Perspective: The faces behind the names

Dozens of buildings on campus bear the names of alumni who have given millions. Now, a look at some of their stories.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
September 30, 2003

Perspective: The faces behind the names

Art by Noel Fahden

In the spring of 1959, things got a little out of hand for then-freshman Paul Kelly.

It was during the Rowbottoms -- an annual series of riots -- when he ran into trouble with the police. Trouble that landed him on University probation.

At the time, though, the University officials who handed down Kelly's punishment had no way of knowing one day there would be a building named for him on campus.

Most students who have ever had a late-night cram session in the quiet of the Fine Arts Library, attended an author's workshop or worked out at the gym probably paid little attention to the buildings' namesakes -- and never stopped to think about the stories attached to them.

But behind the names are faces of numerous alumni who, for different reasons, have chosen to leave their mark.

The gift amount necessary to rename a building depends on the size and scale of the project, though it generally needs to be about 50 percent of the total cost, according to Executive Director of Principal Gifts Linda Kronfeld.

Those who have signed such hefty checks include Kelly, who graduated from the College in 1962 and received an MBA from Wharton in 1964, Jerome Fisher, a 1953 Wharton graduate and David Pottruck, who graduated from the College in 1970 and received a Wharton MBA in 1972.

Their legacies include the Fisher Fine Arts Library, Fisher-Hassenfeld College House, Kelly Writers House and the David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center.

It may seem surprising that a president and CEO of an investment banking firm spent over half of his undergraduate career on University probation -- and didn't even take business-related classes.

But that is exactly what Kelly did.

"I've never really felt that I was a finance-type guy," Kelly says in his frank, friendly manner -- which is unruffled even as he is preparing for a trip to New Zealand the next day, where he runs a resort and winery.

As he neared graduation from the College in the early '60s, Kelly says he planned to go to law school after he received his degree in English. Instead, he went into business.

Despite receiving his MBA from Wharton, Kelly -- who now works for Knox and Co. -- insists that he does not fit the mold most financiers do, since those people usually "have a proclivity for math."

"I spent most of my undergraduate career ducking math, taking things like 'Math for Poets,'" Kelly laughs.

But though he succeeded in avoiding math, Kelly was not always so lucky when it came to ducking trouble -- which is how he ended up on University probation for nearly three years.

The story begins at the end of Kelly's freshman year. In those days, spring at Penn heralded Rowbottoms -- which would originate in the Quadrangle and sometimes spill out onto what was then known as Locust Street.

"Somewhere back in the dim, dark past of Penn there was a student who used to wander in late at night who was all drunked up," Kelly says, explaining the Rowbottom legend. "He could never figure out where his room was, so he'd start yelling for his roommate, whose name was Rowbottom. At a given point in time, people would start throwing things at him down there."

The Rowbottoms became a tradition and would start up on a warm spring night with a Quadrangle student yelling out "Rowbottom!"

The year Kelly got into trouble, the rioting had spread all over campus.

"People were running around and throwing stuff," he recalls. "The police... were grabbing people and putting them in paddywagons, and I got a little too cute."

"There was a guy selling ice cream bars and I kind of sauntered over to get [one], kind of looking at the cop as I was doing it," he says. "I was within grabbing distance, so even though I wasn't doing anything, he grabbed me and stuck me in the paddywagon.... They took us down and booked us, and then they turned us over to the University."

Kelly, who served as freshman class secretary and had been actively involved in lacrosse, track and sprint football, was put on mass probation along with many other students, which meant that he could no longer participate in extracurricular activities.

The whole experience, Kelly says jokingly, "taught me that you shouldn't get too close to the action, otherwise you're apt to be grabbed -- as it were. That kind of cut down on my activities for a while."

But, Kelly is quick to add, being put on probation did give him the time he needed to get serious about his schoolwork.

And he still had his fraternity, Sigma Chi, which boasts other famous Penn alumni such as Jon Huntsman Sr. and Jr.

In fact, Kelly says it was his ties with his fraternity brothers that drew him back to campus.

"They seemed to have developed a philanthropic bent, and I guess it was fairly inspirational for a number of us," Kelly says of his Penn comrades. "Despite the fact that it's not a huge fraternity, we've always had people who have been involved with the University."

Kelly adds that he had also reached a time in his career in which he came to an important realization.

"At some given point in time, you just have to make time [to give back], because you can always continue to be immersed in your business interests," he says.

Founded in 1995, the Writers House, located at 3805 Locust Walk, was in need of financial support when the Development Office contacted Kelly and arranged for him to visit Penn. Kelly says he knew immediately that he'd found a diamond in the rough.

"Being an investor, it was sort of like looking at Microsoft for 10 cents," he says. "You look at it and say, 'This thing's got everything going for it.'"

The former English major gave $1.1 million, which went toward the renovation of the Writers House and to support its programs.

"I liked the whole idea of the thing which involves the informality of having a kitchen and coffee always available, Kelly says of the house. "It's sort of like a Greenwich Village coffee shop, but at the same time, it has this sort of salon-like atmosphere where people are dealing in the various arts, whether they're the written arts, the spoken arts or music."