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The Man for the Job

Sam Furgiuele in his Indiana home. Behind him is a painting by late IUP art professor Bob Cronauer ’37. (Keith Boyer)

Sam Furgiuele in his Indiana home. Behind him is a painting by late IUP art professor Bob Cronauer ’37. (Keith Boyer)

Campus Memories Go Back 70 Years for Retired Professor and PR Director

An old friend once asked if I’d ever tried to identify the 10 most important people in my life.

I hadn’t, but then I challenged my memory. At the top of the list is my wife, Ann. This select group also includes teachers, professors, friends, advisors, colleagues, and supervisors.  Especially one boss. Especially a longtime and long-retired IUP public relations director and English professor emeritus.

Especially Samuel Francis Furgiuele, who will reach 100 years of age November 18.

Sam hired me as assistant PR director in June 1969. With that, he started my IUP career and dramatically changed my life and the lives of my wife and four children and enriched me with the opportunity to work with more than 2,000 students. He has been my colleague, my friend, my mentor in PR, and a fertile source of institutional memory.

Sam’s institutional memory goes back to 1947. That’s when, at age 29, he started as a student at Indiana State Teachers College after serving as an Army officer for nearly four years during World War II.

Born near Marion Center, Sam was about six when his family moved to Beaver Falls. His parents, Matilda and Gaetano Furgiuele, had immigrated from Amantea, Italy, a decade earlier.

“After I graduated from Beaver Falls High School in 1936, I came to Indiana County to work in the mines and live with one of my brothers in the town of Mentcle,” said Sam, who stayed more than five years in the mines.

Then, on March 17, 1942, three months after the United States entered World War II, Sam was drafted. After completing Officer Candidate School and several other advanced training programs, Second Lieutenant Furgiuele, of the US Army’s 18th Field Artillery, found himself at Camp Gordon, Georgia, for 20 months, readying for overseas deployment.

His time at Camp Gordon changed his life.

“A fellow officer told me his wife had a sister. He suggested that I ask her for a date,” Sam recalled.

Sam, a Catholic, an Italian, and worst of all, a Yankee, met, dated, and swept off her feet Sarah Stewart, of Claxton, Georgia, in November 1943. Three months later, they were married. By December 1944, he was crossing the Atlantic on the British ship Aquitania, training in Scotland and Liverpool, England, and preparing to cross the English Channel to the European continent. For the next five months, he saw combat as a forward artillery observer. He was awarded the Air Medal for his more than 30 sorties in the role of aerial observer as US troops worked their way through France and Belgium and into Germany.

“On May 8, 1945, a beautiful, sunny day, I was in a little German town writing Sarah a letter when word came down that the war in Europe had officially ended,” Sam said. “What we had thought for so long to be a conflict with no end had, in fact, ended.”

He was en route to redeployment in the Pacific Theater when President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. Sam transitioned back into civilian life in February 1946.

“I was determined not to go back to the mines,” he said. “I was determined, finally—nearly 11 years after high school—to follow my mother’s advice: ‘You need to go to college.’”

He and Sarah were living in Alverda, and he was working with an older brother in a restaurant in Windber. But just down the road in the other direction was Indiana State Teachers College. By January 1947, armed with the GI Bill and responsible for supporting his wife and a baby (daughter Diana) who was scheduled to arrive in February, Sam started his college education. His association with the school would endure and flourish for the next 31 years.

Grand marshals for the 1999 Homecoming Parade, from left: Bob Warren, Peggy McHenry Lepley-Hermann, and Furgiuele, all of the Class of 1949 (Keith Boyer)

Grand marshals for the 1999 Homecoming Parade, from left: Bob Warren, Peggy McHenry Lepley-Hermann, and Furgiuele, all of the Class of 1949 (Keith Boyer)

“I met with Dr. Joy Mahachek, then the director of secondary education, who asked me what major I wanted to study. The last field would have been English,” he said.

