Penn State Erie names business school for donors Sam and Irene Black

June 12, 2003

Erie, Pa. -- In March 1998, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College received an anonymous gift of $20 million to support the college's School of Business. Because the donors desired no public recognition, the gift agreement respected their wish to remain anonymous.

At a news conference today (June 12), after more than five years of anonymity, Penn State Erie publicly recognized the $20 million estate gift given by insurance entrepreneur Sam Black and his wife, Irene, and announced the naming of the Sam and Irene Black School of Business.

The $20 million gift will provide immediate and long-term benefits in scholarship aid, academic quality and innovation, according to Jack Burke, campus executive officer and dean. The gift was recorded in 1998, and funds were disbursed this spring following the passing of Sam Black in December 2001 and Irene Black in May 2002. It is the third largest gift in the history of Penn State.

"We are proud to share in the vision, generosity, and commitment of Sam and Irene Black," said Burke. "Over many years, they demonstrated their support for Penn State Erie. They considered the School of Business to be a resource for the entire Erie community, and they wanted to ensure the school's growth and excellence far into the future."

Pat Black, son of Sam and Irene, and president of Samuel P. Black and Associates, said the gift reflects his parents' belief that it is important to invest in Erie, as they did throughout their lives.

"My father was a creative and innovative leader in the insurance industry, and he wanted to encourage creativity and innovation in others," Black said. "I hope the faculty and students benefiting from this endowment will draw inspiration from the lives of my parents and share in their desire to improve our community."

One of Erie Insurance's first employees, Black is credited with starting around-the-clock claims service and was noted among his Erie Insurance colleagues for his early emphasis on customer service. He was a highly successful insurance agent who started his own agency, Samuel P. Black and Associates in 1962, after a thirty-five year career at Erie Insurance. "At a time when most people are ending their careers, Sam Black was just beginning," said Burke, "and he became an even greater success in his new venture."

In addition to his business interests, Sam Black helped establish the annual Lions' Club Save-An-Eye football game and served as president of the Erie Philharmonic. He received the Alexis de Tocqueville Society's community service award for his work with the United Way. In September 2001, Sam Black received the Behrend Medallion, the college's highest honor, for his lifetime of achievement and service.

At the news conference, John Magenau, director of the Sam and Irene Black School of Business, discussed the three areas that the $20 million gift endowment will support.

The Black Family Faculty Fund will establish four endowed faculty chairs, the Black Family Student Fund will establish undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, and the Black Family Excellence and Opportunity Fund will be used to provide innovative and state-of-the-art technology, facilities, and programs for faculty and students. (See sidebar for additional details.)

The naming of the school and receipt of the endowment funds is another major achievement for the business school. In April, AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, awarded the school accreditation. This makes Penn State Erie the first and only institution in the Erie region to earn this distinction of excellence. Less than 18 percent of the nation's colleges and universities have achieved accreditation from AACSB International, which sets the global standard for schools of business.


Black Family gift benefits college and community

The $20 million gift given to Penn State Erie by Samuel P. Black Jr. and his wife, Irene, is an endowment that will support the Sam and Irene Black School of Business at Penn State Erie in perpetuity. Working with the family, the University developed endowments in three different categories:

The Black Family Faculty Fund ($6 million), which will establish four endowed faculty chairs:
* The Samuel Patton and Marion Toudy Black Chair in Business, to provide expertise that is vital for competing in the global marketplace;
* The Henry J. and Alida J. Bowman Toudy Chair in Entrepreneurship, to focus on creation and management of new business enterprises;
* The Andrew Morrow and Elizabeth Lee Black Chair in Management Technology, to concentrate on the management of technological and organizational innovation; and
* The Samuel Patton Black III Chair in Insurance and Risk Management, to focus on brokerage, reinsurance and risk management issues.

