Nittany Valley Renaissance Fund

July 25, 2013

An Invitation to Support the Spirit of America’s College Town

Ever since Evan Pugh entered the Nittany Valley more than 15 decades ago to found what would become The Pennsylvania State University, a special spirit has animated and enriched the lives of those living in Mount Nittany’s gentle shadow. If the American Indian legends of Central Pennsylvania are to be believed, this great spirit has long been at work in the Nittany Valley among the hearts of the people.


What we know for certain is that this is America’s “Happy Valley,” and we have been fortunate to know it as our home. We have a way of life of our own. We have stories that are our own. We come to know one another personally and in a way that forms lifelong relationships — increasingly rare virtues in a virtual era.

We believe there is a spirit at work in the Nittany Valley, and it’s felt the moment you enter. It’s why newcomers and visitors say things like, “There’s something different here,” or “There must be something in the water there.” American conservationist Henry W. Shoemaker once said, “There is no spot of ground a hundred feet square in the Pennsylvania mountains that has not its legend. Some are old, as ancient as the old, old forests. Others are of recent making, or in formation now. Each one is different, each is full of its own local color.”

Legends_of_the_Nittany_Valley_cover_thumb.jpgLike Henry W. Shoemaker and so many newcomers and visitors, we’re alive to the spirit of our “spot of ground” in the Nittany Valley. We know there might just be something in the water. At the least, we know there are a thousand people with even more stories animating life in this home of ours. We know that each year new stories are written just as quickly as the old ones fade into unwritten history.

It’s this insight that led a group of students, alumni, and townspeople to create The Nittany Valley Society, a nonprofit cultural conservancy devoted to conserving and sharing the stories of the spirit of the people of our home. “Every fresh generation,” remarked de Tocqueville in visiting early America, “is like a new people.”

The Nittany Valley is bursting with fresh people. People freshly ignorant of the stories and personalities that have formed the physical and cultural landscape of our common home. We want to commemorate the past by telling its story, and conserve the spirit that has animated each fresh generation to greatness and achievement.

Who knows of the legendary origins of Princess Nittany and our Mountain? Who can recall the love story of Evan and Rebecca Pugh? Where does that ineffable spirit of George Washington Atherton linger? What are the origins of our fraternity houses and student initiatives? Who was Ralph Dorn Hetzel, whom the students loved? What aspect of our spirit has led us so surely through our greatest achievements and lowest moments?

We feel the stories of the past and present as a living force, as a crucial treasury of insight and knowledge that shapes our future. It’s through events and receptions, speaking, and publishing that we’re conveying a sense of the specialness of the Nittany Valley to natives and newcomers alike. In these ways we’re introducing people to one another, helping foster a robust conception of physical place, and all with an historically-informed perspective fostering relationships that span far beyond personal interests. In a very human and tangible sense, “incarnating” our spirit in the form of new friendships and authentic relationships is the highest civic achievement we hope for.

The Nittany Valley Society formed in April 2012, and in little more than one year we have worked diligently to form, as our president Chris Buchignani says, an effort that “thinks in years and decades, not days and weeks.” Yet in twelve short months, we’ve been quite busy.


We hosted The Willow Gathering in Downtown State College bringing together more than 50 people from across the community to meet one another and form relationships — students, alumni, townspeople, professors, businessmen, trustees, and others. We have published six books on topics as diverse as Penn State history, craft brewing, environmentalism, and folklore. We’ve delivered talks locally to student groupscivic associations, and others. We’ve cultivated fruitful relationships with the University and the community for the long term. We’ve formed an active 14-person board of directors with a range of competencies who are in continuous conversation, spanning three continents, and which still meets in the Nittany Valley quarterly.

The Nittany Valley Society is working to do so much more as it heads into its second year and its first complete decade. If we’re to succeed in introducing each “fresh generation” of students, especially, to the spirit of the Nittany Valley, we will need your help. We rely on your support at this crucial time in the history of our University and town in supporting The Nittany Valley Renaissance Fund to create a permanent fund to support our work.

The Centre Foundation is helping us build for the years and decades ahead by creating a permanently endowed fund for The Nittany Valley Society. We need to raise just $10,000, and this fund will become permanent, and help ensure The Nittany Valley Society’s efforts as a “cultural conservancy” for our spirit becomes as certain as the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s efforts to preserve the mountain as a symbol of our pride.

Partake in the spirit of the Nittany Valley. Choose to become a part of the legendary history of our home. Support The Nittany Valley Renaissance Fund as it builds on its successes and helps new generations of students, alumni, townspeople, and professors become great storytellers and better lovers of our special spirit. Give now.