Feature Stories

10 Things Richard Cook Has Done as Part of His "Official Duties" as President

  1. Flew in an open-cockpit acrobatic bi-plane, taking the controls when the pilot unexpectedly announced through the headphone, “It’s all yours!”
  2. Drove vintage Triumph and Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Homecoming parades.
  3. Toured western Crawford County in a hot-air balloon.
  4. Drove a mini-racecar in the Meadville Millennium Grand Prix.
  5. Let a magician make him disappear at the annual holiday luncheon.
  6. Was willingly decked by a student in a video production for a course.
  7. Invited the student government president to paint his face blue and gold for a fund-raiser during a football halftime ceremony.
  8. Served as a language interpreter on a museum visit as part of an Experiential Learning Term in the former East Germany.
  9. Sang and danced as a “Blues Brother” with the faculty band Credit/No Credit.
  10. Sat in a dunk tank at a carnival sponsored by Kappa Kappa Gamma

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

President Cook Explains "Why Allegheny?"

The high school junior who sends an e-mail to a college president saying, “Please tell me about your institution” may be simply naïve about the demands on a president’s time or may be taking a few minutes out from the stressful college selection process to have a little fun. Either way she’s probably surprised to get a thoughtful, extended reply from a president who sits down at his computer at the end of a long day to tell her why, depending on what she wants from her education, Allegheny may be the right place for her. Here’s one response that President Cook sent in answer to a prospective student’s “Why Allegheny?”

Thanks for your message, and congratulations on your acceptance to Allegheny College. Selection of a college is important, so I understand why you want to get it right. I will be glad to give you some heartfelt observations about Allegheny that may be helpful to you.

Allegheny is an unusually open and friendly place. People here are genuine, there is no “better-than-you” attitude, and faculty, staff, and students are all included in that characterization. There is a culture of modesty and respect that I also see in our alumni, no matter how accomplished they are or how important their positions. For example, we have corporate chief executives, famous physicians (including the one who performed the first totally implantable heart transplant), multi-millionaires, schoolteachers, preachers, social workers, and Peace Corps volunteers. I have met hundreds upon hundreds, and they all share a level of modesty, courtesy, and human caring that I find remarkable. That speaks very well for the values this College espouses and practices.

cookofficeBut Allegheny also has high standards and expectations. The faculty are superbly educated, very accomplished, and hard working—they win awards and research grants, are master teachers, and are active in the life of the College. They expect a lot of their students yet they are also there to inspire and aid students. The development of students at Allegheny over their four years here is amazing. Graduates and their parents often comment about how much they progressed in their years at Allegheny and how they were prepared for a life of challenge, learning, and enjoyment. I keep a file of letters and e-mails I get about this, and the file has become very thick over the years!

Lifelong friendships are formed at Allegheny, evident from the visits I make to cities around the country and from the reunions that occur on campus every spring—friendships between and among students and friendships between faculty and students that are lasting and meaningful. This is a campus where relationships form in countless ways—in classrooms, labs, and studios, on the athletics fields and in the theater, in the residence halls, in student organizations, and many other ways. Dozens of student organizations provide many opportunities for not only participation but also leadership, even for newer students. The student affairs staff work closely and in cooperation with students on activities, performances, residence life, and governance. Students are taken seriously—from the Allegheny Student Government and others meeting with our Board of Trustees to our student-run Honor System to the administration listening to student concerns and recommendations. (I suppose I could add here that the president responds to student e-mails, but that may sound self-serving!)

Allegheny is highly respected by the outside world as a place where one can get a first-rate education. One of the reasons is our senior project (“comp”) for every student. What a great way to learn with a faculty mentor or two! Personalized projects that are student-driven and often turn out to be of graduate school quality—yes, you too can and will be able to perform such a project here. Our students learn to think, write, and speak effectively and persuasively, and they become leaders in their professions and in their communities. The recent National Study of Student Engagement (NSSE) shows Allegheny to be among the very top colleges in academics and faculty-student interaction. We are very gratified that this independently conducted and highly respected study has confirmed the quality of the educational experience we provide.

I hope my spontaneous ramblings might provide some additional insight into what type of place Allegheny College is. I wish you my very best as you make your choice. Whatever your decision, I know you have a bright future, and maybe Allegheny will play a role in it.

This issue was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

The Cook Years: A Timeline of Accomplishments and Events

August 1996

Richard J. Cook becomes the 20th president of Allegheny College.

December 1996

The New Generations campaign ends with $60.5 million raised, three times as much as the previous record for an Allegheny fund drive.

January 1997

Meadville Community Energy Project founded to promote sustainable energy in the service of community economic revitalization. In 2005 the MCEP changes its name to the Commonwealth Community Energy Project to reflect its increasing activities in northwest Pennsylvania.

May 1997

The Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED) begins operation.

August 1997

The three-building College Court residence hall opens.

October 1997

The David V. Wise Sport & Fitness Center opens.

November 1997

The College’s first “smart classroom,” featuring the latest in educational technology, is dedicated.

Grounds for Change coffeehouse, founded and operated by students, has its grand opening.

February 1998

New Century Connections, the first of two strategic plans developed under Dr. Cook’s leadership, is adopted by the Board of Trustees.

April 1998

A new electronic digital organ is dedicated in Ford Chapel, marking the return, says historian Jonathan Helmreich, “of an instrument central to the College’s musical history and traditions.”

August 1998

David Mead Field House is demolished and replaced with the Senior Circle.

Montgomery Performance Space renovations include a sprung stage and new seating. An additional dance studio is created in the former weight room.

September 1998

The Allegheny College Center for Experiential Learning (ACCEL)—an innovative program that offers educational activities and services in career development, community service, international programs, and leadership development—opens its doors in a renovated Reis Hall.

Allegheny is invited to create the first Bonner Leader Program, which pairs students with local nonprofits in order to meet needs in the community.

January 1999

President Cook joins the board of the Council of Independent Colleges.

April 1999

The College’s French Creek Project is one of 24 initiatives from throughout the United States to be selected for a National Award for Sustainability by Renew America.

May 1999

Students pack their bags for the College’s first Experiential Learning study tours.

The Blair Hanson Language Learning Center is dedicated in Ruter Hall.

August 1999

The new freshman/sophomore curriculum emphasizes an integrated approach to analysis, writing, and speaking.