The Black Family Student Fund ($5 million), which will establish undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships:
* The Elizabeth "Betty" Lee Black Graduate Fellowships ($2 million), to fund research projects to assist local businesses and to support graduate assistants working with the Sam and Irene Black School of Business faculty in its teaching, research, and outreach missions; and
* The Lawrence and Elizabeth Held Scholarships ($3 million), merit-based scholarships to assist in recruiting students of the highest caliber, with preference to students in the Schreyer Scholars and Behrend Honors programs.

The Black Family Excellence and Opportunity Fund ($9 million), which will be used to provide innovative and state-of-the-art technology, facilities, and programs to the faculty and students in the following areas:
* Library, instructional, and information technology resources;
* Community and industry outreach, for example: technical support for businesses; funding for applied research centers; business speaker series, workshops, and Business Bridge programs; faculty-business collaborations; and data collection and dissemination; and
* Faculty professional development.

Families interested in scholarships should contact the Financial Aid Office at


Sam Black was auto insurance pioneer

When Samuel P. Black Jr. joined Erie Insurance in 1927, he was the company's first claims manager. With a strong sense of creativity and a healthy dose of ambition, Black excelled as an agent, officer, and member of the company's board of directors over the course of seven decades. His continual efforts to cut costs, develop new products, satisfy customers, increase sales, and improve operations contributed substantially to Erie Insurance's growth and profitability.

Much of Black's family background is detailed in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Automobile Insurance: Samuel P. Black Jr. and the Rise of Erie Insurance (Routledge 2001), a book co-authored by John Paul Rossi, associate professor of history at Penn State Erie, and Samuel P. Black Jr. In addition to the history of Erie Insurance and the Black family, the book chronicles the dramatic impact of the automobile on American life.

Black grew up in western Pennsylvania. He was the son of Samuel Patton Black Sr., whose father was a Scots-Irish Presbyterian minister, and Marion Toudy Black, whose father had a varied career as a lithographer, a Union soldier, a coal mine operator, a dry goods store owner, and a stock market speculator. Marion Black hoped that her first-born son would become a Protestant missionary. Rather than reading the religious books she gave him Black read everything he could get his hands on by Horatio Alger. The books were all stories about young boys who worked hard, saved, and became a success -- the plan Sam Black Jr. adopted.

His mother taught him to read and to handle his money carefully early in life. At age 8 he sold matchboxes door-to-door, and at 11 he turned to selling newspapers. As a teen he delivered telegrams for Western Union and eventually worked for the U.S. Post Office when he graduated from high school. He attended Philadelphia School of the Bible, but left after for two years to seek his success in the business world. Following a brief experience selling electrical appliances, he went to work in 1921 at the age of 19 as a claims adjuster for Pennsylvania Indemnity. The company transferred him to its Erie office in 1923, where he met H.O. Hirt and Ollie Crawford. The rest, as they say, is history -- the history of Erie Insurance.

Sam Black married Irene Held in 1932, and they had two children, Samuel P. "Pat" Black III and Elizabeth Lee Black, now deceased. He retired from Erie Insurance in 1961 and, at a time when most people end their careers, began his own insurance agency, Samuel P. Black and Associates. His business grew quickly and became one of Erie's leading insurance agencies in premium volume.

Following a distinguished career at his own agency, Sam Black Jr. died in December 2001 at the age of 99. His wife, Irene, died in May 2002 at the age of 95.

Samuel P. Black and Associates is led today by Samuel P. Black III, known to the community as Pat. He will represent the family in ongoing stewardship of the Sam and Irene Black School of Business endowment. Pat is a graduate of Penn State, a member of the School of Business Board of Visitors, and a director of the Penn State Erie Council of Fellows, of which he has been a member since 1994.

Pat Black recently received the John L. Robison Humanitarian Award at the 2003 annual dinner of the George J. D'Angelo Boys and Girls Club of Erie. He is a member of the board of directors of Erie Insurance Group, a trustee of Mercyhurst College, a former director of the French Creek Council of Boy Scouts of America, a current member of the Discovery Square Board of Trustees, and a member of the Flagship Niagara League Board of Directors. Black was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Erie Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Erie Conference on Community Development.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009