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What’s in a name

History lesson: State College vs. University Park

Some national news organizations seem confused as to whether Penn State University is located in University Park or State College.

Stories coming out of PSU very often specify State College as the locale.

Good. As someone steeped in nostalgia, I prefer the older nomenclature of State College to the newer (although it is 66 years old) terminology of University Park.

I proudly make the claim that I first matriculated to a college and graduated from a university — the same institution — four years later.

I was a freshman in 1953 when the president of Penn State College, Milton Eisenhower, guided the school into Penn State University status, correctly surmising that upgraded title would gain more prestige for the school in academia’s pecking order.

This name change created some head-scratching with the school now being a “university,” but the town in which it was located retaining the moniker of “State College.”

Eisenhower wanted the town to change its name, and being the celebrated brother of Dwight Eisenhower, then president of the United States, he had unique academic and enough political clout to engineer the name change.

Not so fast, Prexy.

The names proposed to replace State College included Mount Nittany, Centre Hills and Keystone, but only Mount Nittany garnered the necessary 10 percent of voter signatures for the change. A referendum was scheduled to select Mount Nittany or retain State College.

I closely followed the drama that unfolded.

Eisenhower gave his official backing to Mount Nittany. The name was descriptive, it was likely to wear well, and there would be no conflict with the university title.

Many borough residents thought “Mount Nittany” was too rural in its connotation. Others opposed the name because they felt it had been chosen in an arbitrary manner. Still others resisted a change to any other name whatsoever on the grounds that “State College” had the weight of tradition on its side.

Eisenhower did not help his cause when a few weeks before the balloting, he urged the Board of Trustees to apply for a separate post office for the university. The university could then select whatever name it wanted for its mailing address.

The trustees deferred action on the measure pending the outcome of the referendum. The results of the vote came as no surprise.

“Mount Nittany” was defeated 2,434 to 1,475. State College would retain its name and the university’s property would be rebranded as, well, something.

Ballots listing several choices were printed and mailed to all faculty, staff and alumni and printed in The Daily Collegian and the Centre Daily Times. The winner was University Park, which won out over Centre Hills, Mount Nittany and University Centre.

College Avenue now separates State College and University Park, but some news organizations (not including the Mirror or the Associated Press) persist in listing State College as the locale for news and other events.

I approve. To many traditionalists like me, South Bend will always be associated with Notre Dame, West Point with Army, and State College with Penn State.

Cove historian Jim Wentz writes a monthly column for the Mirror.

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