Minors in Dance Studies and Values, Ethics and Social Action (VESA) debut.

October 1999

Allegheny is recognized in The Templeton Guide: Colleges That Encourage Character Development.

December 1999

The College’s Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED) receives a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.

April 2000

Allegheny College and the Meadville Medical Center enter into a joint venture to negotiate a contract with an energy service company to evaluate energy use and install environmentally responsible equipment.

May 2000

A new electronic carillon in Bentley Hall peals in celebration for commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2000. Bentley Hall tower is illuminated for the first time.

August 2000

The minor in Asian Studies debuts.

October 2000

Quade Walk, which extends Brooks Walkway from North Main Street to Highland Avenue, is dedicated.

January 2001

Allegheny becomes a founding member of the Lang Foundation’s Project Pericles, which facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include education for social responsibility and participatory citizenship.

February 2001

Allegheny College receives the largest gift in its history, from Robert ’65 and Laura Vukovich. A portion of the gift is dedicated to the construction of the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts.

March 2001

Although it’s not unusual for Allegheny faculty to receive Fulbright awards, four faculty members are awarded Fulbright Awards this year. (Only 800 Fulbrights are awarded per year, and faculty from 3,600 colleges and universities compete for them.)

May 2001

President Cook travels to Slovakia for a planning session with Artes Liberales, an organization developed to promote the understanding and practice of liberal arts education in emerging Central and Eastern European democracies.

June 2001

Work begins on Signs & Flowers, a sculpture garden of oversized flowers made from recycled road signs.

July 2001

The College takes ownership of the Odd Fellows building, which will become home to the English department.

October 2001

Allegheny becomes the first college or university in Pennsylvania to install an advanced composting facility for food waste and other organic materials.

January 2002

The Biochemistry major debuts.

February 2002

Allegheny celebrates the centennial of its Eta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

April 2002

Creek Connections holds its first annual Pittsburgh Area Student Research Symposium for middle- and high-school students.

The College announces that 7.5% of its electricity will come from wind power, a percentage higher than any other college or university in the eastern United States had invested thus far. That percentage eventually increases to 15.

October 2002

Homecoming features the College’s Celebration of the Liberal Arts, which sees the dedication of both the Merrick Historic Archival Center in Pelletier Library and a monumental glass sculpture, Presence of Seven in the Light of Movement, by Danny Lane.

The Center for Political Participation opens its doors and starts its work: creating new strategies and mechanisms for promoting political participation among all citizens, with a particular focus on young Americans.

November 2002

The Allegheny Board of Trustees adopts a set of environmental guiding principles.

March 2003

The Women’s Center, providing research on gender issues and women’s history, opens in Walker Hall Annex.

September 2003

Allegheny hosts the first local foods dinner on campus.

January 2004

Major renovations to the Campus Center include a transformed McKinley’s Food Court, post office, Merriman Bookstore, Grounds for Change coffeehouse, meeting spaces, and offices for student organizations.

Allegheny becomes the nation’s first college to enter into a pioneering teacher preparation partnership with Columbia University Teachers College.

April 2004

The CPP holds its first Model Campaign USA, designed to teach high school students about the art and ethics of political campaigns.

May 2004

Allegheny is one of only two colleges in 2004 to win a Council of Independent Colleges’ Heuer Award for Outstanding Achievement in Undergraduate Science Education.

August 2004

The Learning Commons opens its doors in Pelletier Library.

November 2004

Allegheny and Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management announce an accelerated master’s in management program to Allegheny College students.

March 2005

The executive-in-residence program is inaugurated, bringing executives to campus to guest lecture, interact with students in informal venues, and lead discussions with local business executives. Complementing the program is an annual business roundtable.

Diplomacy know-how and determination net Allegheny’s Model NATO team national first-place honors for the fourth year in a row.

Allegheny is selected for inclusion in the Princeton Review’s Colleges with a Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding Community Involvement.

July 2005

President Cook assumes the chairmanship of the board of directors of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania.

September 2005

The College publishes Jonathan Helmreich’s 532-page Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College.

October 2005

The Patricia Bush Tippie Alumni Center at Cochran Hall is dedicated at Homecoming.

January 2006

President Cook creates the position of assistant to the president for institutional diversity to assist with diversity recruiting efforts, enhance student success, and establish and sustain strong relationships with alumni of color.

June 2006

Allegheny completes largest fund-raising campaign in its history, raising $115,245,902 in gifts and pledges. The campaign surpasses its goal by more than $10.2 million, not including $15 million in state and federal grants.

August 2006

Allegheny completes construction of the North Village residential complex, three apartment-style residence halls built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

September 2006

Frank B. Fuhrer Field is dedicated. The new facilities include a new playing surface and track, scoreboard, stadium lighting, and wrought iron fencing. The College holds the first night football game and the first track & field invitational in its history.

October 2006

Ground is broken for the new Vukovich Center for Communication Arts.

New stained glass windows in the Chapel, re-creating the original side windows, are dedicated.

March 2007

Application numbers break records for the fourth straight year.

June 2007

President Cook is selected to join the steering committee of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

October 2007

The Maytum Learning Commons, in a renovated Pelletier Library, is dedicated.

President Cook is named chair of the Council of Independent Colleges–New York Times Partnership.

November 2007

Allegheny is named one of only 11 ACUPCC signatories that will launch pilot projects to further green their campuses.

Allegheny announces the Soapbox Alliance, a coalition of institutions that either have an open campaign-event policy or have pledged to work toward that goal.

January 2008

The international foreign language honor society Phi Sigma Iota, which was founded at Allegheny in 1922, returns its headquarters to campus.

February 2008

Allegheny College and the New York Times Knowledge Network host a special event to launch a two-year national project on nomination reform that explores past, present and future changes in the presidential nomination process.

April 2008

Allegheny College is issued the first and only invitation to join the prestigious Great Lakes College Association that the GLCA has issued since its founding in 1962. The GLCA is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful academic consortia.

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Everyone Loves Terry Lahti


By Kathy Roos

Richard Cook takes obvious glee in telling the story: During one of the periodic reviews that Allegheny presidents face, then chairman of the board of trustees John Wheeler ’61 finished by telling Dr. Cook, “Well, everyone likes you. But everyone loves Terry.”

