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In Good Company

Looking back to her undergraduate years at Indiana State College, Susan Snell Delaney said she never would have imagined that a building on the campus she called home in the early sixties would, one day, be named for her.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” she said.

Susan Delaney at home in Indiana

Susan Delaney at home in Indiana

But in March 2008, the Suites on Grant–Lower, one of two suite-style residence halls built in the first phase of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Residential Revival, was, in fact, renamed for her. The honor was based on Delaney’s service to IUP over four decades, including twenty-one years on the Council of Trustees—five of those as chairperson.

“I was so taken aback,” Delaney said. “It made me think of all the other people who have been honored.”

Among them was the friend who extended Delaney her invitation to join the trustees, the late State Senator Pat Stapleton, for whom the library was named in 1982.

“When I would walk past the library, I would often think what a thrill that must have been for him,” she said. “Now, I get to share that.”

Delaney may never have foreseen such an honor, but she also never expected that, more than forty years after her graduation, IUP would still be a central part of her life.

“When I left this place, I can remember riding home in the car with my father, going through all the songs in my mind that I didn’t want to forget—all the sorority songs and the fight songs—because I truly never would have imagined I would be back here,” she said. “I didn’t know where my life was headed.”

Originally from Coraopolis, Delaney followed her older sister, Barbara, to Indiana State College, and both majored in Home Economics Education. The youngest, Nancy, took up English and German at Dickinson College in Carlisle, but all of the Snell sisters studied hard.

“In my home, that’s what we did,” said Delaney, a magna cum laude graduate. Her father was a junior high principal, and her mother—despite not attending college because her family believed it was inappropriate for women—was “probably the brightest person I’ve ever known,” Delaney said.

Part of an oversized freshman class in 1960 that squeezed many incoming students into off-campus housing, Delaney lived her first year in Washington House, a large, wood-frame house at Washington and Eleventh streets. “It’s the only building I lived in that’s still standing,” she said.

Delaney Hall and other new IUP construction

Delaney Hall is the new building on the right, in front of Sutton Hall. The Suites on Pratt are under construction in the foreground on the site formerly occupied by Campus Towers.

Her sophomore and junior years, she lived in a part of Sutton Hall known as the “tower,” a turret-like structure demolished in the seventies for construction of the library. Her senior year was spent in Mack Hall, brand new at the time but razed in 2007 to make way for the Residential Revival.

“You know you’re getting old when the state-of-the-art building you stayed in as a senior becomes so hopelessly outmoded,” she said.

Delaney also kept busy with campus activities. She was involved in a group for Home Economics Education majors, held offices in her sorority, Delta Zeta, and served as president of the Women’s Governing Board and vice president of Student Government.

After graduation in 1964, Delaney began teaching home economics at Montour High School in McKees Rocks. Though shy—something she still struggles with today, she said—and only four years older than some of her students, Delaney found a level of comfort in front of the group.

“I attribute a lot of that to the university,” she said. “I was prepared to be a teacher. I had student taught, and I had been taught well.”

Delaney married in 1965. At the time, her husband, Jack, was selling cars at a Chevrolet dealership in Pittsburgh’s North Hills. They had met during Susan’s senior year of college, when Jack was working at the downtown Indiana car dealership the family now owns.

"Washington House"

The building Susan Snell knew as Washington House was built in the 1800s near the corner of Washington and Eleventh streets. Late in that century, it became the Girls’ Industrial Home and was overseen by the Children’s Aid Society of Western Pennsylvania. The goal of the home’s director, Sue Williard, was to train girls in housekeeping, give them a good education, and eventually place them in good homes. In the 1960s, when a deluge of Baby Boom matriculants overwhelmed ISC residence halls, college women were assigned to this and other nearby houses. Privately owned, this one is still home to students.)

In 1967, Susan Delaney took a job at North Allegheny Senior High School in Wexford, where she taught until she had her first child, Jack, in 1970 and decided to stay at home. Around the same time, the Delaneys learned that the Indiana car dealership was for sale; they moved back to Indiana as the new owners in May 1971.

Having two more children, Tom and Beth, over the next six years, Delaney continued to stay at home, which allowed her to get involved in the community. “I felt like I was contributing, but I was still involved with my family,” she said.

It was also a social outlet. She had friends from her days on campus—some, like former Dean of Women Nancy Newkerk, were living in Indiana—but, otherwise, she knew few people around town. “I felt a void because I had a network of friends in Pittsburgh, not here,” she said.

In the early seventies, she began volunteering for the local Meals on Wheels, taking on roles from scheduling drivers to delivering meals (she would take her children along in the car) to cooking. She has served as board president of the local organization since 1974.

Her memberships would go on to include boards of Indiana Hospital, now Indiana Regional Medical Center; Clairvaux Commons, an apartment complex for senior citizens; and the Visiting Nurse Association of Indiana County, of which she is president.

Delaney was reacquainted with IUP in the mid-seventies. Upon her return to Indiana, IUP was considering tearing down Sutton Hall in order to expand the library. Delaney was asked to serve on a committee attempting to save Sutton, which had been—and remains—the campus’s landmark building.

Later that decade, she served on an advisory board for a joint program between IUP and the School of Respiratory Care at Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“When I came back to town, it was just natural that I would want to be a part of IUP,” she said. “I’ve always loved this place.”

Since joining the Council of Trustees in 1987, Delaney has had numerous appointments, including to the Research Institute Board of Directors, three presidential search committees, and the Pennsylvania Association of Councils of Trustees, of which she is a past president. Her current term on the IUP Council of Trustees expires in 2011, and she may seek another afterward.

Her service has been recognized at IUP and within the greater Indiana community with awards such as the IUP President’s Medal of Distinction, the IUP Distinguished Alumni Award for Service, and Civic Leader of the Year. It also caught the attention of her fifth-grade teacher, Emily Williams, who now lives in Dover, Ohio. A 1943 graduate of Indiana State Teachers College, Williams has been in touch with Delaney during recent visits to campus.

In the eighties, the Delaney dealership was the first to donate a vehicle for university use, which it continues to do today. The family also has endowed a scholarship, the first of which was awarded this year. Delaney said her husband was instrumental in setting up the standards, including that the award be based on need rather than academic achievement. The scholarship is for students from Indiana and Westmoreland counties, where the family’s two businesses are located.

Delaney attributes her service to IUP and the greater community—which she balances with working part time at the dealership—to her need to give back. “I feel so fortunate to have accomplished what I have and to have the things that I have,” she said.

As an undergraduate, Delaney was awarded the Corinne Menk Wahr Scholarship, which paid at least a year of her tuition, she said. Coincidentally, to make way for the Suites on Grant—Lower, now known as Delaney Hall, Wahr Hall was demolished. Delaney appreciated that a plaque recognizing Wahr was placed where her building once stood.

“It was kind of a continuum,” she said. “That money meant a great deal to my education.”

For Delaney, watching the buildings she had known for more than forty years be toppled has brought mixed emotions.

“I guess I’ve learned over the years to embrace change,” she said. “I felt the progress that we were accomplishing was worth the loss.”

Having visited other State System schools, Delaney knew students were beginning to demand a different style of housing, and staying behind the curve would hinder IUP’s recruitment efforts. The expense of bringing older buildings up to today’s standards also steered the decision, she said.

“I would like to think that the people for whom those buildings were named would understand—as I will,” said Delaney, recognizing that, by the time her grandchildren are her age, components of the Residential Revival may be cleared for a new crop of residence halls.

Regardless, her family’s pride over the naming of Susan Snell Delaney Hall will remain, she said. “You can’t take that honor away.”