The Nittany Valley Society was chartered in April 2012 as a “cultural conservancy” for the unique Central Pennsylvania community that houses Penn State University—a non-profit, locally-based organization dedicated to cultivating an appreciation, rooted in a distinct “sense of place,” for the history, customs, and traditions that define its spirit. In practice, the group aims to strengthen a sense of regional identity and enhance community experience by sharing the stories of the place in a compelling and accessible fashion, while providing context and opportunities for new stories and experiences.
Creation of Nittany Valley Press and its Special Collection
As the cornerstone for The Nittany Valley Society’s mission aspect of storytelling to foster “a spirit of community across time,” Nittany Valley Press was created as a local publishing imprint to release and promote a special collection of books relating to the Nittany Valley’s history and culture. Thanks to emerging technologies like print-on-demand services and tablets, Nittany Valley Press was created without large initial capital expenses, and a lack of physical in-house inventory or sales management responsibilities allow it to operate with extreme efficiency.
To this point, six books are available in both print and digital formats on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook. Books are also sold through partnerships with local retailers including McLanahan’s and Hotel State College, and are available for reading in Schlow Centre Region Library, Penn State’s Pattee/Paterno Library, and the Penn State Alumni Association’s Robb Hall library.
The Pennsylvania State College 1853-1932: Interpretation and Record: The remarkable first-ever history of Penn State by Dr. Erwin Runkle, professor, librarian, and historian. The 2014 release of this book involved an agreement with the University Libraries to release this never-before-published story, with a new foreword by George Henning, former trustee.
Although Dr. Erwin Runkle wrote this history of Penn State during the 1930s, only now is it widely available through The Nittany Valley Society’s first-time publication. His meticulous reconstruction of the University’s birth and growth—from the revolution in American education that sparked its founding to its establishment as Pennsylvania’s land-grant college—brings the Penn State story to life with a rare blending of keen attention to detail and uncommon warmth. Runkle’s opinionated, but affectionate narration offers a revealing vision of the Nittany Valley’s rich past.
The Legends of the Nittany Valley: A collection of Central Pennsylvania folk stories and legends relating to the Nittany Valley, originally published by Henry W. Shoemaker, Pennsylvania’s first folklorist whose early 20th-century stories helped lead to the birth of the Nittany Lion.
While the Nittany Valley is a tangible, everyday place where people live and work, a magical kingdom lurks just beneath the surface, just waiting to be discovered by those with a pioneering and creative spirit. The Indian and settler legends collected here are chosen for their relation and proximity to the Nittany Valley. Through this enchanting mythology of real locations we inhabit today, you will encounter the spirit of the Nittany Valley—the spirit that was here long before any of us arrived, and that will remain long after we pass through.
Is Penn State a Real University?: An Investigation of the University as a Living Ideal: An examination of the history of The Pennsylvania State University and its place and aspirations in the fabric of American higher education by Dr. Ben Novak, a four-term University trustee.
On its surface, the question posed by this work seems ridiculous. Yet its thoughtful exploration by Dr. Ben Novak, a four-term former Trustee, reveals that there is far more to the answer than one might first imagine. “Is Penn State a Real University?” is an insightful meditation that presents a grounded, evergreen vision for students, alumni, townspeople, and professors everywhere.
The Birth of the Craft Brew Revolution: First-ever collection of Bellefonte attorney Ben Novak’s first-of-a-kind columns on craft brew beer, originally published by the Centre Daily Times in the 1980s, on the then-emerging craft beer brewing industry.
It’s 1984, and in America’s “Happy Valley” one local attorney is confronting an Orwellian dystopia in beer. Only five years have passed since the lifting of the prohibition against home brewing, and America’s palate atrophies from commercial sameness. Ben Novak presents his complete collection of 71 columns first published in the Centre Daily Times on the joys of beer. As fresh and accessible now as then, this collection will especially delight the student who loves its effects but is dumb to its essence and all those who think of beer as little more than another amusement on the adventure of life.
Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism: The story of student, alumni, and community efforts to preserve and protect Mount Nittany, perhaps Central Pennsylvania’s most distinctive symbol and landmark, as an exercise in culturally-driven environmentalism.
In presenting the first complete history of Central Pennsylvania’s most famous mountain, Thomas A. Shakely pieces together the story of Mount Nittany as perhaps the most famous symbol of The Pennsylvania State University and the Nittany Valley. This book tells the story the physical and cultural environment from which a spirit of both affection and protection for the Mountain has been evident from the time of the American Indians into the present. A book packed with anecdotes, observations, and reflections, “Conserving Mount Nittany” is sure to delight as a conversation on how to cultivate a spirit of magic in the midst of a practical age.
