College, community honor legacy of leader in physical education

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With the passing of Robert (Bob) James Scannell, the College of Health and Human Development and the Penn State community mourn his loss while honoring the foundations he laid for the college — and University — through his leadership in disciplines that remain strong tenets of Penn State tradition today.

Scannell died Nov. 25 in Mahwah, New Jersey, surrounded by his family. He was 82. 

From 1970 until 1980, he served as dean of the former College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) at Penn State, predecessor to the current College of Health and Human Development.

R. Scott Kretchmar, professor emeritus of exercise and sport science at Penn State, knew Scannell well.

“He saw physical education as an integral part of one’s liberal education. He saw moving well or moving skillfully as an important complement to one’s overall educational efforts toward increased knowledge and freedom,” Kretchmar said.

Scannell also saw an important compatibility between athletics and education. This vision was partly responsible for Penn State’s tradition of viewing athletics and coaches as important assets in the overall educational enterprise, according to Kretchmar.

He was regarded personally, too. “I always regarded Bob as a leader, a solid citizen, and a person with an infectious sense of humor,” Kretchmar said.

At the time he was dean, HPER also included oversight of Penn State Athletics. Scannell was an enthusiastic advocate for Penn State women's athletics, which grew dramatically during the 1970s. Penn State was a national leader in implementing Title IX legislation, according to Scannell’s peers.

Elizabeth Hanley, associate professor emerita of kinesiology, knew Scannell while teaching at Penn State. She said Scannell and Professor Emerita Marty Adams, who passed away in January 2017, worked tirelessly to promote women’s athletics at Penn State.

“We were ahead of the game when it came to women’s athletics,” Hanley said. “Bob was an advocate for women’s varsity sports even before it was a Title IX requirement. Few schools had women’s collegiate athletics at a time when we competed. Penn State was a very special place.”

Robert Ricketts, senior lecturer emeritus of kinesiology, said he knew Scannell from the time he started at the University — when Scannell signed his first contract — until a get together of retirees earlier this year where Ricketts asked Scannell [jokingly] to sign his retirement papers.

“Bob Scannell was a strong advocate of physical activity within the context of education at Penn State,” Ricketts said.

Following his term as dean, Scannell served as vice president and dean of the Commonwealth Educational System, a unit that then included all of Penn State's Continuing Education programs and all Penn State campuses beyond University Park.

After 27 years of service at Penn State, Scannell retired in 1988 and became chancellor of the Peralta Community College District, a consortium of four colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area. He retired from that position in 1995, after which he and his wife Gina returned to State College to enjoy "full retirement," a period which included a decade of volunteer service with SCORE, an organization that provides small business counseling to entrepreneurs in Central Pennsylvania.

For more about Scannell, see his obituary online.

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Last Updated December 13, 2017