Philanthropist and business leader Skip Smith endows directorship for Arboretum

May 04, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Charles H. “Skip” Smith, the Penn State alumnus and philanthropist who launched construction on The Arboretum at Penn State with a landmark gift in 2007, has made a new $3 million commitment to ensure strong leadership for the Arboretum far into the future. Announcement of the Smith Endowed Directorship comes as the University begins a search to replace the Arboretum’s founding director, Kim Steiner, who will retire in June after nearly five decades as a faculty member in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Through Skip’s pioneering philanthropy and Kim’s visionary leadership, Penn State has begun to fulfill our institution’s long-held dream of creating one of the best university arboreta in the country,” said President Eric J. Barron. “Over the last decade and a half, the Arboretum has become a beloved destination for Penn State students, local citizens and families, and visitors from throughout our region and beyond. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has provided our community with safe opportunities to reconnect with the natural world and renew our sense of progress and hope. With the resources of the Smith Endowed Directorship, we will be able to build upon the extraordinary foundation that Skip and Kim have created and ensure that the Arboretum continues to grow and evolve to meet the needs of future generations.”

The Smith Endowed Directorship of The Arboretum at Penn State will enable the University to recruit a full-time director to lead the Arboretum’s current operations and plan for future stages of growth and development, roles that Steiner has filled in addition to his position as a professor of forest biology. “We are very pleased and grateful to Skip for this gift,” said Steiner. “This has been a part-time job for me in addition to regular faculty responsibilities. Skip’s gift secures the future of the Arboretum by enabling a transition to a full-time director chosen through a national search, and I hope and expect to see the Arboretum continue to grow and improve as an institution under this new leadership.” 

A resident of State College, Pennsylvania, Skip Smith is the son of Harry O. “H.O.” Smith, who graduated from Penn State in 1918 with a degree in architectural engineering. In 1951, H.O Smith incorporated his construction, real estate development, and rental company into H.O. Smith & Sons Inc. After Skip Smith graduated from Penn State in 1948 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering, he worked at his father’s company along with his brothers and fellow Penn State graduates James B. Smith (class of 1950) and Thomas L. Smith (class of 1954). In 1950, Skip Smith founded State College Television Co., which became State College Audio-Visual Supply.

While discussion of an arboretum on the University Park campus dates back to the early 20th century, the planning began in earnest in 1999, when the Board of Trustees approved an initial plan and Steiner was appointed by Provost Rodney Erickson as the project’s founding director. It was not until 2007, however, when Smith stepped forward with an initial $10 million gift to establish the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens within the Arboretum that construction could begin. Over the years, Smith has continued to be the leading donor to the effort. His support has improved and expanded the Pollinators’ Garden, designed to attract and sustain native bird and insect species vital to the central Pennsylvania ecosystem. With his sons David, Jeffry and John, Smith launched construction of the Bird Garden, which offers a year-round haven for birds and bird lovers in the region. In addition to his sustained and significant support for the Arboretum, Skip Smith has given $5 million to support brain repair research in the Eberly College of Science. He stands among the most generous donors in Penn State’s history.

“My family and I have taken deep satisfaction in what Kim Steiner and The Arboretum at Penn State have been able to achieve with our support,” said Smith. “As Kim retires, I want to celebrate and sustain the work that has been done so far and help to ease the way for the next director. Just as our community looks forward to each new season at the Arboretum, we look forward to the next stages in the growth of this remarkable central Pennsylvania resource, and I’m glad that the Smith Director will be able to lead the way.”

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 serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

Last Updated May 04, 2021