Alumna, subject in Henry Varnum Poor frescoes, visits Old Main

May 05, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- Lila (Whoolery) Mercatoris, a December 1942 Penn State graduate, the University's first female gymnast -- an unofficial member of the men's gymnastics team before there was a women's team -- and "the girl in the blue leotard" in Henry Varnum Poor's Land-Grant Frescoes in Old Main, visited University Park Wednesday (May 5) to revisit her plaster-painted likeness.

Mercatoris, who graduated with a degree in health and physical education, traveled from her hometown of Meadville, Pa., with her son, Doug, of Snowmass Village, Colo., and friends to visit Penn State. Standing in front of the fresco Poor painted that included her, she told an assembled group that the artist was "extremely strict" with the students he painted. He asked them to be very punctual when they were scheduled to stand for their portraits, as he had to mix paint colors with the quick-drying plaster to create each fresco.

Mercatoris' portrait appears at the top of the west stairs on the second floor of Old Main's lobby. An image of the full fresco panel depicting her and 10 other students is at online.

While in Old Main, Mercatoris shared other memories from her college days. She said she practiced mostly with two gymnasts on the men's team, Ray Sorensen (a 1948 graduate) and Harold Zimmerman. She performed in a Penn State circus, held in Rec Hall, with Zimmerman; she recalled that trapezes were hung in Rec Hall for the show. She also dressed as a jester for one May Day celebration, then a popular event held on Old Main's lawn. Mercatoris explained that she performed a flip over the armillary sphere (referred to by many people as a sundial) on Old Main's patio by getting a running start across the lawn.

To learn more about the famous Land-Grant Frescoes, visit online.


  • Lila (Whoolery) Mercatoris, a December 1942 Penn State graduate and 'the girl in the blue leotard' in Henry Varnum Poor's frescoes in Old Main, visited University Park today (May 5) to revisit her plaster-painted likeness. Click on the image to view a larger version.

    IMAGE: Jill Shockey

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 18, 2010