In The Legends of the Nittany Valley, a unique and fun mythology emerges for the places in and around Penn State, but our community also has its own real-life fairy tale: The story of the tragically short-lived love between Rebecca Valentine and Evan Pugh, the University’s founding president.
Pugh is a truly remarkable figure. If it’s true that the strength and character of any institution are rooted in its founding, then an understanding of Evan Pugh can explain Penn State’s astonishing resilience over the last three years. His audacious vision for the school that would become the Pennsylvania State University, and the vigor with which he pursued it, are great stories of themselves. Equally captivating is the account of his courtship of Bellefonte’s Rebecca Valentine, a lasting love that not even death could conquer. Pugh died young, not long after marrying Rebecca, but she never took another husband, remaining forever faithful to the love of her life.
I was excited to see the University release this video yesterday, summarizing the story of Evan and Rebecca in a format that can bring it to the Penn State family. It was especially satisfying to hear several quotes from Erwin Runkle, the first Penn State historian. In 2013, Nittany Valley Press released The Pennsylvania State College 1853-1932: Interpretation and Record, a never-published history of the school written by Runkle in the 1930s. As a contemporary of many key figures in Penn State’s early years, Runkle offers invaluable perspective on the people and events that shaped Old State in a formative era. His affection and story-teller’s instincts for the Penn State story come through in his quotes here.
Watch the the short video, and learn about the tragic, but touching love story at the heart of Penn State’s origins.