She has been called the perfect partner for President Cook, and there’s no doubt that Terry Lahti has been an equally perfect partner for Allegheny College. Along with her husband, she has become Allegheny’s biggest booster—and her opinion carries considerable weight when she talks about Allegheny because Terry knows higher education from her own work in the field.

Having worked in admissions at Saint John’s University, the University of Miami, and Agnes Scott College, Terry became in 1991 what Gary Dorrien describes as “the whirlwind admissions director” at Kalamazoo College.

“She helped to lift Kalamazoo College to a stronger national standing and profile,” says former neighbor Dorrien, now professor of religion at Columbia University and the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. “Unfailingly friendly, as kind and loving-spirited as they come, and notorious for outworking everyone around her, she was a legend at Kalamazoo.”

Upon coming to Allegheny, Terry not only exceeded all the expectations for the president’s spouse—a demanding and challenging role in its own right—but she formed her own company, Lahti Search Consultants, which specializes in finding highly qualified professionals for enrollment-related positions at colleges and universities.

Terry has managed to balance both of those roles, each with its own complement of spinning plates, without missing a beat.

lahti2“I have never met anyone quite as genuinely gracious and considerate as Terry,” says Nancy Smith ’74, who teaches Spanish at Allegheny College and whose husband, Rob Smith ’73, is a trustee. “Everyone, to a person, that I have met who also knows Terry feels exactly the same way. Terry is such a humble person and she always finds something to admire in others. She asks those insightful questions about one’s life that a person may not have thought about before but Terry has been thoughtful enough to ask.”

Ellie Davies, whose family funded the Davies Community Service Leader Program at Allegheny College in memory of her late husband, Lew Davies ’40, is another local friend. “Terry has a unique way at a reception or gathering,” she says, “of simply walking up to someone, putting her hand on his or her arm, and saying something that suddenly makes that person feel like the most special person in the room.”

That gift for making others feel special, and for being intensely interested in other people, is as true and unerring whether she’s talking with trustees or students, clients or guests, adults or children. It’s also one of the reasons why the annual faculty and staff family picnic, with the emphasis on family, at the president’s house has become one of the not-to-be-missed events of the academic year.

The picnic—and the place Terry has earned at the heart of the College community—even became enshrined in song this year when the faculty rock band Credit/No Credit performed covers of rock classics at the annual Dean’s Dance in February.

The audience whooped and hollered as the band sang to President Cook a new chorus to The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”:

Ain’t too proud to beg, now Richard,
Please don’t leave us, don’t you go,
We don’t want to be without you
Please don’t leave us, don’t you go

But the biggest applause of the evening came when they sang the next verse:

Well once every fall we all come to your place
For an evening of makin’ merry.
I guess we’ve found someone to take your place,
But if you gotta go, well at least leave Terry!

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

10 Things You Didn't Know About President Richard Cook

  1. He attended one-room schools, complete with “outdoor plumbing,” for the first six grades.
  2. As a youngster, he was awarded several medals in rifle marksmanship.
  3. He made the acquaintance of the local fire department as a boy when he set a field ablaze with a homemade rocket.
  4. He once wrestled a 350-pound black bear at a forestry exposition. “The bear won,” President Cook notes dryly.
  5. Although apparently it was no help in the contest with the bear, he holds a black belt in Okinawan karate.
  6. With his father, George, he planted 8,000 Norway pines on the family homestead in northeastern Michigan.
  7. He was a personal acquaintance of the late two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling and is linked as Pauling’s “scientific grandson” through doctoral advisor Kurt Mislow.
  8. He was once detained at gunpoint by the revolutionary government in Sierra Leone.
  9. He nearly drowned while whitewater kayaking in Switzerland.
  10. He has traveled professionally on every continent except Antarctica. “That’s next,” he says.

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Al Pacino Meets Jimmy Stewart in "Bentley Hall"

Written & Directed by Lloyd Michaels

Not very long after I became Dean of the College in 1999,I was confronted by an irate student who came to see me about being closed out of a Communication Arts course. She needed the class, she informed me, to complete a double major to go along with her double minor. I patiently responded that her enrollment was at the discretion of the instructor and that I would not intervene. She became more agitated and perhaps a bit disrespectful of my newly acquired office, although I maintained my dignity and politely heard her out. After twenty minutes of fruitless negotiations, she left disappointed as I returned to my computer screen and more pressing matters.

pacino Photo Courtesy of Photofest

About half an hour later, Richard Cook called to ask if I could come to his office for a brief chat about the young lady who had taken her grievance directly to him. As I walked across the first floor of Bentley, I began to seethe at the student’s impudence and the president’s apparent criticism of my performance. But Richard wasn’t angry with my decision at all; rather, he wanted to know whether I had truly been discourteous by turning away before the student had quite left the room. Relieved but also chastened, I admitted that, yes, I had likely been a split second premature in returning to my e-mail. What followed was the first of several memorable and enjoyable conversations about our contrasting personal styles: my attitude appeared detached, even curt, his engaged, amiable; I was blunt, he was suggestive; my posture coiled as if to strike, his relaxed as if to welcome. Although we agreed about the relatively minor issue at hand, I remarked that I had come across as Al Pacino to his Jimmy Stewart. For a while thereafter, we signed our mutual correspondence “Al” and “Jimmy.”

stewart Photo Courtesy of Photofest

I often recall that incident because it taught me several lessons, not least of which was to make certain guests have left the room before signaling my relief at their departure. My most enduring impression, however, was to recognize just how well suited Richard Cook was to the job of being President of Allegheny College. His character, I believe, matches almost perfectly the spirit of the institution I have known for the past thirty-five years. He is the hardest working colleague I have known, yet he goes about his business without fanfare or complaint, often (as trustees and alumni at Homecoming events will testify) with unabashed enthusiasm. Allegheny has always been a place where people work hard and play hard. He is bracingly intelligent and broadly educated—I still burn over a bet I lost to him on a point of English grammar—but also genuinely modest (because, he would say, he has much to be modest about). The College, like Richard, continues to carry its high academic distinctions lightly. He is also incredibly witty: his lightning riposte to a musical car horn that interrupted his first Commencement address—”Sounds like ‘Wipe-Out’!”—got a huge laugh and won lots of fans from my rock ‘n’ roll generation. As he leaves Allegheny, Richard’s tangible achievements have been well documented, his impact on the campus visible at nearly every turn. His mark on the lives of those who study and work here, while no less remarkable, remains more difficult to quantify.