“She said, ‘I figured you for English, but it’s difficult to be accepted into the English Department.’

“Then, I want that challenge,” he said.

Sam met that first of his many challenges at ISTC, which in those postwar years had fewer than 1,600 students and about 100 professors. He met it so well that he graduated in two and a half years, in August 1949, with his teaching degree in English.

Sam remembers vividly the quality of those English professors, especially Rhodes Stabley, for whom an IUP library is named.

“Dr. Stabley was a first-class professor,” Sam recalled. “He was sharp, and he was an excellent teacher.”

When Sam first studied in Stabley’s classroom, Joseph Uhler was college president. Sam was still an undergraduate when the college hired a new president, a man likely near the top of Sam’s list of the most important people in his life. That man, Willis Pratt, became president in 1948 and held the office for the next 20 years.

After student teaching in Indiana schools, Sam taught English and geography to Indiana seventh- and ninth-graders for seven years. He and Sarah added a son, Sammy, in 1951. Sam tried his hand at selling mutual funds. He became active in ISTC’s alumni association, even serving as president.

But “that man,” President Pratt, apparently had a master plan for Sam Furgiuele.

“I had finished a meeting on campus with alumni association secretary Mary Esch,” Sam said, “and was leaving Sutton Hall when I ran into Dr. Pratt. He knew me through my work with alumni and asked me to walk with him around campus. He pointed out the beauty of the Oak Grove and the rest of the campus that he maintained so well.”

Furgiuele, left, with his wife, Sarah, at far right, their daughter, Diana, and friends at the College Lodge in 1949 (Courtesy of Sam Furgiuele)

Furgiuele, left, with his wife, Sarah, at far right, their daughter, Diana, and friends at the College Lodge in 1949 (Courtesy of Sam Furgiuele)

“Wouldn’t you like to be a part of all this?” Dr. Pratt asked him.

“Are you offering me a job?” Sam asked.

“Of course, I am,” Dr. Pratt responded.

Sam started at ISTC as an English professor in 1957. About two years later, he attended a meeting of committee chairs in John Sutton Hall’s Blue Room. But Sam was not chairing any committee and couldn’t understand his invitation. He approached Dr. Pratt with that question.

Dr. Pratt: “Didn’t I tell you?”

Sam: “Tell me what?”

Dr. Pratt: “Albert Drumheller [business professor] recommended you for the chairmanship of the Commencement Committee. You’ll be good at it. You’ll enjoy it. Besides, it won’t be very much work.”

“That’s the Dr. Pratt I came to know only too well in the years following,” Sam said. “You just didn’t or couldn’t say no to him.”

Sam Furgiuele, new to the English faculty, in 1957 (Courtesy of Sam Furgiuele)

Sam Furgiuele, new to the English faculty, in 1957 (Courtesy of Sam Furgiuele)

Under Sam’s direction, commencement ceremonies grew to three annually, in May, August, and December. Sam scripted the entire ceremony, handled every large and small detail, and chose the guest speakers. Among them were celebrated personalities such as Eleanor Roosevelt; journalists Edward R. Murrow, David Brinkley, and H. V. Kaltenborn; poet and writer Archibald MacLeish; author Robert Penn Warren; Pennsylvania governors William Scranton, David Lawrence, and Raymond Shafer; and former British prime minister Clement Attlee. In 1972, I joined Sam in inaugurating the addition of individual department commencement ceremonies to the major one.

In 1963, when Art Nicholson, public relations director, left for Shippensburg State College, Dr. Pratt came a-callin’ again. The president turned to a man he knew could and would do the PR job.

“I didn’t know anything about public relations,” Sam said. “I was a teacher. I didn’t know journalism, didn’t understand PR.”

“But Sam was a writer, and he knew the English language, and he learned about the PR profession,” said Larry Judge, retired IUP PR and sports information professional. Larry helped Sam with sports before he graduated in 1964 and again from 1966 to 1969.

