The University Club is a 501c(7) Corporation formed as a social club in 1908 for the sole purpose of promoting sociality among its members. First incorporated in 1910 by faculty members, it resided in a house on Fraser Street at the corner of College Avenue for five years. Outgrowing the confines in 1913, our first president, Professor Irving Foster, negotiated a sale of a land parcel at what is now 331 West College Avenue with The Pennsylvania State College for $1.00. The club borrowed $30,000 to build a four story structure which has housed our social events and provided lodging for Penn State students, staff and faculty for over one hundred years. Historically, the clubhouse hosted presidential balls, meetings, and receptions for the Penn State Board of Trustees in addition to weddings, graduation parties, and social events for club members. Many well-known members of the Penn State/State College community have been members of our club over the years.
This year (2021) we offered Penn State the opportunity to purchase back the land and property. We decided to take this action, in a nearly unanimous vote by our members, due to a confluence of forces besetting our club. The demographic diversity of the evolving student population which communicates largely electronically, the flood of available student housing options in State College, the economic toll of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the aging of our club members have presented us with a need to downsize our requirements for physical space as well our operational model.
Typically, 25-30 members meet on the last Friday of each month for an early evening social. Once a year we host a holiday gala attended by as many as 48. We also randomly feature events such as lectures, book club, and other theme get-togethers such as The Kentucky Derby, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, 4th of July, and Arts Festival.
Our group, consisting primarily of 50- to 80-year-olds, enjoys dining, conversation and light music. We are currently looking for a new home to continue our long history of sociality.
By Cindy Spencer – Town and Gown Magazine - May 1982
Founded in 1908 as a social club for the Penn State faculty, membership in the University Club on West College Avenue remained exclusively male through World War Il. Despite economic challenges and changing customs, the club continued as an important part of Penn State's social picture.
"Julius Kaulfuss (the late professor of high-way engineering) started calling us the Apostles," recalls Merwin Humphrey, retired professor of forestry. "I don't like that name very much — it sounds too exclusive.' The Apostles, a dozen or so retired gentlemen, come to the University Club every Thursday at noon to "share dinner." They must find the U-Club a good place to socialize, for many have been attending functions there since before World War Il. They represent the "essence" of the Club.
According to its official bylaws, the University Club began as a place "to promote social intercourse and friendship among its members." Back in 1908 when it was founded, State College had few places where faculty could socialize — the Corner Room had not yet started in business, and the Nittany Lion Inn had not even been built. So, on December fifth of that year, a group of faculty members met in room 20 of the old Engineering Building to discuss forming a "State College Club." Everyone was enthusiastic about the idea, so they met again on December 15 to adopt a constitution and bylaws. The first officers of the organization were:
President — Irving L. Foster
Vice-President — John Henry Frizzell
Treasurer — J.F. Meyer
Secretary — Samuel K. Hostetter
The State College Club originally met in a house on Frazier (now Fraser) Street, near Beaver Avenue, but membership soon grew too large for the building. On June 2, 1913, The Pennsylvania State College deeded to what was now called the University Club "for and in consideration of the sum of One-dollar lawful money of the United States of America" a new site on the corner of College Avenue and Atherton Street. The University Inn had occupied the site before it burned down in 1903.
The "majestic" U-Club was a four-story brick building with huge white pillars. The inside, according to Frank Vastola, professor of fuel science, "was like an old English men's club. It had red and green leather sofas and dark rugs. The dining room had all high-back chairs. "
Most of the Club's members were on the faculty at Penn State. Bachelor and widower professors often lived in the club, and until the graduate school opened in the 1920s, no students lived there — just a few lab assistants. The University Club is a corporation. Ruling it and responsible for it is a board of directors. The board is composed of both people who live in the Club and people who are social members only. Both "out-of-house" and "in-house" members work together to make decisions on policy and house improvement.
When the Club began, all members were male, though they brought their wives and girlfriends to certain social events. Women were only allowed to go up the stairs to the first landing, where a few women lived in the servants’ quarters. However, according to David C. Duncan, professor emeritus of physics, even the female servants left during the 1920s.