For example, Richard presides over two annual events that have become red letter days on the academic calendar, as festive and much anticipated as the Super Bowl. After the first faculty meeting in September, he and Terry host a garden party that has grown into a joyful reunion for faculty, staff, and their families. The Cooks’ front lawn rivals Conneaut Lake Park in its heyday; neighborhood kids have successfully begged their way on to the grounds to enjoy the inflated slides and jungle gyms, the organized games, and special kids’ menu. The freeloading faculty, meanwhile, occupy the backyard consuming gourmet dishes and bottomless libations. Parking is the only problem. Last September I let a certain physics professor park in my driveway (I live around the corner). When I went to bed at midnight, I noticed his SUV was still there!

The other party that bears his mark is the holiday luncheon, an event that has doubled in size since Richard made it a mid-year celebration. Dressed in a hideous red-and-green plaid vest and Christmas tie, he manages to greet us all by name, usually with a personal quip or inquiry about our lives. Al Pacino is not noted for displays of school spirit and neither am I, but this gala, which brings together everyone who works at the College—perhaps 300 people gather in Schultz dining hall—makes me proud to be a part of Allegheny. The spirit of shared endeavor at that gathering can fairly be attributed to Richard’s leadership.

His strong presence has also helped us through some difficult times: the necessary budget cuts of his early years, a student’s tragic death on campus, the inevitable conflicts that surround policy and tenure decisions. Richard’s has been a calming, conciliatory voice, one that we have all come to trust. Perhaps the most important quality of leadership is the capacity to pay attention to every constituency, and Richard has remained, for twelve years, a most attentive president. He knows what happens in our classrooms, what we say in our books, and what we think about our workplace. I appreciate the personal notes on the birthday cards (“March Forth!” in my case), but even more I look forward to hearing from Richard about a former student of mine whom he met at an alumni function or reading a clipping he has sent me about my current research project. We all do.

No description of Richard Cook’s presidency can be complete without acknowledging the contributions of Terry Lahti. If Richard has been a great boss, Terry has been an even greater senior partner, his more ebullient alter ego. (I can recall how, on the occasion of my third consecutive dinner at the house, she threw her arms around me on the front steps as if I were her long lost brother.) Through her travels with Richard while expanding her own professional interests, her work with alumni and donors, her friendship with trustees, and her support of student recruitment as well as the causes of women on campus, she has proven to be the model of a working presidential spouse. As we bid them farewell, we may wonder how anyone can take Richard’s and Terry’s place at Allegheny, to which I say, let’s focus instead on how lucky we have been to have had them with us these past twelve years. Because of them, Allegheny’s future has never been brighter.

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Sometimes Even Presidents Just Gotta Sing the Blues

bluesSurprises abounded at the annual Dean’s Dance in February when faculty rock band Credit/No Credit performed a special tribute to President Richard Cook. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all was when Dr. Cook took the stage to sing “Soul Man.” The band is made up of Jennifer Hellwarth, associate professor of English; Ron Mumme, professor of biology; James Reedy, instructor in the Dance and Movement Studies program; and Joshua Searle-White, associate professor of psychology.

Listen to Audio from the Dean’s Dance

“Soul Man” (mp3)
Performed by President Richard Cook and Credit/No Credit

“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (mp3)
A tribute to Richard Cook and Terry Lahti performed by Credit/No Credit

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Building the Future One Relationship at a Time: The Presidency of Richard J. Cook

By Kathy Roos

Although college presidencies are judged by historians who examine the big picture—the broad sweep of years seen through the lens of new buildings, innovative programs, and enrollment successes—presidents themselves are remembered for the much more finely drawn detail of their personal style: the qualities they bring to their work and the way they conduct themselves day in and day out in the most challenging and demanding position in higher education.

For Richard Cook, who retires this summer after twelve years as president of Allegheny College, that style might be summed up in a simple lesson learned in childhood.

“I’ve always told people—and not totally tongue-in-cheek—that I think I’ve kept my job because my mother taught me how important it is to write notes,” Dr. Cook says. “It helps build relationships and acknowledges not just people’s work but their lives.”

In many ways those notes symbolize a presidency that has brought a remarkable vision into reality. By building relationships, Allegheny’s twentieth president has built much more, strengthening the institution and creating an increased presence on the national stage for Allegheny College and its programs and people.

“He’s Too Tall”…That’s All

Dr. Cook is quick to credit Allegheny—alumni, students, faculty, and staff—with being a community where he immediately felt at home. “It’s an egalitarian place,” he says, “with an unusual combination of tough standards and a warm heart. The more people I met from Allegheny, the surer I was of the match and the fit. It helps to be surrounded by people who share similar values and approaches. If your values are similar, it’s likely to be a more productive relationship and conversation.”

Evidence of those shared values and approaches can be found in the obvious respect that the Allegheny faculty and staff have for the College’s president. Whereas other institutions sometimes make the news because of rancorous relations between faculty and administration, Allegheny trustee Bill Steffee ’57, who served on a trustee committee that evaluated Dr. Cook’s performance, says that faculty reviews were without exception positive.

“Every comment was glowing,” he recalls. “Finally I said to the faculty, ‘C’mon—there’s got to be something you don’t like about him.’ After a long pause, a junior faculty member spoke up from the back of the room and said, ‘He’s too tall.'”

Those glowing comments have been well earned. Allegheny is on a sound financial footing, and applications to the College under Dr. Cook’s leadership have steadily increased, resulting in higher selectivity and a better fit between student and institution. The College’s profile on the national educational landscape has become both more prominent and more sharply defined. But, perhaps most telling of all, Allegheny is a place where relationships are genuine and where respect for others starts at the top, where the president sets the tone for civil, informed, and engaged dialogue, and where students learn that sometimes it’s more important to listen than to talk.

Stronger, More Vital Connections

The respect and pride that Dr. Cook so obviously feels when he speaks about Allegheny students and alumni have paid dividends in stronger, more vibrant connections among the College community.

cook5More alumni are lending their talents, skills, and expertise to the College than ever before, whether it’s as members of the Alumni Council, planners for their class’s next reunion, or mentors to current students. (When the alumni office sent out a request recently for graduates to serve as mentors, more than 1,400 alumni responded.) It’s a connection—between college and alumni, between alumni and current students—that Dr. Cook has forged through assiduous attention to a collaborative working relationship with student groups such as Allegheny Student Government. Once students feel truly invested in the success of the College, graduation cements rather than attenuates their relationship to Allegheny.

