PUNXSUTAWNEY — Terry Appolonia, dean of the IUP-Punxsutawney campus, was the presenter at Saturday's annual banquet held by the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society at the Lattimer House in Punxsutawney, and Appolonia spoke quite highly of the community's involvement in the education outside the classroom that the first-year students who attend college here in town receive.
Prior to Appolonia's presentation, the society opened its doors early for guests of the banquet to tour the existing Civil War exhibit and to earn a sneak preview of the upcoming seating exhibit.
At 6 p.m, the program started, and after dinner was served, the annual Awards of Commendations were handed out by Elmer Reed, the board of trustees chairman.
The certificates are awarded annually to "residents or organizations who have actively and voluntarily supported the goals of restoring and pre-serving Punxsutawney area history in their private efforts," the society's program said.
The first award was presented to Brandon and Tonia Krug, the new owners of a residence on Morrison Avenue, which was built in 1901. After a number of ownership changes and even periods of vacancy, the society recognized the couple for "cheriishing the home's past" by "blending the past with modern conveniences."
Secondly, Mrs. Florence E. Lattimer Helwig was honored for her ongoing and continuous support of preserving local history.
She was commended for her generous contributions that helped make the expansion of the former Mitchell home, now known as the Lattimer House, in honor of her parents, Ethel and Harry.
After the presentation of the awards, Dean Appolonia was invited forward to "look at the past as well as the future of IUP here in Punxsutawney."
Appolonia started by saying that his first familiarity with the town of Punxsutawney was a minor one — using it as a benchmark on his way to hunting camps with his family. All he knew at that time was that it was one of the towns along the way from his home, but as the dean, he now has a much different view of the town, he said.
Growing up in a small town himself — in the Monongahela Valley — Appolonia said the town of Punxsutawney reminds him of the people and places he grew up surrounded by, noting that another similarity is the fact that people who grow up in these sorts of towns tend to stay in town as they grow.
Turning his focus to the university, Appolonia said that when he started here in town, one thing really surprised him — a fact shared by Punxsutawney resident Tom Curry, who was also present at the banquet. Appolonia said he is still shocked by the fact that IUP-Punxsy was at the hand of the town and not at the hand of the university.
"It was the foresight of the town, taking a building under repair and having a vision to make it into the secondary learning institution is has become today," Appolonia said.
Appolonia said that since IUP-Punxsy's doors have opened 50 years ago — in 1962 — that the campus itself has quadrupled in size to its current capacity of 220 first-year students. The culinary school, which also is based out of Punxsutawney, consists of 115 additional students.
"The culinary picture is kind of a story in and of itself, but again, it is also a great credit to the community of Punxsutawney for leveraging the value of a property into something bigger and better," he said.
Appolonia also pointed out the fact that an overwhelming majority of the students who attend the local campus come from so far away speaks to the dedication of the community, as well.
"We've quadrupled in size, but, as I shared this morning with a higher education class at main campus, despite the 200-plus students, only seven are from the Punxsutawney Area School District this year," he said. "There are various reasons that's happening, among them the saturation of higher education and opportunities for students in this immediate area to study at other institutions or even study at IUP's main campus. But in addition to that, Punxsy's campus has become an opportunity to support students who, otherwise, might not have the access to higher education on other campuses."
With the turning tide to students from greater distances away, Appolonia said it opened the door to fully buy into utilizing IUP-Punxsy as a transitional campus for students who may not receive such an opportunity elsewhere.
"Our priority here has become exercising the ability to work very closely and individually with 215-220 students in a way that larger institutions might not be able to," he said. "As a consequence, we believe our opportunities and approach benefit the students in different ways, not only transitioning them into their next year of college, but giving them opportunities to discover things about themselves they may not have had before."
Despite the transitional aspect, Appolonia added that the transition for many IUP-Punxsy students isn't an easy one.
