Sep. 23—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown alumni, faculty and staff gathered in the Living and Learning Center on Thursday to celebrate the school's 95th year of post-secondary education and kick off homecoming weekend on campus.
"This is so special," Executive Director of Development Tammy Barbin said, adding that the event was made more noteworthy with the attendance of alumni from the former Cypress Avenue campus — Pitt-Johnstown's second location.
University President Jem Spectar opened the luncheon with remarks about how far UPJ has come from its humble beginnings on one floor of the Greater Johnstown High School in 1927 to a more-than-600-acre campus in Richland Township.
In the beginning, the school was a two-year college and one of the first regional campuses of a major university in the country.
Soon, the students outgrew the facility, and in 1946, the institution was moved to the former Cypress Avenue grade school, otherwise known as the "Asphalt Campus," where it remained for roughly 20 more years before the Richland school was completed in the late 1960s.
Spectar said the first move was in response to increased enrollment as soldiers leveraging the GI. bill after World War II earned credits there before transferring to the main campus.
Alumni from that building were honored at Thursday's event.
Spectar told the crowd that those students laid the foundation for what Pitt-Johnstown is today, noting some of their many accomplishments, from working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. government to holding elected offices and serving with the state Public Utilities Commission.
"We are overjoyed to celebrate the thousands of men and women who have achieved personal and professional success," Spectar said.
The keynote speaker for the event, Jack Daniel, was also an alumnus of the campus.
Spectar described him as "one of the most distinguished graduates of Pitt-Johnstown" and someone who's had a tremendous impact on education, especially at Pitt.
Daniel enrolled at the regional campus in 1960, thanks to a donor's generosity, and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology by 1963.
From there, he went on to get a master's degree and doctorate from Pitt by 1968 and became an American Council on Education fellow at Stanford University in 1973.
Daniel's distinguished career includes teaching communications at the University of Pittsburgh, serving as chair of the Department of Black Studies, dean of students, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and holding several provost positions.
He's also held leadership roles in the National Communication Association and as a member of the Governing Board of the College Board.
The Prospect neighborhood native said that prior to enrolling at the college, he was on a path of self-destruction.
He credited the school for not only his personal success but that of his family as well.
Throughout his speech, Daniel provided personal anecdotes about his time at Cypress Avenue, noted that many equity and social justice issues he faced 60 years ago still exist today, and how although that school he attended is gone he still feels like he can return home.
As for celebrating UPJ's 95th year, he said he's glad he "lived long enough to see it and participate in it."
Another alumnus, Don Zucco, former mayor of Johnstown and superintendent of Greater Johnstown schools, said as a city resident it made sense for him to attend UPJ before moving to the main campus.
He enrolled in 1959 and remained there until 1961.
"They provided an outstanding education," Zucco said. "It was second to none."
During the luncheon, Lane Miller received the distinguished alumni award, which is presented to alumni with significant accomplishments in their careers and a commitment to Pitt-Johnstown; John Wozniak was given the alumni legacy award, for his lifelong commitment to the school; and Howard "Skip" and Adelle Picking got the community champion award because of their dedication of considerable time and energy toward Pitt-Johnstown and the community's success.
Homecoming events continue through the weekend with a golf outing on Friday, barbecue and meet-and-greet, 5K race on Saturday followed by several sporting events and campus tours.