Associate degrees. By 1955, the AUC had Associate degrees in Electrical Technology and Drafting and Design, twenty year later, programs had expanded to include Aerospace Engineering, Agricultural Business, Electrical Engineering, Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Mechanical Engineering, Mining Technology, Nuclear Engineering and Retailing. Most of these programs were terminated in the early 1980s with different degrees reflecting the needs and interests.

Constant growths in enrollment again lead to expansion of the AUC facilities starting in 1956. The first capital campaign in several years began for the first new building at Ivyside. Named the E. Raymond Smith Building after the original builder of Ivyside Park, the building was funded and constructed, with opening ceremonies in the spring of 1958. This same year the AUC became the Altoona Campus of the Pennsylvania State University with the establishment of the System of Commonwealth Campuses. Shaffer states by "January, 1959, Altoona, as well as all other branches, were brought under the umbrella of Pennsylvania State University's Commonwealth Campus system.  This action came about as a result of recommendations from President Walker's Committee on Extension, after overall year of exhaustive study." In addition, Shaffer noted the formal establishment of an Advisory Board at each location. "Each Commonwealth Campus shall have an Advisory board, incorporated under the non-profit corporation of the Commonwealth. The Board shall be organized under appropriate by-laws and in such manner so as to represent major interests of the area. The corporation shall be established for the purpose of supporting, promoting, and fostering education, and of furthering the advancement of learning in arts, sciences, and occupations at the local campus of the University. To those ends, the Board may establish or provide scholarships and student aid; support and sponsor educational services offered at the local campus; acquire, hold, maintain, or operate facilities necessary and conducive to such purposes."

From the very beginning of AUC's existence, publications have always included the Altoona Collegian the student paper which has been published weekly or biweekly. For several years, the local paper, the Altoona Mirror included an occasional column called Ivyside where commentaries related to the campus, often written by campus faculty, were published. The title Ivy Leaf has been used many times for Altoona. From 1953-1955, a semester newsletter called the Ivy Leaf was published. The name would then be applied to the yearbook, Ivy Leaf, during its publication from 1966-1972. The Altoona Collegian noted in 1960 that students were interested in a campus Yearbook. Several factors including cost and lack of participation would hold off production until 1966 and would end production in 1972. Currently, the IvyLeaf serves as the Alumni Magazine.

The 1960s became a decade of facilities growth and expansion to support the steady growth of students and programs. In addition to continuing education programs, in the Spring of 1960, the advanced education program for high school students in conjunction with the Blair County Schools and the Altoona Campus was held successfully and continued. This program was considered to be "experimental" allowing selected high school students to simultaneously take classes at the campus.

The early 1960s found the campus poised for further expansion. During the past decade, there were an increasing number of students attending the AUC/Altoona Campus from outside the Blair county area contributing to a growing necessity for residential housing, dining facilities, and student activity areas. So once again, the need to expand and provide on-campus student housing and recreation space became subjects of prime importance leading to a capital campaign. The $1,250,000 campaign included the construction of two resident halls, several tennis courts, and a student union. The Slep groundbreaking occurred May 8, 1963. A few months earlier, in a tragic scenario, a young boy from the Wehnwood area drowned in the pond. The pond was dredged and fill was added to its current depth of 6ft(?)

During the fall of 1963, there was a labor dispute between an independent contractor Paul E. Hickes of Huntington and several Pittsburgh unions. The unions claimed that Hickes did not have union employees, although according to Hickes the wages and benefits of his employees were equivalent to the unions. The situation became volatile over several weeks, including incidents where pickets were threatening people coming onto campus as well as the construction workers. As the legal process evolved with temporary restraints the intimidating actions continued to escalate. The tension peaked when one of the buildings being partially dynamited combined with continuing outrage voiced by the students and the neighborhood citizens called a halt to these behaviors. In the Oct 18, 1963 Altoona Collegian, "Judge decrees permanent injunction" it was reported after three days of testimony, Judge Klepser ruled that the union and all persons related to the union were to cease their picketing and leave the site. The case would continue for another year, but there were no more pickets or further interference for the construction. The three buildings were dedicated on Oct 11, 1964.

The Campus's 25th Anniversary was quietly celebrated in 1965 with a variety of activities.

1966 found the enrollment close to 1,000 for both day and evening classes. Shaffer noted that "Basketball practice and home games were held in the gymnasiums of Roosevelt and Keith Junior high schools.  In earlier years, the YMCA facilities were utilized by the basketball team. Swimming teams and recreational swimming for students was available at the YMCA." With enrollments continuing to increase and a need for more facilities for activities such as basketball and swimming, additional buildings needed to be considered. So, 1966 was also the start of a challenging Capital Campaign that combined with State and Federal monies would provide for a library learning center, a Science complex, physical education facilities, another residence hall, and a new dining hall.  By 1967, Altoona is considered the second largest campus, after Ogontz . Property holdings now extended to 78 acres. Construction was completed in 1970 at a cost of over $ 6,400 million dollars. An unexpected gift from an anonymous donor for an All-Faith chapel was offered in 1966 with the understanding that the gift would be matched for the construction of the building. The All Faith Edith Davis Chapel also opened in 1970. On October 25, 1970, the five buildings were dedicated with great fanfare. Combined with the dedication were kudos and honors paid to Mr. Robert E. Eiche, Mr. J. E. Holtzinger, and Mr. James K. McNeal Jr. for their dedication, perseverance, and vision for the establishment and growth of Penn State Altoona Campus.