"In a number of cases, the acclimation to the Punxsy campus is rather steep," he said. "Our students are coming from all over — Philadelphia, Harrisburg, south of Pittsburgh, Erie. There are many that are coming from urban areas and many coming from rural areas. So, for some, the transition to Punxsy isn't an easy one."
Even though there is a transition period, though, Appolonia said that listening to some of the students who had gone through the process last year present their final projects gave him a glimpse into what this campus can do for the students.
"I attended final presentations last year, and one young woman from the Philadelphia area stood up and gave a presentation on the difference between the big city and the country," he said. "The project, I assure you, would have made the town of Punxsutawney proud."
Appolonia explained that the young woman described her hometown and neighborhood as a dangerous, hostile and impersonal one — one in which many of her basic needs, from shelter and safety to food, at times, weren't always met.
"Her first experience with the country, though, which is what she called Punxsy, was a very favorable one," Appolonia said. "She said that in the country, people want to help you. She said you can walk down the street and feel safe. She said that in the country, people are concerned for your well-being beyond their own."
Appolonia said one of the main sources of motivation for the students who attend the higher education institution here in town is that they simply can't imagine going back to where they came from.
"That's not a place where they feel like they can become a better person," he said. "Regardless of where they're coming from, this experience is a meaningful one for them. I'm guessing they'll never forget it and that they'll remember it favorably."
One of the things Appolonia said IUP-Punxsy prides itself on as an institution is making strides when it comes to what he referred to as "student preparedness" — or the "readiness and motivation to succeed."
"In many cases, as we look at a developmentally-behind student, one with grades and SAT scores lower than the typical college student, we're trying to look at how we can measure that preparedness," he said. "High school grades and SAT scores can be good indicators, but they're not always the best indicators."
Appolonia said that the students at IUP-Punxsy often have lower SAT scores than the standard institution would accept, but he also added that while a typical college student with an SAT score of 800 — which also falls in that range — statistically has a 50/50 chance of persisting to the second year, IUP-Punxsy's students have a much higher success rate — 75 percent for last year's class.
"We also give a large part of that credit not only to the campus, but to the community of Punxsutawney being receptive to that campus being here," he said. "I've worked at three institutions prior to this, and none of the towns which held those three compared to Punxsutawney with respect to the receptivity that I and the students feel from being a part of this community."
Appolonia also recognized that not all things dealing with college students in college towns are peachy-keen.
"We know that college students can occasionally be a bit of a pain," he said, adding that he's raised two of his own. "But we use that as an opportunity to curb those types of behaviors and help these students see that persisting as a student and as an adult means changing those behaviors."
With that in mind, Appolonia closed by thanking the town for continually supporting the efforts of his campus and his students to better themselves and work toward a successful college experience.
"My hope is that, as you did 52 years ago when the vision and the process started for this campus, you do appreciate the fact that there is an opportunity for higher education here," he said. "We do try to attract as many local students as possible, and there are many local scholarships available that enable those local students to study here for their first year.
“In addition to that, we'll continue to use the town as a truly genuine developmental experience for other students, as it was 50 years ago."
After Appolonia concluded his message, Marty Armstrong, the society's president, spoke for a moment concerning the year 2006 — the final year of the older building on IUP-Punxsy's campus, which was formerly the West End Elementary School building, and invited attendees to fill out a memory page if they had been a part of any of the learning experiences at the building.
She also highlighted several of the society's upcoming events — including a "Boomtown Tea" event Oct. 6, a Children's Discovery event on the Boomtown era Oct. 9, and the "Spirits of Punxsutawney" walking tour to be held Oct. 26.
Prior to the closing of the program, Shirley Sharpe encouraged folks to attend the Genealogy Workshop, which will be held in conjunction with the Church of Latter Day Saints, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Punxsutawney Memorial Library on Oct. 27.
For more information on the Historical & Genealogical Society, one can visit its website at www.punxsyhistory.org  or call 938-2555.