Reminiscences of Dr. F.J. Pond: Penn State in the Atherton Era: Accessible, compact pamphlet-style republication of the musings of Dr. Francis J. Pond, Penn State alumnus and professor, on the state of the campus and local life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Dr. Francis Pond recalls the lively era of growth and change at The Pennsylvania State College spearheaded by President George W. Atherton, sharing memories of life on campus and covering topics like the establishment of fraternities, clubs, and literary societies, selection of the school colors, student pranks, compulsory chapel and military drills, and the college football scandals of the day. He paints a vivid picture of a place both foreign and familiar, speaking to us across time through this short, but riveting, account of Penn State in its formative years.
Creation of Penn State History Course for Undergraduates
As part of The Nittany Valley Society’s mission to foster “a spirit of community across time,” board member Sean Clark first suggested the idea of approaching Penn State faculty to develop a first-of-its-kind elective three-credit Penn State history course for undergraduates in order to enculturate greater knowledge of the University’s remarkable history. This idea was later spearheaded by Chris Buchignani, Zach Zimbler, Kevin Horne and others. Chris Buchignani made contact with Dr. Mike Milligan, Senior Lecturer in History, which led to further conversations with Dr. Christopher Long, Associate Dean in the College of the Liberal Arts and Professor of Philosophy and Classics.
In September 2014, Dr. Milligan began independent research and curriculum development for the course, which with support from the College of the Liberal Arts will become a permanent elective history course and is expected to become available for Penn State students to schedule as of the Fall 2015 semester. As a further commitment to the perpetual existence and success of the course, Chris Buchignani worked with Penn State’s Development staff and board member Steve Garguilo to create the “Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society Endowment in Penn State History,” a $50,000 pledge to create a permanent University-based endowment to sustain the basic financial needs of course enrichment for students. Steve Garguilo will be fulfilling this pledge through personal giving and corporate matching dollars over the course of the next five years.
The creation of this Penn State history course is an example of part of the ethos of The Nittany Valley Society, which is not only to express its mission through programming under its own corporate umbrella, but to conceive of culturally worthwhile and community-enhancing ideas and then to serve as advocate and connector for making those ideas happen through those persons or groups best suited to execute and sustain them.
Official Recognition of Old Willow, First Symbol of Penn State
A talk by board member Tom Shakely to student leadership, coupled with the distribution of Nittany Valley Press book “Is Penn State a Real University?,” led to awareness and consideration by the Senior Class Gift of 2014 Committee to consider recognizing and endowing Old Willow and similar “heritage trees” for honor and preservation. Though the Class of 2014 ultimately selected a different gift, student action by Lion’s Paw members Brenden Dooley and Jordan Harris initiated a successful effort to publicly recognize and honor Old Willow’s third-generation.
Dooley and Harris worked with the Penn State Office of Physical Plant’s Heritage Trees and Groves program to officially designate the third-generation Old Willow as the latest scion of Penn State’s original Old Willow, representing the return of this honor for the first time since the 1980s and setting the stage for increasing student awareness and affection in years to come. The Penn State Alumni Association-sponsored plaque now situated at Old Willow reads in part:
“For decades, freshman bowed to Old Willow as Penn State’s oldest living tradition. Legend claims that when Penn State’s first president, Evan Pugh, returned from a six-year sojourn in Europe, he brought back an off-shoot of a willow from the famous garden and grotto of English poet Alexander Pope. This sapling was planted on the Allen Street Mall, near Sackett Building, by Professor William Waring in 1859. Waring was the first superintendent of farms and grounds and was charged with the layout of roads, buildings, orchards, and landscaping. After wind felled the tree in 1923, an off-shoot of this tree grew until the late 1970s, when this third-generation tree was planted.”
Dooley and Harris, writing in The Nittany Valley Society’s Town & Gown cultural conservation column, cite “Is Penn State a Real University?” and its chapter “Old Willow, Monarch of the Campus” as inspiration for their efforts to restore Old Willow to prominence. In their column, they note that Old Willow “symbolized a gesture of birth and hope for the newborn institution, and was thus treated with necessary reverence by its students. Freshman, as [a new plaque] remembers, would literally bow before it signifying their appreciation for Penn State’s oldest living tradition.”
Planting of Old Willow’s Fourth Generation
Chris Buchignani worked with George Henning, former Penn State Trustee, to successfully plant a fresh cutting taken from the third-generation Old Willow. This fourth-generation of Old Willow was planted in mid-2014 on the lawn of The University Club in Downtown State College as both a gift to the historic membership club, and as a means to ensure a suitable alternate descendant will always exist from which future descendants of Old Willow can spring when the time comes for Old Willow’s fourth-generation on campus. A small plaque at The University Club recognizes the historical and living significance of this growing sapling.