“To me, PR is an art and a craft,” Larry said, “and Sam had a natural flair for dealing with people. That’s the art. The craft is the nuts and bolts of writing, which he knew.”

For the next 10 years, the first three as a one-man operation, Sam wrote press releases, coordinated all college publications, and handled public relations problems. He also started an on-campus print shop.

One of those years, 1965, was monumental. On December 16, Indiana State College ceased to exist, and primarily through the efforts of three individuals, Indiana University of Pennsylvania was born.

“Dr. Pratt,” Sam said, “probably from when he arrived in 1948, wanted to transform this school into a major university. And in 1965, he had two powerful allies in the Pennsylvania legislature: Dr. Albert Pechan, a Ford City dentist and the Republican whip in the State Senate, and William Buchanan, the Indiana area representative in the House of Representatives.”

The enabling legislation passed both houses, and Governor William Scranton signed the bill granting university status. Dr. Pratt had wanted to name “his baby” Western Pennsylvania University, but Penn State and Pitt had too much clout among the legislators, Sam said.

“To help urge the governor to sign the bill,” Sam said, “I enlisted an army of student workers to write all Indiana alumni in Pennsylvania and ask them to immediately contact the governor’s office to express their support.”

Willis Pratt, college president from 1948 to 1968 (IUP Archives)

Willis Pratt, college president from 1948 to 1968 (IUP Archives)

To celebrate this turning point in the college’s history and to place the new name in the limelight, Sam planned a convocation for spring 1966. He invited every US college to send a representative and alerted all regional media. Sam helped a writer from the Pittsburgh Press do a story in the paper’s Family Magazine. The title: “Let’s Call It Cinderella U.”

He continued his duties at “Cinderella U” for another 12 years before retiring January 13, 1978, thus sticking to his plan. When I first met him, he told me two things that stand out in my memory: “Please always call me Sam,” which Larry Judge also remembered, and, “I plan to retire when I’m 60.” He had returned to his first academic love, teaching English, in 1973, and he had officially retired, as a major, from the Army Reserves in 1977.

In his retirement, now approaching 40 years, he has been anything but retiring. Among his activities have been writing a 325-page autobiography, going south annually to his and Sarah’s home in Georgia, fishing (a lot), golfing, walking, reading, serving twice as Lions Club president, hunting with former IUP football coach Bill Neal and late Indiana restaurateur Nap Patti, and spending time with his and Sarah’s two children, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Sam remembers in impressive detail his best campus friends: Craig Swauger, English chair; Bill Betts, English professor; Bob Warren, registrar; Bob Seelhorst, art professor; Jim Nix, theater professor; Gene Lepley, physical education professor; and Trevor Hadley, dean of students.

“It was a tremendous honor to work with professors and administrators such as these people,” he said with a smile. “I’m thankful that our family was a part of this college and this campus.”

Someone once said, “Sam always makes you smile, always makes you feel good.”

I wholeheartedly agree, but I almost didn’t have the opportunity to know. When I arrived at Clark Hall for my interview with him, I asked telephone operators in the lobby where I could find Sam (and here, phonetically, is the way I said it) fur-GWEE-lee. Thank goodness one of them—I think it was Nancy Noker—corrected my pronunciation before I made a fool of myself in front of Sam.

“It’s pronounced FUR-joo-well,” she said.

And in the last 48 years, I haven’t once mispronounced the name of Sam Furgiuele, the man who changed my life.

Randy Jesick worked for Sam Furgiuele in the Office of Public Relations for four years, focusing on news and sports. Jesick served as head of public relations from 1973 until 1979, when he joined the journalism faculty. He still teaches in the IUP Journalism and Public Relations Department.

Furgiuele hired Randy Jesick, now a longtime friend, in 1969. (Keith Boyer)

Furgiuele hired Randy Jesick, now a longtime friend, in 1969. (Keith Boyer)