Gift Honors Family Responsibility to College and the Earth
Who is James Hutton, you may ask, and why is he important to Allegheny?
Thanks to the Stewart family of Warren, Pa., the Geology Department soon will have an endowed professorship. It bears the name of James Hutton, who is considered the founder of modern geology.
Hutton was not an Allegheny alumnus. In fact, he died in 1797, before the College was founded. He was a Scottish farmer who, through his powers of observation and analysis, recognized the processes that formed the Earth. “He had the courage to advance his radical theories at a time when it was generally believed Earth was created just 6,000 years earlier,” says Arthur J. Stewart ’80.
Stewart and his wife, Susan Strenio ’80, found inspiration from Hutton’s story, and even though their undergraduate degrees were in philosophy and theology, they decided to buy some oil and gas properties in the late 1980s. It proved to be a fortuitous decision.
The Stewarts started two companies, D & I Silica – which they opened when they saw a need for high-quality sand for the oil and gas industry – and Cameron Energy Co. in Warren, which still operates and acquires oil and gas properties, drills new wells, and produces crude oil and natural gas.
The added bonus for Arthur Stewart is that he gets to work with the couple’s four children, all Allegheny graduates: Katie ’09, John ’11 and Sarah ’14. Meghan, a junior at Allegheny, joins the company in the summers.
“I get to work with my children every day,” Stewart says proudly. “Katie runs Cameron Energy’s office, John is on Cameron’s roustabout team and is in charge of special projects, and Sarah is Cameron’s title abstractor. In the summer Meg is part of our intern program. Susan doesn’t have an official role in the company, but she is the hub around which the family revolves, and she keeps the focus on family first.
“My stick-to-it-ness that I learned while at Allegheny helped me to succeed in business,” Stewart says. “The ethics and values I learned have also proved to be very important. Shortcuts don’t help you get ahead. Allegheny taught me to make the decision that serves a bigger purpose.”
“We give because of the many good things that happened to us as a result of the seeds that were sown at Allegheny. We can trace so many of those good things back to our Allegheny roots. We have regard, appreciation and love for what we experienced. How can we help others have that same experience?”
Arthur J. Stewart ’80
The Stewarts decided in 2014 to make a $400,000 gift to fund a geology faculty position, specializing in energy, for four years. They also agreed to donate $600,000 to endow a professorship, which was met with a $1.4 million donation from an anonymous West Coast donor. These gifts will fully fund the faculty position for many years to come.
“Our focus on a chair in geology reflects the department’s need for a fourth professor, but more importantly, we think the study of geology at the college instills many of the Allegheny experiences we hope to perpetuate,” says Stewart.
The Stewarts say they wanted to honor influential professors such as Sam Harrison ’63 and Bob Schwartz ’66 in geology, Jim Sheridan ’50 in philosophy, Brownie Ketcham in theology, Lowell Hepler in music, and Jim Bulman in English. They were reluctant to attach the names of one or two particular professors to the name of the newly created fund because that would fail to honor other equally deserving professors, says Stewart. That’s how naming the endowed chair after James Hutton came about.
“We believe the James Hutton story will live on, and we believe someone looking at it might well recognize that it speaks of intellectual honesty, fortitude, curiosity and other great qualities fostered at Allegheny,” says Stewart. “Collectively, as a family, we decided that the Geology Department is emblematic of the good experiences each of us had at Allegheny.”
Rachel O’Brien, Geology Department professor and current chair, says a fourth faculty member “will bring an extra pair of hands on deck, which will allow us to start teaching new courses and have new electives for our students. Our intention is to develop an interdisciplinary minor – energy and society – so that we can develop informed citizenry around energy awareness. When you couple that with Allegheny’s focus on sustainability, that’s a good set of offerings. We are also hoping to add to existing internship opportunities for students interested in this field.”
The Stewarts have donated to the College’s Annual Fund since they graduated. One day while visiting their children on campus, they saw a “We Are Allegheny” banner, Stewart says. “Susan and I both had a light-bulb moment where we suddenly understood this phrase as an adult and not as students,” he says. “We realized that someone had paved the way for us to be students. It was now our turn to ‘be Allegheny’ in new ways.”
Says O’Brien: “It is rewarding to be recognized by alumni. Arthur and Susan feel strongly about the rigor our department provides and have recognized that something significant is happening.”
“We give because of the many good things that happened to us as a result of the seeds that were sown at Allegheny. We can trace so many of those good things back to our Allegheny roots,” says Stewart. “We have regard, appreciation and love for what we experienced. How can we help others have that same experience?”
— Kathleen Prosperi-McClard ’11