Professor Duncan does remember one time when the Club housed only women. During World War I, the U-Club was turned over to the coeds so military cadets could live in their dormitories for a training program. This lasted only for about a year, but during that time, regular roomers had to move into lodgings in town.
For many years, the University Club was literally the social center of the State College community — especially in the '20s and '30s. Dr. Duncan recalls, "When lecturers came to town, they were taken to the U-Club for discussions after their lectures. I remember when I was acting president of the U-Club and William Howard Taft came to town. I took him from Schwab Auditorium to the U-Club. He was a very entertaining guest. I don't remember where he stayed that night — probably at the State College Hotel. I don't think he stayed at the Club. " At that time, the top floor of the house had empty rooms reserved for guests and visiting members.
William S. Dye, Jr., Dr. Duncan's successor as vice-president of the Club, also mentioned Taft's visit in a diary entry dated November 22, 1919: "To Acacia House to meet with W.H. Taft ex-pres. of U.S. who was there to dinner. Had quite a chat with him. He is a sociable, democratic sort of fellow with a profound sense of humor. Then went to Auditorium to hear him talk on the League of Nations. He gave a very clear exposition of the whole thing. He was at the Club for a while and took a few raps at the modern educational schemes and their lack of attention to fundamentals."
The University Club was used for all sorts of social events. Dr. Duncan tells about "Stag Night." "Saturday nights, if there was nothing else going on, we used to have bull sessions. You could always count on [Oswald] Boucke to be there to entertain with his conversation. He was quite a character."
Every month, faculty members and their ladies came to the Club for an evening of dancing. Some of the dances were informal, but about twice a year, formal dinner dances were held. Blanche and Henry Yeagley, who had been members of the Club since the 1920s, attended many of the dinner dances before they moved to Carlisle. Mrs. Yeagley writes, " 'The dinner dance' [was] so lovely because we were all so festive — the gals in long and lovely gowns and the guys in 'tuxes' or dress suits. Candles and flowers and a tempting dinner came first, then the floor cleared, and the orchestra went into swing and we danced until midnight — dance programs and interesting partners all evening long." The formal dances were one way for new faculty members to meet people and for other faculty members to "rub elbows" with the deans.
The year 1925, according to Charles Rowland in his "First Twenty Years of the Club's History," which is housed in the Penn State Room in Pattee Library, brought about a change of the in-house formality rules. "The Board of Directors ruled that during June, July, and August, it would be permissible to appear in the dining room without coats, provided you wear a tie and keep your sleeves rolled down."
He also wrote of an interesting committee report regarding the food in 1926. There had been "complaints by members who refused to eat fish cakes, stuffed peppers, hash, hamburgers, spinach and cabbage. Cup custard was characterized as only 'fit for babies. ' " Robert Galbraith, professor emeritus of English, who ate in the U-Club in 1927 and 1928 immediately confirmed the report. "I hate to tell you this," he said, "but the food wasn't the best."
Despite complaints and the economic problems of the Great Depression, the U-Club kept going through the '30s. So long as Penn State stayed open, the Club did, too. A January 1937 newsletter lists plenty of activities:
"The card parties are continuing to gain in popularity. Under the genial 'host and hostess of Prof. and Mrs. Frank Schwartz, the December party was full of fun. The high prize awards were captured by Mrs. Paul J. Reber and Prof. C. O. Williams. While many of us never looked an ace 'in the face' all evening and had worse luck with distribution, we were unable to nose out Mr. W. H. Lornan for the consultation [sic] prize
"Prof. and Mrs. David Duncan were host and hostess at the December Dinner Dance. This was a delightful informal affair, with Bill Bottorf and his band furnishing the music."