Dr. Cook himself is unapologetically sentimental when he talks about the student experience at Allegheny. “I’ve run into dozens of seniors over the years who say they don’t want to leave,” he says. “Graduation is coming up, and they’re not ready to say goodbye. I remember that I was more than ready to leave my campus. But I didn’t go to a place like Allegheny.”

Going to a place like Allegheny, in the years of the Cook presidency, has become even more special. Melissa McCrimmon ’03 was living in Houston when Hurricane Rita struck in September 2005. “I was attempting to evacuate from Houston,” she recounts. “I managed to speak with my father at one point while stuck in traffic. He told me that he had contacted Dr. Cook to see if any Allegheny alumni in neighboring states could offer me a safe place to stay during the storm. Dr. Cook and the alumni office not only contacted Alleghenians in Louisiana and Mississippi, but Dr. Cook also stayed in touch with my parents throughout the storm. I will never forget Dr. Cook’s personal concern in helping me, an alumna halfway across the country, find a safe place to weather the storm.”

A Legacy of Collaboration

Andy Walker ’00 was a self-described “wide-eyed freshman” in August 1996, when Richard Cook assumed the presidency of Allegheny College. “What impressed me most as a student,” he says, “was Richard’s visibility on campus. He was always accessible and approachable.”

Now, as executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Meadville, Andy Walker sees that same accessibility in the way that Dr. Cook keeps the connections strong between town and gown.

“Richard maintains that same presence in the community,” he says. “Allegheny College, under his leadership, has been a consistent and invaluable partner in community and economic development. He clearly understands that the future of the College and the community are inextricably linked. I think his greatest legacy to the community is the culture and spirit of collaboration that will lay the groundwork for even greater things to come.”

Dr. Cook has viewed himself as a partner in the region’s development from Day 1 of his presidency, keeping the lines of communication open between town and gown and working with city and county officials, school boards, the Chamber of Commerce, and nonprofits throughout the region to put the expertise, energy, and enthusiasm of students, faculty, and staff to good use in the community.

And Dr. Cook takes a very personal interest in helping to create a thriving community that will allow the College to continue to flourish. One of the highlights of his year is October’s Make A Difference Day, when he and his wife, Terry Lahti, roll up their sleeves and work alongside students to paint a garage, rake leaves, or even roof a house for Meadville residents who can use a helping hand. Word on the street is that students on Dr. Cook’s team always had to work extra hard and twice as fast as other teams to keep up with the president and his wife.

cooktractor At his family homestead in Michigan

“Everything You Would Hope to Find in a College Administrator”

As Allegheny’s visibility in the local community has increased—it’s not unusual, for example, to hear the head of a nonprofit agency remark that she couldn’t keep the doors open if it weren’t for student volunteers from the College—so has Allegheny’s reputation and profile on the national scene.

Over the last twelve years, reporters have learned that they can call Dr. Cook and get straight talk on the complex national issues facing higher education, to the point where Allegheny has become known as a “go to” school for education reporters looking for solid information and sound opinion.

“Richard is everything you would hope to find in a college administrator—he is wise, decent, patient, thoughtful and, most important, visionary,” says Bill Schmidt, assistant managing editor of the New York Times. “He is an eloquent spokesman not only for Allegheny, but for that larger community of small liberal arts colleges that are among the country’s great academic resources. You get good vibrations just being around Richard. Imagine Jimmy Stewart, whose characters radiated all that middle American wisdom, empathy and honor, as a college administrator and you get a pretty good picture of Richard.”

The New York Times has quoted Dr. Cook numerous times and talked about Allegheny in a page 1 story on January 1, 2006, but the College and its people and programs have also been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Renda Broadcasting outlets, among many others, including Web-based media such as salon.com and Yahoo News.

That kind of recognition doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s fostered by the challenging work of serving with peers in the trenches of higher education. Dr. Cook has served on the board of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), as a member of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and as chair of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania. He has also taken a leadership role as Division III schools in the North Coast Athletic Conference do some soul-searching about reorganization of a division where the colleges range from 400 students to 40,000.

“Richard Cook is a highly effective president who is often on the leading edge of important improvements in higher education,” says CIC president Richard Ekman. “He was one of the first college presidents to wade into the waters of evaluation of student learning and didn’t hesitate to join CIC’s Collegiate Learning Assessment Consortium. He was an exceedingly thoughtful, energetic, and wise board member who played a key role on the national scene in higher education.”

Dr. Cook has also thoughtfully and energetically nurtured the College’s connection to legislators at the regional, state, and national levels, resulting in increased appreciation for the role that Allegheny—and its alumni—play in the world, appreciation that sometimes translates into dollars. During the last fund-raising campaign, for example, the College received $15 million in state and federal grants. State legislators—not all of them alumni—were instrumental in helping to secure $4 million in Commonwealth funding to aid in the construction of the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts, a community resource scheduled to open this fall.

A Gentle But Persuasive Fund-Raiser

Allegheny’s most recent fund-raising campaign was the most ambitious—and successful—in the College’s history, raising more than $115 million, which was $10 million over goal. At the campaign’s conclusion, Tom St. Clair ’57, who chaired the effort with the late David Hoag ’60, summed up Dr. Cook’s work in securing the gifts that would make the difference between maintaining the status quo or accelerating the College’s climb to national prominence.

cookchapel“Richard’s fund-raising prowess is unsurpassed,” Mr. St. Clair said. “He worked tirelessly, and with persistence and/or gentle persuasion, depending on the circumstances, to secure major gift after major gift that made this campaign the most successful ever for Allegheny.”

One of those major gifts—the largest gift in the College’s history—was made by Robert Vukovich ’65 and his wife, Laura. “Richard is a remarkable man with many talents, among which is his ability to find additional funding for Allegheny College,” says Dr. Vukovich. “His gentle yet persuasive approach commingled with his forward-thinking vision has resulted in very successful development efforts, including giving a very necessary boost to Allegheny’s endowment.”

