Tom Smyth, In Memoriam

Penn Stater Magazine memorialized the late Tom Smyth in its July/August 2020 issue with this profile. Mount Nittany’s Tom Smyth Overlook is named in his honor.

Even into his late 70s, Thomas Smyth would hike up Mount Nittany, chainsaw on his back, and clear the trails up and down Happy Valley’s landmark peak. “It was unreal what that man could do,” says Bill Jaffe ’60 Com, former president of the Mount Nittany Conservancy. “We called him Mr. Mountain Man.”

Smyth joined the Penn State faculty in 1955 as a professor of etymology and bio­ physics. He also served as a longtime adviser to the Penn State Outing Club, leading students on hikes and other trips. “When he retired, he started volunteering for the Mount Nittany Conservancy in the early 2000s and later joined the board. A world-class mountaineer who scaled the Himalayas and Mount Kilimanjaro, he maintained trails on Mount Nittany and raised awareness of issues such as drain­ age and a gypsy moth infestation. Smyth received the conservancy’s Friend of the Mountain Award in 1991, and an outlook atop Mount Nittany is named in his honor. The Lion’s Paw Alumni Association honored him with its Lion’s Paw Medal in 2012.

His framed photos from outdoor adventures covered the walls and were stacked up on the floor. “He had so many he had run out of places to hang them,” says Mike Day ’73 Lib, past president of the Lion’s Paw Alumni Association. “He was quite a character.” Smyth died on Dec. 5, 2019, at age 92. He is survived by two sisters.

—Cristina Rouvalis

Work Party April 2, 2019 (Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy)

Scenes from the trail during the Mount Nittany Conservancy volunteer work party with Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy.

Saint Joe’s did a great job helping clear downed trees along the outer trail loop (until we ran out of oil for the chainsaw). They also did an amazing job clearing a few of the overlooks — specifically the Boalsburg, Rockview, and Nittany Mall Overlooks. They also put a huge dent in clearing away debris and reorganizing logs at the Deeded Square Inches space.

Scenes from the trail during the Mount Nittany Conservancy volunteer work party with Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy. So much thanks to Christian, Tamara, and the students for their hard work doing trail maintenance! Photo: Gina Thompson
Members of the Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy doing work on Mount Nittany Trail during on April 2, 2019. Photo by Gina Thompson
Members of the Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy doing work on Mount Nittany Trail during on April 2, 2019. Photo by Gina Thompson
Members of the Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy doing work on Mount Nittany Trail during on April 2, 2019. Photo by Gina Thompson
Members of the Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy doing work on Mount Nittany Trail during on April 2, 2019. Photo by Gina Thompson

‘Do you know the origin of that word, saunter?’

“Hiking—I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains—not hike! Do you know the origin of that word, ‘saunter’? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,” ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

—John Muir, as quoted in The Mountain Trail and Its Message, 1911

Le Mont: ‘The End of the Mountain’

Lemont is the community at the base of Mount Nittany.

The following are experts from the History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania by Linn, John Blair, 1831-1899. It was published in 1883. It explains how “Lemont” received its name.

William Thompson, a brother of Moses, is a justice of the peace, active in township affairs, and alive to its interests. He lives near where Robert Moore, the “ex press- rider” of early days, began his little “clearing.” John I. Thompson, son of Moses, and who gave the name to “Lemont,” resides in the little village he named.

Besides his business interests he has taken a great interest in the mineral wealth of the county, and is a practical chemist. He has a fine chemical laboratory in the stone bank building, where he analyzes ores, etc., for parties who desire it. Dr. J. Y. Dale, of Lemont, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, of the “class of ’67,” and has been secretary of the “Medical Society of Centre County.” The doctor has a beautiful residence in Lemont and a large practice. D. F. Taylor keeps the only drug-store in the town. He is married to a descendant of David Whitehill, the original settler of the place. Lemont was the home of “old Dr. Berry,” one of the most widely-known physicians in the county, a genial old gentleman, who gave less medicine and more common sense to his patients than some of his contemporaries.

Dr. Benjamin Jones Berry was a graduate of the University of New York. He practiced thirty-four years at Lemont, and died in 1864. The Berry mansion is still standing. Like “Gil Bias'” system of medicine, blood- letting was necessary, sick or well, and the writer has a vivid recollection of the doctor’s power as a “blood- letter,” and “a successful operation” it was. Dr. Berry was one of the vice-presidents of the first County Medical Society, which was organized in 1847. J. Green Irvin is a prominent man in the town- ship, and is a relative of Gen. Irvin, who built the mill and stone mansion at Oak Hall. He has a very handsome residence a short distance from Dr. Hamil’s, between Boalsburg and Oak Hall. James Glenn, a sterling old Presbyterian, and father of Dr. J. P. Glenn, of Snow Shoe, is another of the prominent citizens of the township. Hon. Samuel Gilliland, before mentioned as having been once a representative in the Pennsylvania Legislature, lives beyond Oak Hall a short distance. He is the owner of an elegant farm, which from its high state of cultivation shows that theory united with practical farming will produce great results.