Under the heading "January Jottings" come three more events: another card party with Prof. and Mrs. Frank C. Stewart as host and hostess; another dinner dance (formal), again with the Stewarts in charge; and the annual meeting, where officers and directors were to be voted on. The list of nominations included:
President: Arthur C. Cloetingh
Vice-President: Clarence S. Anderson
Secretary: Paul J. Reber
Treasurer: Charles J. Rowland
Harry N. Benkert,
Harold A. Everett
John L. Holmes
William R. Young
Though the Club survived, some members were hurt by the Depression. In the attic of the U-Club is a folder containing notes from people who had to drop their membership. "Please communicate to the Board of Directors my formal resignation from membership in the Club. The Club meant a great deal to me during my ten years in State College, and I shall always remember my days there with great satisfaction. It is our hope that in the not-too-distant future we may again become members, but for the present our financial conditions will not allow it. "
Theodore Roethke, English professor, tennis coach, and a young poet who would later win a Pulitzer Prize, lived at the Club toward the end of the Depression. Bob Galbraith remembers, "Ted Roethke was a hypochondriac. He used to eat a huge breakfast and then rush to his room. He had a lot of pills on his dresser and he would take these medications."
In his book The Class House, Allan Seager describes Roethke's life at the Club: "Ted took a room on the fourth, the top floor of the University Club on West College Avenue. It is a big building of pink brick with four huge white pillars in front. It is also next to the college power plant whose humming used to enrage Ted when he was trying to write. He immediately and effortlessly turned his quarters into a mess, so much so that any guest had to stand patiently until Ted cleared a chair for him to sit on, so much so that Ted refused to let the maid into it for the weekly cleaning — she would leave the clean sheets outside the door. It was in this room that Ted lost a pair of trousers and accused everyone in sight of theft. A couple of years later when he was deep in the Augean labor of moving out, he found the trousers buried on a desk . . .. He liked the U-Club moderately — they had a ping-pong table where he could play when the weather was wrong for tennis. "
Seager's mention of the maid, brings up one big advantage roomers at the Club enjoyed, both then and now. Once a week, a maid changes the bed sheets, dusts, and vacuums the rooms. Until recently, the maid also made beds every day.
Bob Galbraith also remembers a friend of Ted Roethke's, another man from the English department who lived at the Club. "There was a guy by the name of Stephen Bladanza. He had worked at Columbia and had commuted from New Jersey. This demanding work made him skin and bones. He went to New York one time and brought back some barbells and would show them to everybody and tell them how he was going to work out and build some muscles. If he did work out, it didn't help him a great deal
"Baldanza worked with Intelligence in World War Il and went to Ethiopia. He brought back a student — a dentist — who learned to make false teeth — they didn't have them in Ethiopia. It's in the Saturday Evening Post. " Indeed, it was; in the June 18, 1960, issue, an article called "The Secret of Dr. Harry" told the story. "Dr. Harry" was the Ethiopian student.
The social picture changed at the University Club during World War II. Merwin Humphrey recalls, "I was president of the Club during the War. Those were terrible times. All our activities were curtailed because of gas rationing and money shortages. "
As they had in the Depression, people dropped their memberships, though for assorted reasons. George A. Rohrlich wrote: "Since I have resigned from the college to accept a position in the War Department in Washington, D.C., I shall no longer be able to attend the University Club functions . . .. We have enjoyed being members of the University Club and trust that when the war is over we shall again see all our friends in State College."
In 1943, The Pennsylvania State College needed to find housing for Army enrollees who would be coming to State College for training, beginning August 8. Samuel K. Hostetter, assistant to the president in charge of business and finance, called Mr. Humphrey and advised him that the College needed the Club's facilities.
A memo dated July 26, 1943, shows the Club's consideration of and decision about the college's pre-emptory proposal. First, they commented that Mr. Hostetter had not given the board of directors, who had to approve such decisions, enough time to discuss the matter. Second, according to Pennsylvania corporate law, the Club, as a non-profit membership corporation, would have required a vote by members to sell or lease assets. Again, there was not enough time. Club members sent a letter of protest, asking that the College not use the Club for the military program. Mr. Hostetter had to find other housing.