Dr. Cook also nurtured Allegheny’s relationships with foundations, including a now strong relationship with the Corella & Bertram Bonner Foundation, from his first year on campus. The result has been the establishment of both a Bonner Leaders program and a Bonner Scholars program at Allegheny. To date, the Bonner Foundation has made grants of more than $200,000 in support of Allegheny’s two Bonner programs, which engage students in significant service to the community during the academic year and summers.

Furthermore, the Bonner Foundation has recently approved an endowment grant approaching $3 million to Allegheny to permanently support the program.

“Every foundation begins with the premise that philanthropic dollars are scarce and the needs of the nation’s colleges and universities are large,” says Eugene M. Tobin, program officer for higher education at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “At Mellon, we are attracted by the best ideas and the ablest intellectual and institutional leaders. Richard Cook is among the most talented and successful presidents of his generation, but he is also among the most modest and unpretentious. His undeniable pride in Allegheny’s people and programs has always been tempered by a refreshing humility and candor and by an unrelenting dedication to strengthen the institution. It is no surprise that Richard’s tenure has paralleled Allegheny’s emergence as one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges.”

Two other aspects of the campaign give insight into the character of the Cook presidency. Eighty-five percent of the College’s employees donated a total of $2,075,398 to the campaign. Not only are faculty and staff loyal to Allegheny, which indicates high morale, but they are so confident in the College’s leadership that they are willing to return a portion of their own salaries to the institution.

In addition, Richard Cook and Terry Lahti made their own gift to Allegheny College during the course of the campaign: $500,000. In fund-raising parlance, that’s known as a stretch gift. It’s also virtually unprecedented among college presidents.

Giving Every Measure

Part of Dr. Cook’s success as chief fund-raiser for Allegheny is based on his reputation as a careful steward of the College’s resources. Those who give to Allegheny College know that the president and his staff will make the most of every dollar.

“When you look at the quality of experience we offer, the quality of faculty we have, and the facilities on campus, we outperform our monetary resources day in and day out,” Dr. Cook explains. “That’s due to the immense dedication people have to our mission. The faculty, staff, and trustees believe so much in the mission of the College that they give every measure to achieving it.”

cookdegree President Cook—flanked by Dean of the College Linda DeMeritt and Secretary of the Faculty Courtenay Dodge—is awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters, honoris causa, at Commencement ceremonies on May 11, 2008.

That commitment to responsible stewardship also frames the leadership role that Dr. Cook has taken on sustainability issues. One of the early signatories of the now 500-member American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC)—a national challenge to colleges and universities to develop a comprehensive action plan to reduce greenhouse gases by becoming more energy- and materials-efficient—he now serves on the ACUPCC’s steering committee.

Through his foresight, Allegheny was selected as one of eleven ACUPCC signatories that will launch pilot projects to further green their campuses—and was the first college or university in the nation to submit a request for proposal from energy service companies under the program.

“Apart from any decreasing uncertainty and debate that remains about global climate change, a great advantage of participating in the Climate Commitment is that it makes great economic sense,” Dr. Cook recently told a reporter for Biocycle magazine. “It is a sound business decision to make our campus facilities and practices energy- and materials-efficient. Why would anyone think that financial returns of 10 to 50 percent annually through investments to save energy are not worth taking and taking right now?”

Other milestones on the road to sustainability have been Dr. Cook’s appointment of a Task Force on Environmental Responsibility, development of a set of environmental guiding principles that shape the College’s approach to environmental stewardship, installation of an advanced composting facility, and a commitment to “green,” energy-efficient building, such as the North Village residential complex.

“Richard is a leader who gets it,” says Terry Bensel, chair of the College’s Department of Environmental Science, “someone who understands that environmental initiatives are not just about improving the public face of the institution but also about improving the health of its students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community; about saving energy and saving money for other, more central purposes of the College; and about providing opportunities for students to get involved in learning about and caring for the local environment and community.”

Working to create a renewed interest in the College’s history and traditions, Dr. Cook has been as careful a steward of Allegheny’s history as he has been of its other resources. During the last twelve years, the History and Heritage Committee began their work, Jonathan Helmreich’s weighty Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College debuted, the campus community once again began to celebrate Founder’s Day, the Merrick Historic Archival Center opened its doors and the position of college archivist was created, and historic buildings such as Cochran Hall, housing the Patricia Bush Tippie Alumni Center, were lovingly restored.

When Inspiration Isn’t Enough

Paralleling Dr. Cook’s commitment to the wise use of College resources is a passionate commitment to civic engagement.

“Today’s teach-in gives me hope that the younger generation will show the way and inspire those in power to do better,” Dr. Cook told students at a recent all-day forum on issues related to the nation’s future. “But in case inspiration won’t be enough—and it won’t—I urge you to empower yourselves through the political process and insist that the public servants we elect have no choice but to do the right things or be replaced by those who will.”

cookofficials With State Representative Sean Ramaley ’97 and Meadville mayor Richard Friedberg ’70

Dr. Cook has modeled the behavior that he expects from students. He is one of the originators and signatories of Campus Compact’s Presidents’ Declaration on the Civic Responsibility of Higher Education, which he describes as “a statement that acknowledges our special obligation to educate for citizenship.”

In addition, under Dr. Cook’s leadership, Allegheny became one of only ten colleges nationwide invited to be charter members of Project Pericles, an innovative program of the Eugene Lang Foundation to create national models for other institutions that want to provide to their students effective education on citizenship and social responsibility. The College is also one of twenty-eight institutions invited to be part of the Leadership Consortium of the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Core Commitments program, which explores how higher education can foster engaged citizenship, teach personal and social responsibility, encourage a respect for diversity, cultivate excellence, and implement programs that support community engagement.

During his tenure, the College’s Center for Political Participation (CPP) opened its doors. The CPP has sponsored programs ranging from Model Campaign USA, in which high school students learn through hands-on experience the ins and outs of running an effective—and ethical—political campaign, to an all-day event in February that brought political leaders together with student teams from as far away as New Hampshire to begin a national discussion giving American voters a voice in reformation of the presidential nomination process.

cookandlahti At the meeting of the College’s board of trustees in February, the board and other representatives of the College community surprised President Richard Cook with the news that a new environmental center, to be housed in Carr Hall, will be named in his honor. The Richard J. Cook Center for Environmental Science will provide even more visibility for Allegheny’s already strong and nationally respected programs in environmental science and environmental studies. It will also acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions that Dr. Cook has made to a sustainable future not just at Allegheny but also at college and university campuses across the nation.

