Moments after cutting a ribbon outside the Philadelphia University building that now bears her late husband’s name on Thursday, Joan Specter spoke about the importance of education, helping others and legacy.
She also noted that it is the first such posthumous honor for Arlen Specter, the longtime East Falls resident and former U.S. senator who died of complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012.
“He would be very proud to have a building named after him, and one that carries on his legacy,” she said at an event that drew an estimated 250 people to the Arlen Specter Center for Public Service at its newly renovated home, the historic Roxboro House on School House Lane. “It means a lot to me to see his legacy carried on as well.”
What the center means
Both Joan Specter and Philadelphia University President Stephen Spinelli noted that the center’s mission meshes well with what the late senator stood for throughout a long-lasting political career in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
By hosting seminars and discussions, the center will be “buzzing with the activity of critical thinkers and doers,” Spinelli said.
When the more than more than 3,000 boxes of documents encompassing some very notable American moments are digitized, through a joint project with the University of Pittsburgh, it will be an indispensible research tool for those researching major world events of the past several decades.
But it was Specter the man who was on Spinelli’s mind when he was walking to the center on Thursday afternoon.
“I could see Arlen Specter negotiating with God: ‘Don’t let it rain on my parade today!'” he said of his thought process in that “off-script” moment. “Well, he got his way again. The guy is really remarkable.”
The back story
In Dec. 2010, Specter donated his “his extensive archival collection, encompassing 50 years of public service” to the school.
Fundraising commenced and two months after Specter’s Oct. 2012 death, construction soon started.
In March 2013, the East Falls school and the University of Pittsburgh forged a relationship through which the latter would manage, organize and digitize the Philadelphia University-owned collection over the course of four years.
The $4 million project — funded with $1.97 million from Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) and $1.85 million in donations — transformed an eyesore of a former bed-and-breakfast into something that Spinelli sees as a watershed moment for the university.
The site will also feature a garden of sunflowers at some point in the future. Attendees were invited to prepare a bunch of those flowers for planting at a later date, as they were the state flower of Arlen Specter’s birth state of Kansas.
Also after the 15-minute dedication ceremony, the inaugural Joan Specter Award for Alumni Community Service and Elsie H. Hillman Award for Student Public Service were presented to Douglas S. Schwab (Class of 1976) and Emily M. Reynolds (physicial assistant Class of 2016) respectively.
Hillman, a longtime Specter family friend who helped facilitate the cross-state university’s relationship, flew in from western Pennsylvania for Thursday’s event.