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Karen Kelly Deklinski '79

Karen Kelly Deklinski '79

Karen grew up as one of six children in a single parent household in West Newton, Pennsylvania. She attended a small high school with only sixty students in her graduating class, but this small class size gave her a chance to shine, and she earned herself a scholarship to IUP. This financial award, and the work-study offered her, made IUP the clear choice over Pitt and Penn State, to which she also applied.

Active in student government in high school, Karen jumped right into service at IUP as well. She was involved with the College Republicans, sat on the Co-op Board and the President’s Cabinet, and held positions in other organizations. Her fondest memory is winning election as the first woman president of the Student Government Association. She didn’t realize she held this honor until a year later, after she’d already stepped down.

Despite her natural inclination toward politics, Karen spent her first three years as a Math major. She recalls Dr. Robert Wilburn, the university’s president at that time, approaching her one day and asking, “Do you ever plan to graduate?” He pointed out that she was spending an inordinate amount of time on campaigns and demonstrations, including staging a walkout to protest the legislation for one state system of higher education. Dr. Wilburn suggested that political science might be a more suitable major. She completed her B.A. in Government and Public Service in 1979.

Karen’s extensive involvement in politics as a student made for an easy transition into the workforce. State Senator Henry Hager of Williamsport, for whom she campaigned when he ran for governor, gave Karen her first job as a legislative analyst in Harrisburg. She stayed with him until 1985, when he left the state house for the private sector. While in his employ, she earned a master’s degree in Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. She then held positions in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Pennsylvania Department of State before leaving to work in the nonprofit sector after Bob Casey was elected governor.

Eight years later, Karen took a position in Governor Tom Ridge’s administration, as deputy secretary for administration for the Department of Community Affairs. When that agency was disbanded, she moved to overseeing the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In these positions, Karen was responsible for multimillion-dollar budgets and appropriations and found that her three years as a Math major at IUP came in handy after all.

Being busy in government didn’t stop Karen from staying involved with her alma mater. She found the time to serve as president of the IUP Alumni Association board of directors, a position she used to facilitate meetings between board members and legislators in Harrisburg. For both her service to the state and the university, Karen was chosen as a Distinguished Alumna in 1998. It was the second time in a decade that she was recognized for her achievements—the first being the IUP Alumni Ambassador Award, which she received in 1988.

“I was absolutely surprised when I got the Distinguished Alumni Award,” Karen said, “because I felt that IUP had given me so much—academically, socially, and professionally—that the shoe really should’ve been on the other foot. I should’ve been giving a Distinguished University Award to IUP for all it does for its graduates.”

In 2003, upon the election of Governor Ed Rendell and the arrival of his administration, Karen left the public sector and began to brainstorm what she would do next. When her husband said she could do anything except run her own business, she took it as a challenge and, within forty-eight hours, had purchased a deli with a friend. A few years later they sold the deli for five times what they had paid for it.

Since August 2004, Karen has been running Perfectly Pennsylvania, a high-end retail establishment in the Harrisburg International Airport that sells goods from Pennsylvania companies. The store is stocked with Amish Quilts, shoofly pie, Valley Forge flags, Asher’s chocolates, and items from Crayola, Slinky, Yuengling, and more. The store boasts an active website and satellite branches in the local train station and the National Civil War Museum.

These days, when Karen returns to IUP, she likes to visit the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology, where she is often introduced as an IUP graduate who was not a business major but who now owns a profitable business. And, while running that business and raising two children has kept Karen busy, she has made time to stay involved with the university and with other charitable organizations. In addition to attending local recruitment events and career nights for IUP, she serves on the legislative committee for the Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce and chairs the nominating committee for the American Red Cross Board of Directors. Karen and her husband, Joseph, also work through their church and an adoption agency to assist other parents who are seeking to adopt.

Karen credits IUP with her many successes. “It’s a phenomenal institution, and it provides the strongest foundation for what you do, and I don’t think you realize that until you set your career and you look back at all the things you’ve done.”

Karen and Joseph currently reside in Wormleysburg with their two adopted children, Lukas, 17, and Annie, 12. Annie recently informed her mother that she plans to attend IUP.

Profile published on 1/14/11

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