Civic engagement has become part of the Allegheny zeitgeist, whether it’s through the Values, Ethics, and Social Action (VESA) minor, the Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED), the Bonner Leader Program, the Davies Community Service Leader Program, or a host of other initiatives, large and small, that Dr. Cook has always supported and many times shepherded.

Life after the presidency of Allegheny College holds many attractions for Dr. Cook—including, he says, having the time to read for pleasure again. He admits that being able to be more active himself in hands-on community projects and service on boards and advisory groups is something to which he looks forward.

“For twelve years I have felt an obligation to suppress my own views on many matters because I represent the entire campus and because my position is symbolic of the College,” he says. “I think it’s been right for the College, but it can also leave you feeling somewhat powerless because you can’t have your own voice. So I’m quite confident that in the years ahead I will be an active and vocal citizen and, I hope, a productive one.”

Raising Our Ambition

Alumni have embraced Dr. Cook every bit as enthusiastically and warmly as the on-campus community, as evidenced in 2006 when Dr. Cook and Terry Lahti were awarded honorary alumni status and the Alumni Medal for distinguished service at Allegheny College.

“As a family with deep Allegheny roots, we are very appreciative of what Richard has accomplished in his twelve years at Allegheny,” says trustee Dag Skattum ’84. “In truly transforming the institution, Richard did it by respecting what makes Allegheny great. His inspirational and inclusive style made us all feel privileged to work with him—and with Terry. He leaves Allegheny in its best shape ever, with faculty, the administration, the board and alumni energized to make it even better in the next twelve years.”

As Allegheny College approaches its bicentennial in 2015—a milestone that few colleges in the country have achieved—Dr. Cook has left Allegheny a remarkable legacy. His tenure has been a period marked not only by extraordinary accomplishment but also by an ability to inspire others to continue building on his vision for Allegheny, a vision that he has crafted with deliberation, innovation, a profound respect for Allegheny’s history and traditions, and, always, a spirit of collaboration.

“He has increased our awareness of what Allegheny is all about,” Dag Skattum says, “and raised our ambition for what it can be.”

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Paul Zolbrod's Unfinished War

By Tony Magistrale ’74

Thirty-five years ago, as a sophomore English major at Allegheny, I took a course on the epic tradition from Paul Zolbrod. We read the Greeks, Dante, and Milton. Paul and I have managed to remain in steady contact, and two years ago we both returned to Meadville to share Homecoming weekend with another emeritus English professor, Fred Frank.

zolbrod Aside from sparking my initial interest in Dante—for which I am forever grateful—my memories of Professor Zolbrod are winter-shaded. I recall him underneath a big brown furry cap, omnipresent professorial pipe in one corner of his mouth, as we talked passionately of literary matters on our way to classes in Arter Hall. And, over time, I have conflated these many walks into a single image of us trudging through the archetypal western Pennsylvania snowstorm, large flakes of snow floating around our heads, intermingling with Zolbrod’s pipe smoke.

Paul retired in 1994, after thirty years of teaching at Allegheny, and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he continues to teach literature and writing at the Navajo Nation’s Dine College in a one-building campus just off the Continental Divide. On the days when he is on campus, Paul spends the night on a mattress on the floor of the school’s library, clear illustrations of the poverty that surrounds him as well as the dedicated teacher that still resides within.

While it would have been interesting to see him teach again in a classroom setting so different from those at Allegheny, mutual time constraints forced us to rendezvous instead in Las Vegas. On the afternoon of our meeting, the desert sun peaked at 107 degrees, posing a sharp contrast to our shared Meadville winters so many years ago. Paul showed up with neither the pipe nor the fur cap that are etched into my undergraduate memory, but he hasn’t lost his passion for literary matters. On this occasion, however, the writer under discussion was not Dante, but Zolbrod himself.

When Paul was just a little older than the age I was at Allegheny, he authored a novel about the Korean War entitled Battle Songs. Although the book was accepted for publication by World Publishing Company in 1965, the initial offer was rescinded when the house merged with a larger conglomerate. From 1965 to 2005 the novel lay dormant. Zolbrod resurrected it, in part, at his daughter’s urging; given U.S. involvement in a war that resembled Korea in so many ways, she thought the book timelier than ever. The manuscript underwent substantial revisions as Paul, his daughter, and his new editors revisited it, and it will soon be available to readers as a print-on-demand book from iUniverse or Amazon.com.

Although Zolbrod never served in Korea, he came close; drafted in 1953, he underwent months of intense basic training. During our conversation, he told me of how he was instructed to “bayonet the testicles of his enemy,” and the day in which he witnessed a .50-caliber machine gun set a forest of pine trees ablaze. Battle Songs reflects his awareness that Korea, like Viet Nam, was a war fought by the poor, “by those whose parents could not afford to send their sons to college.” Set in the time period leading up to and into the advent of the Korean War itself, the narrative tracks four feisty western Pennsylvanian friends—Fran, Ben, Dick, and Sam—and their tragic trajectories from innocence to experience, from early romantic idealism about going into battle to a world-weary cynicism in response to its toll.

Only Sam survives the slaughter, but he emerges like one of Hemingway’s psychically crippled veterans of war, at home neither on the battlefield nor in civilized society. Zolbrod acknowledges the specific influence of “Soldier’s Home” and Farewell to Arms on his own work, arguing that one way we can hope to avoid repeating the horrors of war is by paying closer attention to the chroniclers of combat. “We need to read Hemingway, Stephen Crane, Tolstoy—which we are not doing.” He adds that our leaders need to be reading these writers, too.

In addition to producing a scathing rejection of our involvement in the Korean conflict specifically, Zolbrod’s novel is also a bitter commentary on war in general, and to assist him in establishing this tone the English professor enlists the help of literary artists who have transformed the violence of warfare into the subject matter of art. Hemingway is the most obvious influence in this text, but the grittiness of Zolbrod’s battle scenes recalls both Homer and Stephen Crane as well. Also, selections from the “Drum-Taps” section in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass punctuate the four major parts of the novel and resonate throughout the text. “If you follow Whitman’s selections from poem to poem,” Zolbrod notes, “you just see the disillusionment and the horror of the poet confronting the carnage of war. Whitman’s poems haunted me.”

