New endowment honors outgoing director of Richards Civil War Era Center

Susan Burlingame
July 18, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To commemorate the career of William "Bill" Blair, who recently retired after 21 years as director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, alumni, colleagues and friends have created the Dr. William A. Blair Leadership Fund.

The center, established in 1998, was named in 2002 thanks to a $3 million endowment created by George Richards and his wife, Ann.

Blair 2017

Bill Blair, director of the Richards Civil War Era Center in the College of the Liberal Arts, has retired after 21 years. An endowment has been created in his honor.

IMAGE: Penn State

The endowment, spearheaded by a gift from 1971 political science alumnus Howell "Hal" Rosenberg, a long-time benefactor of the college and the Richards Center, will provide discretionary funding to enrich the center through programs and new initiatives. Several additional donors quickly joined Rosenberg with gifts of their own to push the fund over the $50,000 threshold for Penn State endowments. To date, the fund stands at nearly $80,000.

“I wanted to do something in Bill’s honor to recognize the great work he has done,” said Rosenberg. “Bill is an extraordinary leader, an extraordinary teacher, and an extraordinary scholar. It is only fitting that his name live on.”

Steven Brose, a 1969 political science alumnus and Richards Center benefactor, said he was excited to contribute to something that honors Blair’s impact on the Richards Center and also supports Penn State.

“Bill not only envisioned the center, he also helped us understand that a Civil War Era Center didn’t need to be limited to the Civil War, or even to the years of the Civil War,” said Brose. “Bill imagined the center as including the long-term causes and effects of the war, from the beginnings of American slavery all the way through to the Civil Rights era and beyond.”

During his tenure as director of the Richards Center, Blair created an internship program that has sponsored more than 60 undergraduate students, launched the highly touted “Journal of the Civil War Era,” established a post-doctoral fellowship, and much more. He was also the Walter L. and Helen P.  Ferree Professor of Middle American History.

“Bill always had a vision for the Richards Center as well as a plan for how to achieve that vision,” said Matthew Isham, managing director of the center and managing editor of the journal Blair established. “There are other academic centers that expand beyond the war itself, as we do, but what I am most impressed with is that, because of Bill’s vision, the Richards Center has had a steady, methodical growth that has had a tremendous impact on undergraduate students, graduate students, and the profession itself.”

Rosenberg agreed: “You have to really look at all of the things he [Blair] has achieved. He has made the center the envy of all the academic world. People come to look at what Bill has accomplished and use it as a model for their centers.”

Rachel Shelden, former associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Oklahoma, has been named as the new director of the Richards Civil War Era Center. Blair describes Shelden as “one of the best political historians in the country and a rising star.” With the help of the Blair Fund, Shelden will have the flexibility to create new programs and initiatives.

“I was incredibly surprised by this honor,” said Blair upon hearing about the endowment established in his honor. “The generosity of our donors, and their commitment to Penn State, has always been an inspiration to me. They made so many things possible that we otherwise could not have achieved. It was a wonderful partnership over the last 21 years, which has left an incredible legacy for the future. Working with them has been one of the best parts of my professional and personal life.”

For more information or to contribute to the Dr. William A. Blair Leadership Fund, please contact Geoff Halberstadt, senior director of development in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, via email at or by calling 814-865-3173.

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

Last Updated July 19, 2019