Buildings named for the nine people in this story have given way to replacements on the IUP campus, but memories of each person, so vital to the university’s history, remain. Bronze plaques honoring them have been or will be installed in the new buildings of the Residential Revival. Here are the stories of nine lives, briefly told.
Mary Louise Esch was born in Brushvalley Township, Indiana County, in 1895. She graduated from Indiana State Normal School in 1915 and immediately started working as secretary to the registrar. Within a year, she herself had become registrar and held the post for the next half-century.
In the decades before the school had an Alumni Relations office, Esch worked to organize the General Alumni Association, helped to reorganize it in 1933, and later became its treasurer. She was executive secretary of the association—even after retiring as registrar—until her death.
Esch played many roles beyond registrar. She was instrumental in publishing alumni bulletins and directories and kept in touch with graduates near and far. In 1940, for instance, forty-three local units of the General Alumni Association were distributed throughout Pennsylvania, with one unit in New York City. At least thirty units elected officers and held meetings on a regular basis.
According to Paula Jerto McGuire, who worked with Esch in the late sixties, Esch and her office oversaw class registration, grade postings, alumni mailings, and the collection of alumni dues and donations. “And,” McGuire said, “it was all done by hand.”
Esch died in London at the end of 1971; less than two years later, Esch Hall was dedicated in her memory. It was demolished last summer to make way for the Sutton Suites.
McClellan Gordon is the subject of a biography published by his daughter, Elinor Gordon Blair, who was born in 1913 and until adolescence lived on the normal school campus. The house the Gordon family occupied also accommodated twelve students. Seven years ago, Blair published a memoir of her father, filled with detailed descriptions of life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Gordon came to Indiana State Normal School in 1883, less than a decade after the school opened. Born twenty years earlier in Snow Hill, Md., he was already acclaimed as champion speller of Pennsylvania’s Fulton County and had taught in the one-room school from which he graduated.
He completed the normal school’s regular two-year course, taught for a year in West Newton, and returned to Indiana for the two-year scientific course. He received a Master of Science degree from the normal school in 1888. For the next five years, Gordon was superintendent of the Irwin (Pa.) schools. In 1892, he came back to Indiana as a member of the mathematics faculty and stayed until his retirement in 1927.
He was more than a teacher. According to his daughter, “He had charge of the book store, open every morning for business for an hour—the front room on the second floor of John Sutton Hall [where the Provost’s office is today]. He had charge of the Student Loan Fund and assisted in finding teaching positions for graduates.”
Gordon was the students’ travel agent, purchasing train tickets and making baggage arrangements, and he was designated announcer in the campus dining room, where everyone gathered for meals. He oversaw a literary society and teams in tennis, field hockey, and baseball.
When he retired, Gordon moved his family to North Eighth Street and proceeded to devote himself as wholeheartedly to the life of the town of Indiana as he had to what by then had become Indiana State Teachers College. He was active in the First Presbyterian Church (later renamed Calvary), the Masonic order, the hospital board, and the Community Chest. He died in 1937.
Not quite thirty years later, Gordon Hall was erected and named in Gordon’s memory. The building housed 230 students and was torn down last year to make way for the Northern Suites.
Jonathan Nicholas Langham was born in the Indiana County hamlet of Eastrun in 1861. He graduated from Indiana State Normal School in 1882 but had already begun teaching in 1877 at the Salt Well School in Susquehanna Township, Cambria County. He taught school and read law at the same time and in 1888 was admitted to the Indiana County Bar.
In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Langham Indiana postmaster. He later was assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, special examiner for the U.S. Department of Justice, and chief clerk and corporation deputy in the Pennsylvania auditor general’s office. He served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing a district that included Indiana, Jefferson, Armstrong, and Clarion counties.
From 1915 until retiring in 1936, Langham was judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Indiana County. In 1927, during a nationwide mine shutdown, he issued a sweeping injunction that prohibited striking coal miners from assembling, marching, and singing hymns outside the Magyar Presbyterian Church in Rossiter.
