Wittenberg University Formally Dedicates Susan Hirt Hagen Center For Civic & Urban Engagement
Published Oct. 28, 2011
Springfield, Ohio – Surrounded by members of Witenberg’s Board of Directors, university officials and members of the Springfield community, Wittenberg officially dedicated the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic & Urban Engagement, Oct. 28.
The event served as a pivotal moment in the life of the university as it recognized Hagen, a philanthropist whose $6 million gift this summer endowed the Center, and offered an opportunity to celebrate Wittenberg’s core values and mission.
“As most of you know, our motto is ‘Having light we pass it on to others,’ and I can think of no greater example of passing on that light than through the generous actions of actions of Susan Hirt Hagen,” said President Mark H. Erickson. “Thank you Susie, on behalf of the entire Wittenberg family, our students and this greater Springfield community for your generous gift that will impact generations of Wittenberg students and greater Springfield residents.”
The largest cash gift ever received from a living individual to the university, the $6 million gift was 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.
“We promise to you, Susie, and to this community that we will do our very best to deliver on the confidence you have placed in us by bringing the resources of Wittenberg to bear on the challenges that Springfield and communities like it face,” said Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland, Wittenberg professor of religion. “In the process, we will also help our faculty, staff and students learn by doing what needs to be done in this community.”
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.
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.
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 the core and the creek; (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