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First Class Graduates

Many members of the Class of ’66 returned to campus to participate in May commencement

Many members of the Class of ’66 returned to campus to participate in May commencement. Photo: Keith Boyer

Celebrating 50 Years as a University

Members of the Class of 1966, recognized at commencement in May on the occasion of their 50-year anniversary, hold a special place in school history as the first graduates of newly rechristened Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

For some, that special feeling was doubled—they received not one diploma, but two.

Indiana State College had transitioned to IUP only weeks before Richard Haines and 239 others walked across the stage at Fisher Auditorium and basked in the applause after completing the requirements for a degree.

“I graduated in January of 1966, and the diploma that I received during commencement had Indiana State College on it—university status was achieved in December of 1965, so I think our diplomas had already been printed,” said Haines, an Altoona resident who served 35 years as planning director for the Blair County Planning Commission before retiring. “Then a couple months later, I was mailed one that read Indiana University of Pennsylvania. So I got two diplomas.”

While the shift in nomenclature came with apparent suddenness—the program for IUP’s January 16 commencement ceremony also referred to the institution as Indiana State College—the idea of becoming a university, able to offer expanded programs and confer doctoral degrees, was a seed that had germinated for some time. President Willis Pratt worked tirelessly to turn the dream into reality, which is why he regarded the events of December 16, 1965, as a capstone in his 20½-year tenure at IUP.

Richard Haines displayed his original diploma from Indiana State College and his updated diploma from IUP

Richard Haines displayed his original diploma from Indiana State College and his updated diploma from IUP. Photo: Keith Boyer

The next day’s Indiana Evening Gazette featured a front page photograph of Governor William Scranton signing House Bill 1023, officially granting university status. Pratt was pictured standing behind Scranton with state legislators William Buchanan and Albert Pechan, staunch advocates for the upgrade. Another Page 1 photo showed sports team mascots Judy Pampey (now Woffington) and Ed Rankin posing beside the Oak Grove clock on which a sign reading Indiana University had been attached.

Otherwise, evidence in those first days that a new age had dawned was as hard to find as a black cat at midnight. In fact, some members of the Class of 1966 greeted the change with a figurative shrug of the shoulders.

“I don’t recall any big fuss made about it,” said Joan Quist Overdorf, a retired teacher who lives in Phoenixville. “I mean, we thought it was terrific. But when it took place, we were pretty busy—finals were coming up, and I was thinking about student teaching the next semester.”

The transformation scarcely registered with Fred McCoy, either.

“When you look back, you understand the significance of it, but as a 21-year-old, it was just like, ‘It’s a university now? Oh, okay,’” said McCoy, a Reading resident who served as associate dean in the College of Education at Kutztown University before retiring. “I probably wondered what the difference was between a college and a university. That’s not something most undergrads have a concept of.”

The biggest change recalled by January graduate Ellen Sylves Ruddock involved, oddly enough, apparel.

“The thing that I remember most, all of our T-shirts and sweatshirts became outdated,” said Ruddock, an Indiana resident who is the director of the IUP Center for Family Business. “You just didn’t wear them anymore. Everybody went for IUP things. The logo became an overnight success because it was new and it was with the times.”

About 5,000 guests and graduates packed the Memorial Field House gymnasium in May 1966

About 5,000 guests and graduates packed the Memorial Field House gymnasium in May 1966 for the building’s first commencement ceremony. Photo: Willis Bechtel/Indiana Evening Gazette

There was a period of adjustment, of course. Everyone on campus struggled to break old habits and get accustomed to the new name. Nancy Noker, who operated the campus switchboard, had to catch herself in those first days as a university from answering calls with a cheery “Good morning, Indiana State College.”

But by May 29, when 611 soon-to-be graduates filed into Memorial Field House—then the newest building on campus—for commencement, the transition from ISC to IUP was virtually complete. The Class of 1966 also included 268 August graduates.

All are regarded as members of the first graduating class from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, though the distinction is certainly more meaningful to some than to others.

“I was part of a jointure in high school, and we were the first graduating class from East Allegheny High School, so being part of the first graduating class from IUP wasn’t such a big deal,” said Paula Romansky Doebler, a docent at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and a Sewickley resident. “I feel special for being part of IUP, not necessarily for being part of that first graduating class.”

Jan Calhoun similarly downplays his role as something of a pioneer.

“I just happened to pass through the system at that time—I was just a victim of circumstance,” said Calhoun, a retired teacher and school administrator who lives in Southport, North Carolina. “It didn’t mean much to me personally, but I did think that was a big step for Indiana. It gave the university opportunities to go in many different directions that they didn’t have before. That was such an important time in IUP’s history.”

Indeed, members of the Class of 1966 witnessed unprecedented growth at their school, which began to flex its muscles in a metamorphosis from small, regional institution to major player on the national stage. As a certain singing poet of that era might have phrased it, the times, they were a-changin’.

“The campus grew up around us while we lived there; construction noises were just a part of the environment,” wrote faculty member Don McPherson ’69, M’71, recalling his student days for The Centennial Scrapbook in 1975. “The growth was a big part of our pride in IUP, and the excitement of being named a university…was pervasive and electric. We doubled our buildings, our enrollment, our faculty, and built and built and built.”

Haines, Overdorf, McCoy, Ruddock, Doebler, and Calhoun returned to their alma mater in May when members of the Class of 1966 led the commencement procession into Ed Fry Arena and sat in the front row as President Michael Driscoll acknowledged their place in IUP history. The ceremony no doubt sparked memories of their graduation long ago and the diploma each of them received. The first of two, in some cases.

“I feel very proud being part of that first class,” Overdorf said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at IUP, and I see nothing but good when I look back upon my experience at such a fine institution. Becoming a university just seemed a natural occurrence to us, because during our time there, the school had done nothing but strive upward.”