The scope of Langham’s injunction drew national attention to the working conditions of miners and sympathy for the plight of their families. Members of a Senate subcommittee launched an inquiry and in February 1928 scheduled a fact-finding visit to Rossiter, Commodore, Arcadia, and Clymer. In an evening session at the Moore Hotel in Indiana, the senators questioned Langham about his injunction.
Eventually, the strike ended in a defeat for the United Mine Workers. But the visit and testimony left a lasting impression on at least one lawmaker: New York Senator Robert Wagner became the key architect of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act.
Langham died in 1945. Fifteen years later, in recognition of the judge’s fourteen-year tenure as a trustee, Langham Hall was named in his memory. It housed 185 students and stood on the current site of Delaney Hall and the Suites on Maple East.
The appointment of Mabel Waller Mack as one of the school’s first female trustees came in 1920—the landmark year in which ownership and control of the normal school were assumed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Mack was born in 1878 in Bloomsburg, where her father, David Waller, Jr., was principal of the normal school. In 1890, he became superintendent of Public Instruction in Harrisburg, and in 1893, when he was named to head Indiana State Normal School, the family moved to Indiana. Mack graduated from the normal school in 1896 and from Vassar College in 1900. She studied at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, then married and settled in Indiana.
Mack served as a trustee from 1920 to 1936 and then again from 1944 to 1956. For the last decade of her tenure on the board, she was vice president. She was also active in the First United Presbyterian Church (now Graystone), the Indiana Free Library, and the Indiana County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Mack died in 1964, the year after Mack Hall was named in her honor. The building’s former site is now occupied by the Suites on Maple East.
In 1902—the year after his parents arrived from Slovakia—Albert Pechan was born in Ford City. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine in 1928 and opened a practice in his hometown. At twenty-seven, Pechan was elected to the Ford City High School Board of Directors, later becoming the first president of the Ford City Union School District. During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private and rose to major. He eventually attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the reserves.
In 1948, Pechan was nominated and elected by both parties to the State Senate. He was reelected again and again, even after his district underwent reapportionment. In 1955, he was chosen Republican Whip, a post he held until his death.
One of Pechan’s earliest causes was fluoridated drinking water. Ford City was the first Pennsylvania town to add fluoride to its water. During his eighteen years as chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare, Pechan sought to extend the practice throughout the commonwealth.
The year before his first election to the Senate, Pechan was elected a trustee of Indiana State Teachers College. In the fifties, in concert with State Representative William Buchanan, he was instrumental in gaining removal of the word “Teachers” from the name of Indiana and the thirteen other state colleges. He then turned his attention to university status, and in December 1965, Indiana State College was renamed Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Years after its construction, the first residence hall on IUP’s Armstrong Campus was named in Pechan’s memory. In May 1969, in recognition of the senator’s service to the university and to the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians, Pechan Health Center was dedicated on the main campus. A few months later, Pechan died unexpectedly. The health center was recently razed.
At a campus memorial service, history professor John Sahli paid this tribute: “Senator Albert R. Pechan complements the rugged hills, green forests and farmlands, and the somber, mill-studded rambling river valley, where on every side, opportunity has waited, still stands, and ever will be for any man, regardless of his minority background.”
A few years after Hope Stewart was born in Armagh in 1872, her mother’s brother, Silas Clark, was elected as second president of the Indiana Normal School Board of Trustees. (Clark Hall would later be named in his memory.) Stewart went to high school in Indiana and then on to the normal school, from which she graduated in 1893.
Stewart taught for a year in Cherry Tree and then four years in Indiana. Starting in 1898 and for the next twenty-two years, she was a supervising teacher and critic teacher in the normal school’s training facility in Wilson Hall.
In 1920, Stewart became the school’s dean of women and continued in that post until 1938. For a woman born and reared in the nineteenth century, monitoring the behavior of young women from a variety of social strata in an era of societal change cannot have been easy.