Mr. Eiche retired in 1968 and the campus came under the direction of Dr. John Leathers.

A small complication arose when the Pennsylvania State Board of Education commissioned a survey of the Commonwealth campus system. During the early sixties, a number of community colleges had been established and the Board of Education wanted an evaluation of the status of all of these institutions of higher education. Also referred to as the Heald report, published in 1968, the commentary and evaluation were quite negative for Penn State branch campuses. Recommendations included Altoona Campus as well as other Penn State campuses to be converted to community colleges. Penn State administrators took issue with the study and its recommendations. President Eric A. Walker and Mr. Kenneth L. Holderman  testified to the State Board of Education that the study was faulty and there was ample support for the Campuses of Penn State to remain in their status quo. Additional testimonies came from Altoona representatives Ed Brown, local certified public accountant and advisory board member, Gary Discavage,  Student Government Association President with Dr. John Leathers and Robert Smith were also at these hearings.

According to a  report presented to the Board of Trustees at University Park in 1972, Altoona had 201 full time faculty and staff; 65 part time faculty; 1089 baccalaureate degree students (this would be students who studied at Altoona for the first two years and transfer to University Park or another location) 224 adjunct students; 401 in associate degree programs. Programs available included Agricultural Business, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Electrical Engineering Technology, Nuclear Technology, Letters, Arts and Sciences, and Retailing.

Sports had evolved to a reputable program by this time.  According to Shaffer, "The school's mascot officially became the Cougar, a close relative of the Nittany Lion." The Altoona Campus colors remained in the family also as blue and white. Intercollegiate athletic teams, baseball, women's volleyball, men's basketball, wrestling, women's basketball, and men and women's tennis; competed very successfully in the Commonwealth Campus Athletic Conference, Skyline conference, and the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Clearly, by the time Dr. Leathers took charge, the legacy of Altoona as part of the Penn State system was firmly established by Mr. Eiche and the Altoona Advisory Board. This narrative serves the purpose of capturing pieces of the early days of the evolution of Penn State Altoona. Hopefully others will continue to document its story in the future.

A Few Brief Side notes

  • Blair County Arts Festival. The Blair County Arts festival was first held on campus in 1965.
  • Freshman Customs most likely existed from the start of college life in 1939. According to the Altoona Collegian, rules were "enforced" in 1965. These activities occurred during the first few months of school. (wear buttons, placards, beanies (aka dinks), girls had to curtsy) "Court" to review those who violated the "rules." Other activities included tug-of-war and canoe races.
  • Bonfires were conducted from approximately 1967-1971. The activity was held during homecoming week in the former swimming pool which is currently the CAC faculty staff parking lot.
  • In 1990 Varsity Athletics at Altoona were cancelled for financial reasons. A year and a half later, the varsity program was reinstated.
  • Aviation classes were held at Altoona for a limited time in the early 1970s. The Pennsylvania workshop and curriculum institution in aviation/aerospace education based it operation in Altoona.

Administrators at Penn State Altoona

  • Robert E. Eiche, Director 1939-1968
  • John L. Leathers, Director 1968-1975
  • Carson W. Veach, Director 1975-1983
  • Robert L. Smith, Interim 1983
  • James A. Duplass, Executive Officer 1983-1991
  • Kjell Meling, Interim 1991-1994
  • Allen C. Meadors, CEO and Dean 1994-1999
  • Robert N. Pangborn, Interim 1999-2000
  • William G. Cale, Jr., CEO and Dean 2000-2004
  • Lori J. Bechtel, Chancellor, 2005-present


Credits and Acknowledgements

Thanks to Dean William Cale for the funding of this project through the Dean's Grant Thanks to Shari Routch and Cindy Mighells of University Relations for the use of the scrapbooks.

Thanks to the folks in Special Collections at University Park, especially Jackie Esposito for her "beyond the call" assistance and guidance.


Dunaway, Wayland F. History of The Pennsylvania State College. Lancaster, PA: Lancaster Press, 1946.

Kaylor, Earl C. Truth sets free: Juniata Independent College in Pennsylvania, Founded by The Brethren, 1876 : a centennial history . South Brunswick : A. S. Barnes, c1977.

Ellis, Charles Calvert. Juniata College : the history of seventy years (1876-1946). Elgin, IL: Printed for Juniata College by the Brethren Pub. House, 1947.

Shaffer, Lowell Duane. A comparison and interpretation of the historical development of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and the Altoona Campus of Pennsylvania State University. (School of Education) University of Pittsburgh Ph.D., 1982.