Founders Day makes memories for Harrisburg
Public Relations - Published: October 7, 2009
The Harrisburg campus welcomed about 300 people to the law school grounds for a festive event that celebrated its 20th anniversary with speeches, photos, music and memories.

“I want to congratulate you for all you’ve done to make Widener University School of Law the success it is today,” Widener University President James T. Harris III told the crowd, seated under a tent atop a hill adjacent to the law building.

“This law school has reflected what is great about our country,” he said.

Other speakers at the Oct. 5 program included Law Dean Linda L. Ammons; Anthony J. Santoro, founding dean of the Harrisburg campus; alumnus Eugene D. McGurk Jr., secretary on the university’s Board of Trustees and chairman of the law school’s Board of Overseers; James P. White, who served as the American Bar Association’s consultant on legal education when the Harrisburg campus received ABA accreditation; Professor John L. Gedid, the campus’ founding associate dean; Professor James W. Diehm, a founding faculty member; and alumnus Harry P. McGrath, a member of the first graduating class.

Alumni took part in other ways, too. The Rev. Michael P. Reid II, ’92, gave the invocation and benediction and Laura Cooper, ’03, sang the National Anthem.

Santoro brought ripples of laughter to the crowd with his stories of what it took to get the campus off the ground, something he called “the most arduous journey” of his life. He credited businessman John Vartan for his role in helping the school acquire the land and build the law building under an ambitious schedule. The time frame was so tight, he said, that glass was installed for the lobby windows the morning of orientation.

“Congratulations on a job well done,” he said.

Widener Law has developed a dominant presence in central Pennsylvania and around the nation, current Law Dean Linda L. Ammons said. She marveled at the stories of the campus’ early challenges, in light of what a smooth operation it has become.

“Thank you for blazing this trail,” she said to members of the first graduating class, seated in the audience.

One of those students, McGrath, said he enrolled in that first class because he kept hearing about a new law school in Harrisburg that was supportive of nontraditional students’ needs. The married father of three left his career in the U.S. Secret Service and enrolled to pursue his dream. Today he is a successful attorney – and one of roughly 2,700 Harrisburg campus alumni.

“There is not a day that goes by that at least one pearl of wisdom from something I learned here does not go through my mind,” McGrath said.

The program was followed by a reception with music provided by Seasons, a musical group made up of Professor G. Randall Lee’s children.