When Richard Robinson acquired his aunt's million-dollar Lehman, Pennsylvania, home and fifty-acre farm after her death in 1963, he had a difficult decision to make. A Connecticut resident, he wasn't close enough to take care of the property or farm animals. But he and his cousins—who lived in the Wilkes-Barre area-decided to celebrate their relatives' philanthropic spirit: They would give the real estate to establish a permanent home for Penn State in the Wilkes-Barre region.
"The thing that is unique about Penn State in the local picture is that it offers the associate degree in various fields of engineering technology. This is not duplicated anywhere else, and the demand for it is very great," said one of the cousins, John N. Conyngham III, in 1965, when the property was given to Penn State. "Certainly our hope is that over the years this magnificent home and the acres around it can be expanded to many times its present size."
In the mid-1960s, enrollment at the Penn State Wilkes-Barre campus was steadily increasing and on the verge of outgrowing its facilities. The campus' engineering program was accredited in 1949, following decades of providing educational programs that focused on the employment opportunities in that region. In 1957, a two-year program in survey technology was approved, the precursor to today's baccalaureate degree in surveying, the only one offered in the state.
Because the Wilkes-Barre community showed continued interest in receiving a Penn State degree, then-Penn State President Eric Walker welcomed the opportunity to invest in the region.
"The real objective is to develop more places where we can educate students and expect them to hold jobs in the state of Pennsylvania," said President Walker in 1965. "We want to develop the associate degree programs which we think are so important to the economic growth of the Wilkes-Barre area. We have a number of these programs, and if we get the faculty and the facilities—I know we're going to be able to do it—it's going to be a really successful commonwealth campus."
The Hayfield House, as the estate was called, was built in 1933. The owners, John N. Conyngham II and his wife, Bertha, had amassed a fortune in the coal and banking industries and made Hayfield their summer home. John died shortly after the house was completed, but Bertha still spent her summers in the Pennsylvania countryside, enjoying the Clydesdale horses, Chester White pigs, sheep, and other animals her husband adored during his lifetime.
Now classrooms and administrative offices, the house still features the floating staircase, seventeenth-century fireplace from Vienna, 14-karat gold bathroom fixtures, and fourteenth-century stained glass windows from a Paris cathedral.
Those who knew Bertha affectionately called her Mrs. Conyngham and said she was a generous employer. When Bertha's longtime night nurse, Rita Robins, needed time off to care for an ailing child, Bertha made sure Rita and her family "had all that we needed."
"On a personal level, she was lovely," Rita says. "You built up not only professional relationship with her but a friendly, affectionate relationship. After nine-and-one-half years, you're part of the family."
Bertha would be happy to know her generous legacy continues today. Gifts of real estate-of any size—can have a great impact on the future of Penn State by providing facilities space or funding for new programs. With a permanent location at the Hayfield House, the Wilkes-Barre campus has grown into a vital educational resource, just as President Walker envisioned. Today, it offers seven baccalaureate degrees (in addition to two for working adults), four associate degrees, and other certificate programs. Students can also begin the first two years of any of Penn State's 160-plus majors. Additional buildings have been added to the campus to support student life, academic needs, athletics, and science and technology programs. Penn State Wilkes-Barre also offers outreach programs to community residents, including an annual arts show.
"The Wilkes-Barre campus is magnificent. The exterior part of the house is just as it was when it was built," says Rita, a Kingston, Pennsylvania, resident. "Penn State Wilkes-Barre does a lot for the Wyoming Valley area which is important, and students from around the region are able to get to campus easily.
"Penn State has given us this beautiful campus that I don't think can be compared with any other campus [in the area]."
To learn how you can make a lasting gift to support the future of any of the Penn State campuses, please contact Michael J. Degenhart, Assistant Vice President, or any of the expert gift planning officers in the Office of Gift Planning at Penn State at 888-800-9170 (toll free) or firstname.lastname@example.org.