The U-Club did help by housing some military people. Julius DeCarolis, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, says that some enlisted personnel roomed there. "The Club was in financial straits then, and it was harder to get roomers, so this was of mutual benefit. "
A. Witt Hutchison, chairman of the membership committee, sent a letter to the officers of the Army and Navy asking if they'd like to join the Club (as social out-of-house members) while in State College. The board of directors, having anticipated that the officers' stays would be short, authorized a special membership rate of $1.50 a month.
Though money was tight and social activities decreased, not all activities stopped because of the War. Some excerpts from a letter that Julius Kaulfuss wrote help give a picture of a formal dinner dance in 1942."Let me introduce myself. I am Poison Pencil Pete. When I have me a compliment to pay, a gripe to make, a suggestion to offer, I grab a pencil and paper (any old kind — to heck with Emily Post) and write it down ... "I thought the music Friday was the best I ever heard (in 18 years at club dances); I like a bit of string music in the orchestra.
Of course, I'm old fashioned (and probably secretly proud of it). All my partners and others ... that I heard speak of the music thought it was fine, too.
"We were two couples at one table. The service our table got was not good. The lad didn't seem to know how to serve. Right or left made no difference to him. In every course, one of the ladies was last to be served. In some courses, he served us two men first. He 'almost forgot' one person's tea; he didn't remove butter, rolls, etc. before dessert, he was pleasant enough.
"When next dance programs are printed, show that Dances No. 3, 6, 9, 12 are 'waltzes.' And make them waltzes, including encores. This will aid the orchestra and the 'old folks.' Also consider, I'd suggest calling for 15 dances instead of just 12 in 3 hours."
Julius DeCarolis remembers the aftereffects of the War on the Club. "Right after World War Il, when it was strictly a man's club, the state made it attractive for people to get their masters' degrees. A swamp of teachers came to Penn State in the summer. Of course, they couldn't live in the Club, but the men brought the girls in to socialize. They had parties every weekend. People living in the Club then were more mature — about seventy to eighty percent of them were veterans. Not that they were older, but they had seen a lot of life."
"Poison Pencil" organized the Apostles' lunch- eons about this time. "He took great pains to get people to come," says Merwin Humphrey. "He used to make up a riddle every week to see if anyone could solve it for lunch. He sent those riddles out on postcards, which also reminded people to come. Of course, that was in the days of the two-cent stamp!"
"Some of the men who used to come were Elwin Cassel, Dean George Haller, Chauncey Lang, Dean Charles Stoddart, and Colonel Guy Mills. Colonel Mills used to tell jokes of all colors. He had jokes for the living room and jokes for the men's club. When the Apostles brought their wives, the jokes were purified."
Professor Humphrey recalls that the Apostles were rather particular. "The Club used to have waiter service instead of a cafeteria line like now. We didn't even sit with Club members in the regular dining room; we had a private room next to the living room, where they store tables now. I like this [eating with the members] better — it's more sociable.
"Most of Apostles have passed away or moved to Florida or Arizona," he says.
The traditions of the University Club began changing in the late '40s. In the late 1940s, Grace Henderson became the first woman to be admitted to the University Club. Dean of home economics, she had been active in the Club for years, and it was rather embarrassing for the board of directors to have to debate over admitting her. She was admitted as a social member only — women still did not live in the house.
Frank Vastola, now a member of the board of directors, lived in the Club in the late 1950s. "It was a terrific place to live," he says. "We used to have lengthy discussions over meals, and we had discussions at the little bar downstairs until the wee hours of the morning. It was intellectually stimulating; people lived there who were from different departments and different countries. "It was sort of like home. We used to sit in one seat in the dining room — out of habit, as a family does. There was a group of us who enjoyed sports cars; we went on activities together. Some were interested in boating, some basketball. Everyone had a group of friends, yet everyone knew each other.
"I remember one time that some people wanted to have a huge hot-gas balloon, you know, one of those big multi-colored kinds. One evening a guy wanted to try out the harness. He hung from the third floor (that was when the stairwell was open), down to the ground floor, in front of the ladies' room. It so happened that the night he did this was the night of the big dinner dance. It caused quite a stir. Well, they never got the balloon up in the air, but they pushed it across campus. Quite a crowd gathered.