She is remembered as stern, almost a caricature of unbending rectitude. This reminiscence appeared in the 1975 Centennial Scrapbook: “Miss Hope Stewart was the dominant person in the school, which had hundreds of female students and a handful of males. Sharkey’s, a little store across from the main gate [now the site of Pizza House], was off limits for all girls. (Men gathered there, and Miss Stewart was taking no chances with her girls’ reputations.)”
Stewart died in 1949. Fourteen years later, Stewart Hall was dedicated, along with Mack and Turnbull, as the Tri-Halls. The site is now occupied by the Suites on Maple.
Until Chad Hurley ’99 and a partner developed and launched YouTube in 2005, Agnes Sligh Turnbull ’10 was probably IUP’s best-known graduate. She was, in the parlance of the times, an “authoress,” who over six decades published popular novels, stories, and books for children.
Much of Turnbull’s work is set in Western Pennsylvania—she was born in 1888 in New Alexandria. After graduating from the normal school, she attended the University of Chicago and started a career as a high school English teacher. In 1918, she married; because, at the time, few married women could be teachers, she began to write stories, publishing the first one in The American Magazine in 1920.
Although she lived in Maplewood, N.J., from 1922 until her death, Turnbull made periodic visits to Indiana, often with her sister, Janet, also an alumna. In the late fifties, her gift to the Indiana State Teachers College library, located in Wilson Hall, was the first in a $25,000 library campaign to acquire 60,000 volumes. (The IUP Libraries currently hold more than 800,000 volumes.)
Turnbull died in 1982 and was buried in New Alexandria. Nearly twenty years before her death, the college had named a hall in her honor. Today, the Suites on Grant and the Suites on Maple West occupy the site.
Corinne Menk Wahr arrived at the normal school from Swissvale and graduated in 1916. She taught in public schools in Munhall for well over a decade before marrying Harry Wahr, one-time president of Mesta Machine Company in West Homestead. The company manufactured some of the largest compound engines in the country and, in 1959, long past Harry Wahr’s time, hosted a visit by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Only two months after the couple’s 1930 marriage, Harry Wahr died. His widow lived on until late 1948. When her will was filed for probate in early 1949, it was disclosed that $125,000 had been left to Indiana State Teachers College to help “worthy students.” In today’s dollars, the bequest would easily exceed $1 million.
The impact of Wahr’s benevolence has been enormous. In 1957-58, for example, nearly half the scholarships ISTC awarded were through the Corinne Menk Wahr Scholarship Fund. In sixty years, thousands of students have benefited.
To honor Wahr’s memory, a 150-bed dormitory named Corinne Menk Wahr Hall was dedicated in 1960. It stood on the current site of Delaney Hall until it was demolished in 2006.
Born in 1893, Florence Wallace was the daughter of an Indiana merchant and lived much of her life along Oakland Avenue. Her attitudes and experiences, however, were far from provincial. She attended the Model School and took college preparatory courses on the normal school campus, then earned an A.B. degree from Wellesley and an M.A. from Columbia. She did advanced work at the University of Pittsburgh, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of New Hampshire.
At first, Wallace taught high school history in Franklin, Pa., and Indiana, but for three decades, starting in 1938, she was a member of the Social Studies (later History) Department faculty at what became Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She traveled all over the world, sharing her firsthand experiences with students in her classroom and those she advised in the International Relations Club.
Wallace was active in the Collegiate Council for the United Nations, and in 1954 was able to attract the national organization to the ISTC campus for a meeting. The featured speaker, according to the Indiana Evening Gazette, was former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Wallace was also a charter member and first president of the Indiana Chapter of the American Association of University Women.
Wallace died in 1980. Seven years earlier, Florence Wallace Hall had been named in her honor. Like Esch Hall, Wallace Hall housed students for the last time in Spring 2008. Within days of the semester’s end, demolition began.
The staff of Special Collections, University Archives—especially Harrison Wick and Laura Krulikowski—provided invaluable assistance in the preparation of this article.