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Honoring One of Their Own

Jack Crossan

In 1952, Gene Abplanalp, George Glarner, and Bill Dawson met on the football field at Indiana State Teachers College. The freshmen couldn’t have known then that their friendship would not only last a lifetime but that they would become philanthropic trailblazers for their alma mater. 

From 1952 to 1956, Jack Crossan “owned” the Waller Gym basketball court at Indiana State Teachers College. Legend says that Crossan couldn’t miss as his shots artfully rained down on the net. Five decades later, his record for averaging 24.4 points per game for his four-year career still stands—a feat that is hard to believe even since the adoption of the three-point shot.

Abplanalp, Glarner, Dawson, and Bill Eckert, all members of the Class of 1956, cheered Crossan on to victory from the bleachers. As members of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity—fondly known as Sig Eps—the men shared many college experiences with Crossan. Their bond lasted long after their graduation in 1956 as they scattered across Pennsylvania and Maryland to begin their teaching careers. Although the miles between them were many, they communicated often and remained close friends.

Almost twenty years later, the men, along with members of IUP’s football team and other Sig Eps, found themselves remembering their college days as they attended Crossan’s funeral in 1974. They all agreed that Crossan’s athletic career at IUP was exceptional and wanted to do something that would honor his memory and show their pride in their alma mater. With not much more than an idea or two, they reached out to Larry Judge, then IUP’s director of Alumni Affairs.

“Their commitment to IUP set a philanthropic example for decades of alumni to come.”

Bill Eckert, a roommate of Crossan’s, Abplanalp, Glarner, and Dawson, along with George Wise [’62], decided to make it happen. They contacted Judge, discussed their ideas, and started the process needed to create a memorial scholarship.

With the help of Judge and his assistant, Paula McGuire, the group reached out to anyone who might have known Crossan during his four years at ISTC, and a letter was sent to alumni who graduated from 1953 to 1959. With the hope of raising $7,500 for a full scholarship, they asked for donations of $24.40—an amount that mirrored Crossan’s record of 24.4 points per game. The money soon arrived—or at least most of it did. In February 1975, the first Jack Crossan Memorial Scholarship was awarded to basketball player Gary Kotsch ’77—who, incidentally, will be inducted into the IUP Athletic Hall of Fame this year. At that point in 1975, the scholarship fund was short of its $7,500 goal, but the men were determined to raise the full amount to endow the scholarship.

By 1975, Abplanalp, Glarner, and Dawson had left teaching and were all working for Reader’s Digest, one of the best-selling consumer magazines in the United States. With a little research, the men soon discovered that for every dollar they donated to a cause, their employer would add two more dollars—in effect tripling their contributions. Having already opened their hearts for the cause, they now opened their checkbooks. Their donations, along with the matching funds from Reader’s Digest, put the Jack Crossan Memorial Scholarship over the top of its $7,500 goal.

“What makes this scholarship so groundbreaking is that in 1975, there was little fund-raising by IUP compared to as we know it today,” said Judge. “It was very cutting edge for a group of alumni to band together and give back in that way.”

The Jack Crossan Memorial Scholarship continues today—affording decades of IUP basketball players the opportunity to attend IUP and get a solid education. Over the years, the original group of alumni not only continued to give to the scholarship bearing Crossan’s name but gave to many other scholarship funds as well. They’ve lent their names and connections as well as their financial resources to many of IUP’s scholarships, including the Frank Cignetti Scholarship, the Bill Eckert Class Memorial Scholarship, and the Sam Smith Scholarship, to name a few.

All the men agree: attending ISTC was an honor. They all came from working-class families, and most were the first in their families to attend college. Their education gave them the foundation on which to build very successful careers, and they are grateful for life’s opportunities—and for their friendships.

Since leaving ISTC, the men married, had children, retired, and now have grandchildren. And although they don’t live near one another, they remain a tight-knit group.

And, as Judge said, “Their passion for learning, their love for one another, and their commitment to IUP set a philanthropic example for decades of alumni to come.”

In the last academic year, roughly 17 percent of IUP students received aid in the form of scholarships from the Foundation for IUP. Because of higher education’s rising cost, there is a growing need for scholarship endowments that, ultimately, assist and reward increased numbers of eligible students for their academic prowess and athleticism.

Readers who would like to consider establishing an endowed scholarship fund may contact Vice President for University Relations Terry Carter at 724-357-5661.

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