A Look Into The Life Of Penn State Altoona’s Founding Father
J.E. Holtzinger might not be one of the most high-profile names in Penn State history. However, his impact on the university is unlike any other.
Affectionately known as Ted by his family, Holtzinger began life at Penn State as a student, earning a degree in journalism in 1925. In 1932, he joined the staff at the Altoona Mirror and eventually rose to the general manger position. As a prominent businessman who cared about the Altoona community, Holtzinger cemented his place in Penn State history in 1939.
As soldiers were returning from active duty, Holtzinger, a strong supporter of education, was concerned with their employability in the small town of Altoona after spending so many years as soldiers. Utilizing his business charm, Holtzinger convinced Ralph D. Hetzel, the president of Pennsylvania State College (which was Penn State’s name until 1953), that it was in the best interest of the school to invest in an undergraduate center in Altoona.
The proposal was made in the spring of 1939, and just a few months later, the Citizens Committee that Holtzinger established raised $5,000 from 8,000 donors to renovate the abandoned Webster Grade School. On September 13, 1939, the Altoona Undergraduate Center (AUC) opened its doors.
Originally, it provided affordable education to 119 commuter students, but eventually grew to serve many veterans as they returned home from World War II. Today, it now stands as the third-largest Commonwealth campus at Penn State with more than 4,000 students.
As the AUC grew, Holtzinger realized the need to expand the size of the campus. Fortunately, Altoona was home to a 30-acre abandoned amusement park called the Ivyside Park, which he envisioned as the perfect space for the needed expansion. The advisory board, of which Holtzinger was a member, raised $50,000 to purchase the amusement park, which became the Altoona Undergraduate Center’s new campus.
On July 1, 1971, Holtzinger’s hard work paid off and the AUC officially became known as Penn State Altoona. Serving as the chairman on the Altoona Campus Advisory Board for 18 years and as a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Penn State and a gold medal from the Altoona campus.
Much like a father of Penn State Altoona, Holtzinger had five of his own children of his own. Today, his family continues to bleed blue and white. Much of the Holtzinger’s family have followed in his footsteps by attending Penn State. Some, like his granddaughter Liz Holtzinger, couldn’t leave.
Liz Holtzinger is a senior lecturer in English with a focus on education just like her grandfather. In an act of rebellion, she applied to Pitt and Ohio State, but had a change of heart and spent her first two undergraduate years on the campus her grandfather founded. She then transferred to University Park, trying to make her own mark on Penn State history.
J.E. Holtzinger touched many lives, yet unfortunately some may never know his name in State College. However, his legacy carries on at Penn State Altoona as a smart, charismatic businessman with a vision to serve his community.
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