The more I pressed Paul about the timeliness of his novel and his urge to revive it in the midst of American involvement in another war, the more it became apparent that American foreign policy troubles him now more than it did in 1965. In this context, Zolbrod’s book inspires readers to consider the long river of American blood that connects battlefields from all over the world and to ponder deeply about how much of this carnage was truly necessary, what it ultimately resolved. “Four wars in my lifetime—World War Two, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq,” he recounts. “Wars where young people were sent to fight people they had nothing against. The same thing all over again.”

Although Battle Songs is a protest novel against war per se, the long tradition of battle—in literature and throughout history—would appear to suggest that armed conflict is an irrevocable part of human destiny, as inevitable a curse on humankind as plagues and epidemics. But Zolbrod rejects such reductive arguments as too cynical. “The idealist in me insists that implicit in my novel is a solution,” he says. “If there is a propensity for violence in the human animal, we have to struggle to overcome it.”

His most recent revisions to the manuscript have led the author to believe he has produced a better book than his initial effort some forty years ago. Decades of studying Navajo culture and traditions have undoubtedly added to the shape of the novel, especially its powerful conclusion, at once optimistic even as its lesson of hope is born out of tragic experience: “The novel now has the kind of wisdom that I hope I’ve acquired after all these years,” he says. “I have a better understanding of what the alternative to war might be.”

Tony Magistrale is Associate Chair and Professor of English at the University of Vermont.

Confronting a Crisis

Alleghenians on front lines of free medical clinic movement

By Doug McInnis

Twenty years ago, Dr. James Trippi ’75 volunteered to hand out coffee and doughnuts at an Indianapolis soup kitchen. When he got there, he immediately realized that the kitchen’s clientele needed his medical expertise far more than they needed doughnuts.

weirich In many cases, Trippi saw untreated medical problems so advanced that he could make a diagnosis on the spot. “Rather than hand out doughnuts, we decided to offer them medical care and a homeless shelter,” he says. That was the beginning of Gennesaret Free Clinic, which now serves 12,000 uninsured patients a year.

Gennesaret is among a wave of free clinics that have emerged in big cities and small towns across America in the last four decades as the number of uninsured has grown to more than 45 million. The doctors who staff these clinics are often unpaid volunteers working part time. Others work full time at a fraction of what they would make in a private practice.

Their reward is a chance to practice high-quality medicine unencumbered by many of the problems that plague much of the U.S. health industry. “It’s why most of us went into health care–to make people feel better,” says Trippi, one of at least four Allegheny graduates involved with the free clinic movement. “At the free clinic, there’s not a lot of paperwork. There are no insurance companies to dicker with. And we haven’t gotten one malpractice suit in twenty years.” Free clinics operate on shoestring budgets within the mammoth U.S. health care system. Yet with scant resources they change the lives of patients whose conditions would otherwise go untreated. For instance, an early diagnosis of high blood pressure may prevent a stroke; an iron tablet may energize a listless patient weakened by anemia.

Sometimes, the problem is much tougher. “In the early days of HIV, when we didn’t have effective therapy, many of the people we saw here had been living on one of the coasts when they got sick and they came home to die,” says Dr. Pete Cubberley ’57, former medical director and current volunteer at the Free Clinic of Cleveland.

Today, HIV is a chronic disease treatable by medication, and the Cleveland Free Clinic’s HIV patients have become survivors. One has graduated from medical school. Another recovered to the point that he could move back to California. “I still get a Christmas card from him every year,” says Cubberley. Free clinics get the patients that mainstream medicine doesn’t want. The common denominator among them is that they are uninsured and don’t have the resources to write a check for their care. Mainstream hospitals are required by law to provide emergency care to the uninsured, but after doing so they may show patients the door.

It’s not unheard of for destitute patients to undergo major surgery at a hospital and then have to recuperate in a homeless shelter. In the worst case, hospitals may resort to “dumping,” a practice recently exposed in Los Angeles by the Los Angeles Times.

“They just want to get rid of the patient,” says Dr. Dennis Bleakley ’64, a staff doctor at the JWCH Institute Free Clinic in downtown Los Angeles. “They do it under cover of darkness, dropping the patient off from a hospital van, or by putting them in a cab and sending them off . There was one case where a patient who had undergone a colostomy was walking around L.A.’s Skid Row after being dumped. He was disoriented and still in his hospital gown.”

Bleakley first encountered the shortcomings of the health care system long before he became a doctor. “My grandmother broke her hip. She went to the hospital and while she was there she had a gall bladder attack. Then she had a heart attack and almost died. She didn’t have health insurance and the expense wiped out her life savings. At the time I said to myself, ‘There’s something wrong with that.'”

The modern free clinic movement dates back to the late 1960s, when a clinic was set up in San Francisco’s Haight- Ashbury district to help users of psychedelic drugs come down from bad trips. But as the years have passed, the mission of free clinics has changed often mirroring the country’s shifting health care needs.

“When this clinic first opened, the colleges didn’t do anything in terms of providing contraception,” says Cubberley. “We would have buses come up from Kent State University once a week with girls getting birth control pills. We also dealt with a fair amount of drug use. That’s changed greatly over the years. There’s still some drug use, but mostly not with middle class kids. Today, the clinic serves people who don’t have health insurance and can’t get it because they can’t pay for it.”

The Free Clinic of Cleveland is also treating increasing numbers of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, says Dr. Steve Weirich ’81, the clinic’s current medical director. “We’ve seen people from over one hundred countries,” says Weirich. “Our typical patient is a person who got divorced and lost insurance or who lost their job.

“Another group is made up of former inmates who have just gotten released from prison. They are uninsured and in many cases uninsurable. And they are unemployed and in many cases unemployable.”

By the time they arrive at the clinic, some of these patients have been without medication for extended periods, in some cases for years and they have gotten progressively sicker, he says.

The uninsured have long been around, but in recent decades their growing numbers have begun to overwhelm the medical system. “We are running the risk that we may see the day when a majority of the population doesn’t have health insurance, if things continue the way they’ve been going,” says Weirich.

Calls are growing for national health insurance to fill the void, and some of the biggest supporters of universal government health care can be found at free clinics. “We in the free-clinic business have a not-so-secret agenda and that’s national health insurance,” says Weirich. “A lot of organizations want to self-perpetuate. Everybody who works here would like to be out of a job.”

This article was featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine.