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Ken Garner '65

Ken and Donna Gardner

Ken Garner grew up in Carnegie, Pa., about seven miles outside of Pittsburgh, and attended IUP from 1960 to 1965. After earning his degree in Economics, Garner was hired by Mellon Bank as a marketing management trainee in a class of twenty-five, most of whom were Ivy League graduates or MBA holders. Garner’s education at IUP provided him with the self-confidence to hold his own, and he spent three years working as a security analyst for Mellon.

He then moved to Whirlpool, where he worked in human resources and relocated to San Diego. Following ten years at Whirlpool, he held human resources director positions with both the Wicks’ companies and Aerojet General before being recruited by Rockwell International and coming back to Pittsburgh.

After leaving Rockwell, Garner made a switch to venue management when he was hired by Ed DeBartolo to be the general manager of Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. Although he hadn’t done that type of work before, he felt right at home and enjoyed working with the Penguins, Maulers, and Spirit, as well as scheduling concerts (which he had never attended before taking this job).

After the Civic Arena, Garner spent five years in sports television production though SportCorp, a company he founded. He also ran Mid-Atlantic Select-a-Seat, the second largest soft ticket business in the U.S. at that time. In 2001, Garner was hired as director of operations for Reliant Park in Houston and has been there ever since.

Garner and his wife, Donna (’64, Business), currently reside in Houston and have three grown daughters: Stacey, Stephanie, and Shawna. They also have seven grandchildren.

What led you to attend IUP?

Originally, I had a football scholarship to attend Boston University, but I busted my knee playing basketball my senior year of high school. They rescinded my scholarship, and I was left scrambling. Fortunately, I had a letter of interest from coach Peck McKnight at IUP (Indiana State College, at the time). He brought me in to play basketball, and they gave me the last academic opening they had left, which was in the English Departmennt.

Tell me a little bit about your time at IUP as a student. How involved were you in and out of class?

I played basketball during my freshman and sophomore years and was busy with my English Ed classes until I switched my major to Economics (the department was brand new at the time). I also pledged the TKE fraternity and later served as president.

How often do you return to IUP? Have things changed much? And is there anything you miss or tend to revisit when you’re back in town?

I got back quite a bit when I was living in Pittsburgh and especially while I served as president of the IUP Alumni Association. However, I haven’t been back since I came to Houston, and that’s been over ten years.

My wife and I—she’s also an alumna—plan to make it back this June for a TKE reunion. We’re looking forward to seeing all the changes that have taken place on campus, and around town, since we were last there. We also plan to visit friends in the area.

You mentioned serving as president of the IUP Alumni Association. When did you serve and what were your responsibilities?

I served in that position from 1986 to 1987. It was during the time I was managing the Civic Arena, and we actually held a few alumni events at the arena. Basically, my role was to help elevate awareness of IUP and the role of its graduates in their respective communities, particularly Western Pennsylvania, but also nationally, through coordinating with alumni chapters in cities throughout the country. It was to recognize and celebrate the success of our graduates, thereby building IUP’s reputation and hopefully recruiting new students as a result.

Have you stayed involved with IUP in any other ways?

I recently helped arrange a regional alumni event at Reliant Park. IUP holds an annual event in Houston. It’s a good job market, and so there are a fair number of alumni in the region.

I also arranged a TKE reunion to piggyback on the IUP gathering. Some of the guys that showed up hadn’t seen each other in over thirty years. It was so successful that a larger reunion was planned in Indiana for June 2011.

Isn’t Reliant Park where many of the Katrina refugees were housed?

It was. And being involved in that was an absolutely unbelievable experience. The Houston community really stepped up to take care of those folks. The cars just never stopped coming with people swinging by to drop off supplies. At one point, we simply had to close the gates because we couldn’t store anymore. It was remarkable to witness and to be a part of.

I recall one of my first days out on the floor and a little girl came up to me and starting tugging on my shirt. “Mister,” she said, “I haven’t seen my mom in two days. Can you help me find her?” It was heartrending. She was just one of hundreds of people who got separated during the transition out of New Orleans.

Why has it remained important for you to stay connected to IUP over the years and what would you like other alumni to know about your experiences?

Well, for both my wife and me, it’s a part of who we are. We have good friends that we attended school with and still keep in touch with today. And so, I think it depends on what your life has become. There certainly is no reason to live in the past. But if IUP remains a significant part of who you are, then it’s worthwhile to revisit the people with whom you share that experience. I think that both the school and alumni benefit from that.

Do you have a favorite moment or memory related to your service over the years?

I’ve especially enjoyed being privy to information on how my classmates have grown and succeeded. Many of them have done very well for themselves—whether as teachers, athletic directors, or business professionals.

Just a few examples off the top of my head: Susan Delaney ’64, a friend of my wife, who is now a trustee at IUP; Bob Cook, whom I attended school with, succeeding in business and endowing the Cook Honors College; Tom Modrak ’65, who worked with NFL teams including the Steelers, Eagles, and Bills; James “Skip” Ashton ’64, who runs a successful plastics-distribution business out of Atlanta; Bob Jamison’65, who was an FBI agent. And there are many more.

Ultimately, I think the people that come out of IUP are strivers. They have good common sense, and don’t expect much to be given to them. I believe that their willingness to work hard and their credentials from IUP stand them in good stead wherever they end up. This reinforces IUP as a quality institution, one that turns out folks who can do well in just about any field. And I think this is good both for current students, as well those considering IUP, to see.

Profile published on 7/8/11

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