Special-use learning area named in honor of Ralph F. Roberts

INDIANA — Indiana University of Pennsylvania honored late Punxsutawney businessman and former IUP trustee Ralph F. Roberts with the establishment of a special-use learning area named for him at IUP’s Punxsutawney campus.

May 10, the IUP Council of Trustees approved the establishment of the Ralph F. Roberts Heritage Learning Commons.

“The Roberts family, and especially Ralph Roberts, have been longtime supporters of IUP,” David Osikowicz, IUP Council of Trustees chairman, said.

Roberts was a founding member and past president of the Punxsutawney Area College Trust, which established IUP’s Punxsutawney campus and the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts in Punxsutawney.

According to Osikowicz, Roberts was the last of the founding members to serve on the trust. He died in 2009 at age 91.

“This recognition is very well-deserved,” he said. “Ralph Roberts truly exemplified the spirit of giving, both of his time and his resources.”
In its resolution, the trustees recognized Roberts for his “significant, generous and long-term support of IUP and the Punxsutawney community.”

“The university continues to appreciate Mr. Roberts’ incredible legacy and the ongoing support offered by the family to IUP and to the community of Punxsutawney,” William Speidel, IUP vice-president for university advancement, said.

The Ralph F. Roberts Heritage Learning Commons will be in the space that adjoins the campus’ living and learning centers. Currently, it is used for artist-in-residency woodturning activities, occasional visual-learning displays and informal student meetings and lounging, according to Terry Appolonia, dean of IUP-Punxsutawney.

The learning commons will feature mounted images selected by the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society that depict the railroad, mining, agricultural, lumber and manufacturing industries and “celebrate the persistence, self-sufficiency and strong work ethic of the region’s workforce,” Appolonia said.

“In those respects, the images also will serve to model a similar template of success for our students,” he said.

The campus will seek to refurnish and formally expand the experiential-learning opportunities and group-study activities hosted in the learning commons, Appolonia said.

Roberts served on the IUP Council of Trustees from 1983 to 1989. Named Punxsutawney’s Man of the Year in 1988, he was a past president of the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Festival Committee.

Roberts was also the president of Frank Roberts & Sons Inc., which has served the Punxsutawney area for more than 85 years. The family-owned company was established by Ralph Roberts’ father, Frank Roberts, in 1927. The business began as a one-man supplier of explosives to small coal mines in the area, which furnished coal to heat homes.

Ralph Roberts, Frank’s eldest son, entered the business in 1934. It is now a wholesale supply firm that provides building and construction materials to retail lumber dealers, hardware stores, farm supply dealers and heavy construction firms in western and central Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, West Virginia and parts of New York and Maryland. Still headquartered in Punxsutawney, it employs about 40 people.

IUP’s Punxsutawney campus serves more than 230 first-year students. The campus, which will mark its 50th anniversary in August, includes dining facilities, a book store and a fitness facility, in addition to its living and learning centers.

Another 100 students attend the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts in Punxsutawney and share some campus facilities.