Creation of The Willow Gathering, An Annual Experience
Since its founding The Nittany Valley Society has hosted The Willow Gathering, an annual experience meant to bring people together from across the community to share in fellowship and celebrate local culture. The Willow Gathering’s name refers to two aspects of the Nittany Valley’s cultural history. First, it honors Old Willow and its symbolic hope that the spirit and vision of the founders continually takes root and flourishes. Second, The Willow Gathering represents the hope that, in the same way Old Willow’s roots physically take root in the soil, new students, professors, trustees, alumni, residents, and friends can grow more firmly rooted in the cultural landscape of the community by intentionally coming together for fellowship rather than for professional or partisan reasons. In this way, it exists to defeat the “information silo” effect that often plagues university communities, wherein diverse constituencies self-segregate, with the effect of cultural corrosion that can weaken communities over time.
In its first year hosted at Hotel State College’s Beaver Room, Ben Novak’s keynote introduced “Is Penn State a Real University?” and “The Birth of the Craft Brew Revolution,” followed by a craft beer tasting at Zenos. In 2013, Penn State Alumni Association Executive Director Roger Williams delivered a keynote at The University Club on “Evan Pugh and George Atherton: Penn State’s George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,” followed by a craft beer tasting. In 2014, Michael Paul of Penn State Lunar Lion will speak at the Nittany Lion Inn. The Willow Gathering continues to grow as an established part of the local calendar of events.
Nittany Valley Heritage Walk
The Nittany Valley Heritage Walk represents an extraordinary opportunity to beautify Downtown State College through a distinctive, well-maintained footpath paved with engraved bricks telling the stories of thousands of Penn Staters, residents, and friends, while supporting cultural conservation including preservation and expansion of the Heister Street Inspiration Mural, which itself serves as a device for sharing the regional stories that make the Nittany Valley distinctive. In recognition of the critical importance of earned income, the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk was conceived in partnership with Michael Pilato, creator of the Inspiration Mural. Still in early development, the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk represents a ~$2 million dollar development opportunity that will generate funds to conserve the landmark Mural while allowing donors a means to “leave their mark” through engraved paver stones. The Nittany Valley Society is developing the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk as a programmatic commitment it will honor and maintain into perpetuity, and as a means to create the financial basis for perpetual operations from Centre Foundation endowment revenue.
As an oral companion to Nittany Valley Press’s storytelling purpose, The Nittany Valley Society sponsors live recitations from “The Legends of the Nittany Valley” for students, alumni, and residents. Henry W. Shoemaker’s classic American Indian legends not only pertain to the area, but also convey a sense of shared mythology and history that further The Nittany Valley Society’s mission to foster “a spirit of community across time” by providing common reference points and vocabulary that can further bind together diverse constituencies.
Town & Gown Column
As part of Nittany Valley Press’s storytelling purpose, The Nittany Valley Society partnered with Town & Gown Magazine to create a monthly column promoting, at a high level, the concept of cultural conservation, and at a practical level, engagement in community life by sharing the history, culture, and the personalities that define the area. Contributions are invited from the community and are supplemented by Nittany Valley Press book excerpts.
CBICC Student Intern Initiative
The Nittany Valley Society employed Penn State undergraduate history interns to catalog the historical document archives of the Chamber of Business and Industry, offering an educational experience for students while creating a record of news clippings, documents, and photos pertaining to the community that date to the 1930s. The Nittany Valley Society has worked with the CBICC and other local organizations to ensure the many “hidden gems” and forgotten stories contained in this collection are conserved for the future.
Creation of Centre Foundation’s Nittany Valley Renaissance Fund
The goal of the Nittany Valley Renaissance Fund is to serve as The Nittany Valley Society’s central endowment, eventually growing to the point that it can provide for 100% of the organization’s annual operating budget. After raising an initial $10,000, the board will rely on growth through revenue from the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk and the development of a Salon of State College membership program.
Creation of Centre Foundation’s Novak Fellowship Fund
Honoring Ben Novak’s lifetime of devotion and service to Penn State and the Nittany Valley, The Nittany Valley Society created the Centre Foundation’s Novak Fellowship Fund as a perpetual designated endowment. The Novak Fellowship Fund’s annual revenue will support The Nittany Valley Society, enabling student fellows to work with Nittany Valley Press to research the area’s past with the aim of surfacing and sharing little-known aspects of the community’s shared history with new generations.