Daniel O’Brien’s log school-house, with its slab benches and big open fireplace, has given place to the elegant little school-house at Lemont (which stands less than a quarter of a mile from where stood its unpretentious predecessor), and to the magnificent pile of buildings known as the “Pennsylvania State College.”

“The End of the Mountain” has given place to the shorter but more euphonious name of “Le Mont.”

Page 274 of the History of Centre County, Pennsylvania

Villages.— Lemont, a pretty little village, situated at the ” end of the mountain,” is the largest town in the township. It is built on land owned and cleared by David Whitehill, Esq. After passing through two or three hands it was purchased by Moses Thompson, Esq. In 1870, Mr. Thompson laid out the present village. Among the first buildings erected were the store and dwelling-house of J. H. Hahn, now owned by Thompson & Co., the elegant residences of J. J. Thompson and Dr. J. Y. Dale, the former built of stone. The Presbyterian Church, a building of the Gothic style of architecture, is one of the handsomest church edifices in the county. The cost, including furniture, was about fourteen thousand dollars. Lemont, or, as our fathers called it, ” the end of the mountain,” was an important point in the early days of the country, being on the trail leading from the settlements on the West Branch and Bald Eagle to those in Penn’s valley, and being at the junction of the two valleys. The village contains a church, school-house, drug-store, dry-goods store, tin-shop, blacksmith-shop, etc. It is on the line of the Lewisburg and Tyrone Railroad, and will be the terminus of a proposed railroad from Bellefonte. They have recently organized a brass band, which, though very young, promises to be one of the best in the county.

Page 275 of the History of Centre County, Pennsylvania

In Memory of Amy Dietz

Amy Dietz (1963-2018) was a member of the faculty at the School of Labor and Employment Relations (LER) at Penn State. She helped create LER’s online program, served as a faculty member in the program, and was the student advisor for all of the School’s MPS students in Human Resources and Employment Relations (HRER). She was also a devoted hiker. She relished her mornings, afternoons, or evenings on Mt. Nittany.

During the last week of June LER hosted our online program summer hybrid classes at University Park. These courses involve pre-work online, a week of work on campus, and a final online project. One of the social activities that Amy Dietz had organized several years ago, and every year since, was a hike up Mt. Nittany. Most often the hike occurred on Wednesday evening.

In memory of Amy, this summer we organized the event for Wednesday, June 28th. Thirty students of the 45 attending the classes signed up. Unfortunately rain, including thunderstorms, were part of our weather that day, so we had to reschedule for Friday night. By that time, of course, many students had already left for home. Regardless, of those that remained until Saturday, most participated. They took the Blue Trail, and you can see from the photo that they made it to the top, as did Erin Hetzel of our staff. And they achieved that success in the context of an 88 degree temperature and very high humidity.

Amy Dietz

(The only persons not able to reach the summit were the instructors! We gave it the proverbial “College Try”; however, legs, lungs and a variety of other factors left us about 1/3 of a mile from success.)

Regardless, all of us were absolutely thrilled to continue the tradition Amy began and one that we will continue to sponsor every summer in memory of the wonderful friend and colleague she was to all of us.

Originally we had intended to place a plaque in Amy’s memory at the summit; however, we learned that would not be permissible. We will place the plaque on a wall in Keller Hall as a memorial to her massive impact on our students, program, faculty and staff.

And did I mention that Amy loved Mt. Nittany?

—Antone J. Aboud, Ph.D.
School of Labor and Employment Relations
Penn State

‘Inspiriting Mount Nittany’

Tom Shakely spoke to the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) on February 14, 2018 on Mount Nittany’s significance and historical conservation efforts. As part of his presentation, Tom presented Penn State’s undergraduate student government with the gift of a Mount Nittany Square Inch Marker:

Consider a “square inch” gift for any Penn Stater as a symbol of lifelong affection and commitment.

Dr. & Mrs. Joab Thomas’s Square Inch

By Tom Shakely

I’ve been spending some time recently on scanning and digitizing a few boxes worth of early Mount Nittany Conservancy archives that Ben Novak provided to me. As the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s founder and first president, Ben was instrumental not only in the organization’s major land preservation and fundraising efforts throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, but also in creating and promoting the distinctive “Square Inch” Life Estate Deeds, which provide a true, legal square inch of Mount Nittany for the life of the donor—recorded with the Centre County Recorder of Deeds—in exchange for a beautiful, framed deed certificate.

Over the course of these scanning and archival efforts, a number of prominent Penn Staters and State College names appear, including Dr. Joab Thomas and his wife. Dr. Thomas was Penn State’s president from 1990-1995, and he and his wife ordered their Square Inch in the early 1990s:



Day of Caring 2017 Work Party

On Oct 5, 2017 the Penn State Men’s Volleyball @PennStateMVBALL team rose up and assisted the Conservancy during the PNC Bank Day of Caring.

15 players from the team accomplished much in just 3 hours. The team was led by MNC volunteers John Mentzell, Troy Weston and Bob Andronici.

  • Checked and cleared emergency access route from prison grounds to our trails.
  • Installed and repaired 5 water bars on the White trail from station 1 to 2.
  • Removed roughly 8 downed trees ( some very big) from blue trail from station 1 to 10 than 10 to 2.

Images: Mark Selders/Penn State Athletic Communications