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Ralph F. Roberts Heritage Learning Commons Named at IUP Punxsutawney

A special-use learning area at IUP Punxsutawney has been named in honor of the late Ralph F. Roberts, Punxsutawney businessman and IUP trustee.

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Left to right: Trustee Sam Smith; Ann (Roberts) Jesick; Bob Roberts; trustee chair David Osikowicz; Jean (Roberts) Brown; Randy Jesick; Kerrin Roberts.

The establishment of the Ralph F. Roberts Heritage Learning Commons was approved by the Council of Trustees on May 10.

“The Roberts family, and especially Ralph Roberts, has been a longtime supporter of IUP,” David Osikowicz, council chair.

Roberts was a founding member and past president of the Punxsutawney Area College Trust, which established IUP Punxsutawney and the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts in Punxsutawney.

Roberts was the last of the founding members to serve on the trust. He died in 2009 at age 91.

“This recognition is very well deserved. Ralph Roberts truly exemplified the spirit of giving, both of his time and his resources,” said Osikowicz.

In its resolution, the Council of Trustees recognized Roberts for his “significant, generous and long-term support of IUP and the Punxsutawney community.”

“The university continues to appreciate Mr. Roberts’s incredible legacy and the ongoing support offered by the family to IUP and to the community of Punxsutawney,” said William Speidel, vice president for university advancement.

Roberts Living Learning Center 400

The Ralph F. Roberts Heritage Learning Commons will be in the space adjoining the living and learning centers on campus. Currently, the space is used for artist-in-residency woodturning activities, occasional visual-learning displays, and informal student meeting and lounging.

The learning commons will feature mounted images selected by the Punxsutawney Area Historical and Genealogical Society that depict the railroad, mining, agricultural, lumber, and manufacturing industries and “celebrate the persistence, self-sufficiency and strong work ethic of the region’s workforce,” said Terry Appolonia, dean of the Punxsutawney campus. “In those respects, the images also will serve to model a similar template of success for our students.”

The campus will seek to refurnish and formally expand the experiential-learning opportunities and group-study activities hosted in the learning commons, Appolonia said.

Roberts served on the Council of Trustees from 1983 to 1989. Named Punxsutawney’s Man of the Year in 1988, he was a past president of the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Festival Committee.

Roberts was also the president of Frank Roberts & Sons Inc., which has served the Punxsutawney area for more than 85 years. The family-owned company was established by Ralph's father, Frank Roberts, in 1927. The business began as a one-man supplier of explosives to small coal mines in the area, which furnished coal to heat homes.

Ralph Roberts, Frank’s eldest son, entered the business in 1934. It is now a wholesale supply firm that provides building and construction materials to retail lumber dealers, hardware stores, farm supply dealers and heavy construction firms in western and central Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of New York and Maryland. Still headquartered in Punxsutawney, it employs about 40 people.

IUP Punxsutawney serves more than 230 first-year students. The campus, which will mark its 50th anniversary in August, includes dining facilities, a book store, and a fitness facility, in addition to its living and learning centers. Another 100 students attend the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts in Punxsutawney and share some campus facilities.