A Short History of Lion's Paw

Before his death in 1906, President George Atherton met with a group of leaders from the freshman class and suggested that they seek an amicable settlement of the divisions that had arisen among students at that time. On another occasion he suggested to those same student leaders that they gather together with other right-thinking students and, on their own responsibility, establish a way of living together as part of the "family" of students, faculty and administration. At time, the whole student body consisted of less than 1,000 students. Eventually, that group of leaders from the Class of 1909 took Atherton's advice and began to meet regularly in the spring of 1907. The first Minutes were taken at a meeting held on March 21, 1908 at the Armory, where Willard Building now stands. In the fall of their senior year, the group took the name Lion's Paw.

With the fatherly assistance of President Edwin Sparks, Lion's Paw continued to bring together senior student leaders in a spirit of loyal service to the College. In those early days, Lion's Paw met most often in the rooms of its members, both on and off campus. In 1922, President Thomas began a drive for gifts to the College, which was then in financial peril. Chief among the projects was the rebuilding of Old Main, which had been destroyed by fire. Unfortunately, as the campaign was drawing to a close, it became clear that the fundraising effort had fallen short. Lion's Paw Alumni, who had themselves been active individually in the campaign, stepped up, and as a group donated the final $1,000 with the understanding that a room in the new Old Main would be set aside in perpetuity for the exclusive use of the active class. Ever since, Lion's Paw has met regularly in Old Main. President Hetzel used to say fondly that it warmed his heart to look out from his home across the mall and see the light burning in the wee hours of the morning from the fourth floor of Old Main. He was probably just chuckling at youthful inexperience.

In the fall of 1945, Bill Ulerich was perusing the Centre Daily Times when he came across an ad offering to sell Mount Nittany, including timber rights! He called Russ Clark, then secretary of the alumni, who in turn called Army Armstrong, one of the owners. Armstrong said he and his partners in the Nittany Outing Club were about to sell the mountain to West Virginia Pulp and Paper and that logging would begin the next day. On the spot, Russ Clark bought an option to personally buy the mountain, and spent the whole $300 in the Lion's Paw treasury to do it. The entire purchase price of $2,000 would have to be raised from LP alumni.

Contributions didn't exactly pour in. Only Robin Love contributed as much as $100. Almost all of the other gifts were for $20 or less. Some alumni complained that the College itself should foot the bill, and others simply pleaded poverty. It took until the following Memorial Day to reach $2,009. Actually there was no big hurry. Thirty years later, surviving members of the Nittany Outing Club revealed that the whole story about timbering the mountain was a ruse designed to motivate a purchaser, and to save the club from financial ruin.

Bill Ulerich would later become President of the Univerity's Board of Trustees, and is only one of many glittering LP Alumni. They include the former Trustee President Jesse Arnelle, former Senator and Secretary of Health and Human Services Richard Schweiker, Costa Rica's former Secretary of Natural Resources Alvaro Umana, former president of the University of Illinois David Henry, former president of Tulane University Herbert Longenecker, National Editor of the Los Angeles Times Norman C. Miller, the late Pittsburgh industrialist Robert Ostermayer, the former CEO of Stanley Tools Donald Davis, attorney Edgar Snyder, and the late Penn State football coach Bob Higgins. Members of Lion's Paw have been awarded the Outland Trophy, two Grammy Awards, a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, and an Olympic Gold Medal.

Always frustrated in their efforts to purchase more land on Mt. Nittany, Lion's Paw established the Mt. Nittany Conservancy in 1981. The original incorporators were all LP alumni. It was intended that the Conservancy would serve as a vehicle to raise funds from the general public, not just Lion's Paw members, and thus be in a better position to help preserve the mountain. And in fact, the Conservancy has done just that, purchasing hundreds of additional acres on the mountain. More recently, however, the Conservancy itself has faced the reality of escalating land prices, and been forced to adopt a strategy of conservation easements in order to further preserve the beauty of the mountain.

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