"A guy who lived there named David Kurtz was an avid white-water canoeist. He left his canoe in the basement, and I guess some people didn't like that. He was disconcerted to find his canoe in his room one day. If you've ever seen one of those canoes, you know it was no easy task."
Arnold Addison, former mayor of State College, was president of the U-Club in the mid-1950s: "The University Club provided the greatest assistance for introducing new couples into the community. It was a good place for people who were in different departments to meet each other, and for 'towns' to meet 'gowns'. Once a month, there used to be receptions for new faculty members. They could be contacted from the lists at Old Main. People dressed rather informally, in suits; the women didn't wear long dresses or anything. The teas were usually held on Sunday afternoons. The president of the U-Club and his wife would be there to welcome the people, and usually couples like the Yeagleys would act as host and hostess, showing people around and bringing new couples around introducing them. Mrs. Yeagley would have some method for understanding who the new Ph.Ds.’ were, and I remember that when she'd introduce them, she would say something like, 'Should I introduce you as "Doctor" or have you gotten over that yet?' "
In the 1960s, State College began to grow rapidly. The new Elks Country Club and other restaurants began to take away the need for a place like the University Club. As activities at the Club became less popular and membership decreased, the board decided to hold a series of special programs to revive interest in the Club.young people were mortally offended by the square-dance routine.) (I say young meaning graduate students — not absolute age, thank you.)
Robert Hemman, who was president of the Club in 1960 and was a former member of the board, explains, "We did some major rehabilitation of the place. We covered the fireplace with wood, changed the dining room lights, and lowered the ceilings in the living room. The living room had a door from the side porch; this door was sealed off and replaced with the door in the back." (Frank Vastola offered the "inside scoop" about the remodeling of the door. "Everyone says it was for convenience, but the real reason was because the ladies were playing bridge in the living room one day, and three hunters walked in with dead animals. Ducks, I think. ")
Bea Dabbs oversaw a fashion show and luncheon for the ladies. The board reasoned that if the women liked the functions at the Club, they would ask their husbands to join."We also began after-football-game buffets," Bob Hemman remarks. "They were very popular, we filled the entire dining room plus the little dining room that the Apostles used to sit in. Since restaurants were so crowded after games, the Club's shorter waiting period was appealing to people. "
On November 4, 1961, the Club sponsored a night of opera at the State College High School and a reception at the Club afterwards. The performers were Gimi Beni (bass baritone), Olivia Bonelli (lyric soprano), and Mano Zucca (piano).
However, the biggest event by far, at that time was the Club's Fiftieth Anniversary celebration. "For the first time," says Mr. Hemman, "We permitted champagne upstairs. The upstairs was dry before that, and some of the people at the dinner didn't even approve of the champagne." The entree for the dinner was a choice of filet mignon or lobster tail. That night, according to the Centre Daily Times (October 16, 1960), the Club honored three State College residents for their community service: Judge R. Paul Campbell was "selected especially for his excellent work with juveniles ... [Charles] Schlow primarily for the founding of the Bella Schlow Memorial Library . . . and [Eric A.] Walker for his work in improving the educational opportunities for the people of Pennsylvania."
