On Saturday, Dec. 17, West Chester University recognized three individuals who have made a significant impact on the university and its students.
At the 9 AM commencement ceremony for students in all Colleges within the Graduate School, the university awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree to Gary Smith, president and CEO of the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC).
“Gary is a dedicated leader who is committed to nurturing the economic viability of Chester County,” said WCU President Chris Fiorentino. “As an alumnus and an advocate for smart economic growth, he makes West Chester University and all those living in our region extremely proud. His work is impactful as he encourages individuals to come together, act, and respond in ways that will benefit our entire community. His honorary Doctor of Public Service is truly well-deserved and we could not be more grateful for his continued service as a passionate citizen.”
At the 3 PM commencement ceremony for students in the College of Education and Social Work, the College of Arts and Humanities, and the Wells School of Music, Fiorentino presented individual President’s Medallions to Richard and Jeanette Merion.
“The President’s Medallion for Service is one of the highest honors awarded at West Chester University, and Richard and Jeanette Merion are most deserving,” said Fiorentino. “Awarded for outstanding leadership and exceptional service to the University, the Merions’ commitment to this institution and all of our students runs deep. Thanks to their generosity, the Merion Science Center bears their name, and they recently named ‘The Bridge’ in the new Sciences and Engineering Center and The Commons. As they fuel this University’s spirit, it is an honor to award the President’s Medallion for Service to both of them.”
Short biographies for these exceptional honorees follow:
Gary Smith, president and CEO of the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC), is a nationally respected leader and pioneer in the world of economic development. In his 46 years serving both the county and the Commonwealth, Smith has made immeasurable contributions, structuring more than $13 billion in project financing while nurturing thousands of businesses through their growth cycles and shaping countless communities through his passion and advocacy for smart economic growth. He earned both his bachelor of arts and master of science in urban and regional planning from West Chester University.
Instrumental in Chester County’s evolution as an economic powerhouse — while preserving its rich agricultural heritage — Smith pioneered award-winning programs of below market-rate financing, agricultural economic development, brownfields redevelopment, conduit funding for commercial construction, industry partnerships, urban revitalization, and multi-agency collaboration. During his tenure, the Council has created 165,000 new jobs, engaged more than 100,000 individuals in workforce development programs, and helped thousands of businesses establish roots and grow in Chester County. Today, the Council employs 35 economic development professionals.
In addition to his work with the CCEDC, Smith was executive director of the Business and Industry Chamber for Chester County and established the first county-wide Chamber of Commerce for Business and Industry. He also founded and directed the Southeastern Economic Development Company of Pennsylvania, the state’s largest U.S. Small Business AdministrationCertified Development Company. He has served on numerous local, regional, and national boards, including the Council of Development Financing Agencies, the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association, and the National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs.
The Gary W. Smith Entrepreneurial Leadership Endowment has been established to support the operation, mission, and efforts of the Cottrell Entrepreneurship Center in honor of Smith and his past and continued enduring efforts to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in his role as President and CEO of the Chester County Economic Development Council. In addition to operational support, funds are also to be used to award at least one minimum $1,000 scholarship annually to a promising student who exemplifies Smith’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Richard and Jeanette Merion have deep, abiding connections to West Chester University, and their numerous contributions are indelibly woven into WCU’s foundation. The Merions’ generous support is visible throughout campus, chiefly in the Merion Science Center, which bears their name. The Merions also named “The Bridge,” a collaborative space in the new Sciences and Engineering Center and The Commons. Now named “The Leadership Bridge,” it is named in honor of future leaders in the sciences and engineering and is one of the architectural highlights of the SECC.
The Merions created the Richard and Jeanette Merion Endowed Scholarship, which benefits students majoring in physics, chemistry, biology, and nursing, with preference to those enrolled in WCU’s ROTC program. The scholarship is one of many ways the Merions have generously supported military students at WCU. Richard retired from the U.S. Army as a Brigadier General following 32 years in the active military and reserves. Jeanette is a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant veteran and is actively engaged with the American Legion. She also volunteers with the West Chester Senior Center and the Chester County Pops Orchestra. Together, they actively engage with the Marine Corps league, local VFWs, American Legions, and community businesses and garner support for our WCU ROTC cadets and student veterans, as well as the USO.
Jeanette and Richard are members of the WCU Carillon Diamond Society, recognizing their more than 25 consecutive years giving, and the WCU Heritage 1871 Society, recognizing their lifetime giving. Jeanette is a former member of the advisory board of WCU’s Visiting Artist Series and, along with Richard, they were WCU Presidents Circle Dinner Award Honorees in 2001. They are also former Presidential Gala committee members.
Richard, who earned his bachelor’s degree in science education from West Chester in 1959, is president emeritus of the WCU Alumni Association (WCUAA) and was recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award (1995) and the WCUAA Service Award (2015). While in the service, he earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan and returned to West Chester to complete a master’s degree in biology in 1969. In 2009, West Chester University awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service to Richard and the status of Honorary Alumna to Jeanette.
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