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Wittenberg University Receives $6 Gift To Endow Center for Civic & Urban Engagement

August 17, 2011  
 Filed in Campus Headlines, Community

Springfield, Ohio – Earlier today, Wittenberg University President Mark H. Erickson shared with the campus community news of a $6 million gift from Susan Hirt Hagen, Class of 1957, to endow its Center for Civic & Urban Engagement.

“All of us in the Wittenberg family are deeply grateful that Susan’s shared passion for service led her to endow our Center for Civic & Urban Engagement,” Erickson said. “The Center reflects many of the core values of Wittenberg: service to others, community engagement, and civic leadership. Susan’s wonderfully generous gift ensures that the progress we have made in connecting Wittenberg to the community and the community to us will continue in perpetuity. At the same time, her commitment to making a difference will serve as a constant reminder to generations of students about what it means to ‘pass on our light’.”

The largest cash gift ever received from a living individual to the university, the $6 million gift will be placed in an endowed fund, the annual distributions from which will provide support for the Center’s core operations, thus ensuring the Center’s long-term success and further strengthening the bond between the city of Springfield and Wittenberg.

“The Center for Civic & Urban Engagement provides a tremendous service to the city of Springfield, particularly its focus on ensuring that our young people have access to multiple programs and opportunities designed to enhance their personal development,” Hagen said. “Service is a cornerstone of my life, and I believe that through this investment, the Center will be able to continue to connect my alma mater’s resources and expertise not only to improve the community, but also countless lives.”

For more than 40 years, Hagen has played a vital role in her Erie, Pa., community, working diligently to improve the lives of residents in her hometown and beyond. From helping with efforts to curtail teenage pregnancy and school dropout rates to volunteering with the United Way, where she served as the first woman to chair the organization’s board and earned the Alexis de Tocqueville Award, Hagen has distinguished herself in her work.

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Society recognized Hagen, awarding her the 2010 Distinguished Citizen of the Commonwealth Award. Given to those individuals who have “brought credit or special benefit to the welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the award was created in 1976, and to date, only 18 individuals have received it, including Princess Grace of Monaco, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Samuel J. Roberts and environmentalist Rachel Carson.

Hagen, an emerita member of the Wittenberg Board of Directors, received an honorary doctor of humane letters from Wittenberg in May 2011 in recognition of her distinguished career and community engagement, and a Wittenberg Alumni Citation in 1982 for community service. Hagen is a long-time board member of the “Fortune 500” Erie Insurance Group, founded by her father, H.O. Hirt, Wittenberg class of 1911, for whom the H.O. Hirt Endowed  Chair in history at Wittenberg is named. A psychology major, Hagen reflects her late father’s values and ability to understand people – their needs, desires, hopes and fears. In 2009, she received the highest honor for community service in Erie, the Edward C. Doll Award, as well as the 2010 Sustainer of the Year Award from the Junior League of Erie.

Hagen, who recently endowed the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Organizational Research and Evaluation at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and her husband Tom are the proud parents of Sarah Hagen McWilliams, Wittenberg class of 1988, a current member of the university’s Board of Directors, and son Jonathan along with three grandchildren.

Originally established in 2008 with assistance from Wittenberg’s Transformation Investment Fund, the Center for Civic & Urban Engagement works strategically with community partners to reinvigorate its urban community, and foster economic growth and prosperity, while providing rich learning opportunities for students and preparing them for lives of civic engagement.

“We at the Center accept this gift as a challenge to be a creative and constructive force in our community while developing students committed to lives of civic responsibility in whatever communities they may find themselves,” said Warren Copeland, professor of religion, Springfield mayor and the faculty director of the Center for Civic & Urban Engagement.

Described by former Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher as “the model” for how universities should engage with their communities to promote economic development and ensure that generations of students are committed to civic engagement, the Center was founded with the following objectives in mind: (1) to expand and coordinate faculty and student scholarship, applied research and projects; (2) to focus faculty and student scholarship and service on strategic initiatives for maximum impact in the community; (3) to build upon and expand established community service and careers service partnerships; and (4) to provide a single point of contact for community engagement with Wittenberg.”

In order to gain perspective and community direction, the Center recruited a community advisory board of key leaders to assist the Center’s staff in identifying specific areas of focus. The collaborative work resulted in the following initiatives: (1) strengthening after-school programs, including a focus on teenage pregnancy prevention; (2) renewing downtown development as part of the Buck Creek Corridor Project; (3) improving housing quality; and (4) envisioning a greener Springfield.

Wittenberg University is a nationally ranked Lutheran-affiliated liberal arts college with professional studies located in Springfield, Ohio. Reflecting its Lutheran heritage, Wittenberg challenges students to become responsible global citizens, to discover their callings, and to lead personal, professional, and civic lives of creativity, service, compassion, and integrity.

Written By: Karen Gerboth
Photo By: Erin Pence

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