J. Ben Hill gave his last public speech at the anniversary dinner. He spoke on the topic "Yesteryears," while Robert Hemman spoke on "The Present and Future. “
The "Future," reflected in the Vietnam War protests, brought changes that Mr. Hemman could not have possibly spoken on, because no one anticipated them. David Siegel, now a professor at Syracuse University, wrote about life at the U-Club when he was there:
"I lived at the 'Club' during 1971 and most of 1972. At that time, the Club was strictly a men's club. Half of the members were older faculty and retired faculty who had lived at the club for years. I mean it. These people really called the place their home. I'm talking about living there for decades. Now, these older members were staid in their ways. Their dues couldn't pay for all the social amenities they desired, so the place was opened for graduate-student transients. We all paid the same dues, but the older members had the administration of the Club locked up. All the money went for affairs for the older members, i.e., they picked out the types of social activities and the younger members were 'allowed' to also participate: such things as square dances and dress-up balls which were held in the dining room. Now just think about it for a minute. In 1972 was the Cambodian invasion. Freaks were all over the campus which was even shut down awhile because of bomb threats (at least my building — Deike Hall). And these people wanted SQUARE DANCES?!! said, is a prominent pianist. Bob Sallitt was director of parks and recreation for a large part of the state of Maryland. Another guy is an (). And these editor for a Philly paper. Yet another obtained people wanted SQUARE DANCES?! l! It just didn't fit the mores of the time, so to speak. So... the younger members started to get political Led by Bob Sallitt, a remarkable friend of mine and first-class wit, the younger group gained power slowly by influencing some of the older members toward loosening up the social dollars a bit. (Now mind you, all this in retrospect seems not that important, but at the time we young people were mortally offended by the square-dance routine.) (I say young meaning graduate students — not absolute age, thank you.)
“. . . With the power in our hands . . . we morning, I crawled across the ledge on the had the means to split up the social funds more equitably. There were still square dances, but also there were Halloween parties with live jazz (me, in fact), rock parties and other livelier social affairs . . . ping-pong tourneys were started in the dining room during off hours. Eventually, women were even allowed to have rooms in the Club, and most of the older people got out in a hurry.
. . . In retrospect, all this seems a bit juvenile, like when Frank Richmond, now a concert pianist, stuck a firecracker under the door of one poor guy . . . and when I rolled a bowling ball down the second-floor hall, out the door, almost onto a parked car . . . another member prided himself on being double-jointed in the shoulder. He'd walk around on his hands and knees at parties to simulate feline movement.
"I stayed there for two reasons: it was close to Deike and it was cheap . . . We did have amenities in the Club which gave it an 'exclusive' air. Dinners were served by waiters. There was maid service. The decor was 'clubby' — nice library, wood everywhere. Somewhat frat-like.
"Finally, many foreign students lived in the Club. Transient profs and oriental cliques. These made the Club international in flavor and added much to the pleasure of living there. Ironically, of my own group (so to speak), all have ‘made it’ despite previous immaturity and lack of social finesse. Frank Richmond, as I said, is a prominent pianist. Bon Sallitt was director of parks and recreation for a large part of the state of Maryland. Another guy is an editor for the Philly paper. Yet another obtained fame in the filed of ceramics…. But on the other hand, as crazy as the U-club may have been, all the eccentricities made it one fine and funny place to live for a while.”
The atmosphere of the living in the University Club has not changed since David Siegel moved; graduate students still play with firecrackers. “two terms ago, says house manager Pat Dillman, “two of the guys that lived here got some firecrackers from the south. People used to get tired of explosions in rooms all over the house. Finally, someone put out a ‘contract’ on one of them (hiring me). At 7 o’clock one morning, I crawled across on the ledge on the fourth floor and aimed my 110-decibel air-horn at his window. He was a big guy, so I got out of there in a hurry.”
Residents do have a day or two of adjustment to co-ed living. "When I first moved here," says Teresa Krol, an MBA candidate, "I asked the maid, Mrs. Erb, which bathroom I should use. When she said the men and women shared, I almost died! I'll never forget how shocked I was."The atmosphere is still international, just as Frank Vastola and David Siegel described it. The people who live there consider themselves a mini-United Nations. "It's so different living here after living in a sorority," Bobbie Van Pelt, a graduate student in education, maintains. "I was so used to living with all girls from the same background who had the same interests. "
Although out-of-house members still have social events that in-house people do not attend (TGIF, dinner-dances, and bridge — but no square dances anymore), they cooperate more than when Dave Seigel was a member. Joint planning, such as the decision about buying a new dishwasher recently, is commonplace now.
But the best type of joint effort happens in the summer when everyone gets together on Friday afternoons for cookouts. After all, that's why the University Club was founded: for sociability.