Fred Gilmour's Story
Recollections by Fred Gilmour
I became interested in Williamsport Technical Institute (W.T.I.) in the early ‘60s soon after I was told by a high school guidance counselor that I was really not college material and that I should probably start looking for a job upon graduation or perhaps serve in the armed forces since the Viet Nam War was just starting to heat up.
I don’t think this was “reverse psychology” at work. It was simply an observation by a “academic professional” who had a “quota” in mind which was to send off to college as many kids as she could – particularly those of the upper middle class and professional parents that were the life blood (tax base) of the all white high school I attended. (Frankly, even after all these years, I still wonder how she ever got her degree!)
I was an optimist. I’d counted on becoming a professional artist working in New York. This news, coupled with growing up in a family that could not afford college to begin with, brought the harsh reality of life into focus. That, and a huge amount of pressure from my father who had no time for the “starving artist routine,” brought me to Williamsport for a “visit”. He had heard good things about W.T.I. and felt it would be a good alternative to my plan to attend the Art Institute in Pittsburgh or to perhaps just live there in the loft of a commercial sign painter friend of his.
Initially, I excelled at the course – to the extent of actually taking some pretty direct criticism once from an instructor reminding me that, at this early stage of my development, I was not supposed to use drawing aids (straight edges or circle templates) on free-hand technical sketches. I had not used any aids and I had to prove that to him by doing a free-hand drawing while he watched me. That ended the critical comments and pretty much solidified his distain for me as well.
I was taken under the wing of Walt Hartman, another instructor, who apparently saw some real potential. Walt was the quintessential, frustrated artist; a few credits short of a full BFA, torn between doing art and making a living. He seemed trapped in a job he did well but didn’t love. I think he saw a little of himself in me and was determined not to let me suffer the same fate.
I was quickly and easily recruited into service to the institution, since it was undergoing a tremendous metamorphosis from an internationally known technical school to a fully vetted Community College—literally, overnight. All of the attendant organizational and administrative changes, curriculum adjustments, building renovations, public relations aspects, admissions and recruiting—all of it –had to be done almost instantly. I was thirsty for the creativity it offered and Walt helped me find a niche.
While in the Illustration program, I was asked to design the College Seal, the mace, the first catalog cover, and the masthead for the first student newspaper. I did all of them happily never realizing how profound an honor it was to be involved in their creation. They all happened almost instantly with very little thought to their longevity.
Many people recognize Fred Gilmour as the husband of Pennsylvania College of Technology President, Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour. Fred also is the talent behind many College symbols that have endured through years – from the institution's official seal to the mace that leads the procession of every graduating class!
First as a student of Williamsport Technical Institute and Williamsport Area Community College, later as an administrator and faculty member, and today as an active, supportive retiree, Fred has always accepted the call to serve. His legacy truly is visible throughout the campus.
Later, Walt was instrumental in getting me a great job with the Williamsport Area School District—one, I later realized, was safe, productive and rewarding. Even after I graduated from W.T.I. and then Williamsport Area Community College, we became good friends and eventually colleagues. Walt was an incredibly accomplished watercolor artist and we spent many hours sharing techniques and approaches.
Since the school district and the College were still so inextricably entwined at that time I never really felt that I had left the College. In fact, my first office location was actually in a district-owned building on the edge of campus. I was able to “serve” this fledgling College easily since I knew many of the professors and instructors from my classes and I was close and convenient. Illustration and design needs for printing jobs were abundant and I was ready to help.
After attaining a certificate in Illustration and an additional associate’s degree in Illustration, I decided to work on a bachelor’s degree in some field related to art. I completed an associate’s degree in Liberal Studies and then a BS Ed. degree at Mansfield University in Art Education. So much for not being college material.
I was intimately involved at the College even during my career with W.A.S.D. through teaching Advertising Art on an adjunct basis for many years. I was recruited as the first Executive Director of the W.A.C.C. Foundation in 1983. This was a total diversion from what I was doing at W.A.S.D., since there I was heavily involved with instructional media and media production. The Foundation offered an interesting position, one that still allowed a certain amount of creativity and production coupled with a great opportunity to tell, show and sell the College in the community.
I enjoyed working with area and regional manufacturers and suppliers to obtain donations of everything from sand paper and finishing supplies for the Automotive department to aircraft from Piper Aircraft to cars and building supplies. The Thompson Professional Development Center was heavily underwritten – over half of the cost – by area manufacturers and suppliers, all of whom donated materials and supplies to the project through the Foundation. Numerous scholarships were established in the early years, many of which are still active.
As I transitioned out of the fundraising arena into a more “normal” academic career, I had the opportunity to again work with a great number of colleagues and friends to help impact the lives of students. Students now had access to technology like none other before it. As director of instructional media, I had the pleasure of working with a number of very talented and creative individuals. The team we had gathered was a group of hard-working, incredibly imaginative and technically savvy individuals who could “hatch” campaigns, products or programs at a moment’s notice using internet and computer-based hardware blended with old fashioned creativity. It was great fun to suggest a concept or approach in the morning and see a frenzy of activity bring together a product or solution by the end of the afternoon. Just knowing the approach was, in spirit, doable, and that it would make a student’s understanding fuller or faculty member’s life easier was an unbelievably rewarding experience. Fleshing out the details and adding additional features allowed the technology to transcend just being available and a useful tool to the point of becoming, in some cases, life altering. What a rush!
Watching the College grow and evolve from a relatively small, simply outfitted, hands-on educational facility operating out of borrowed buildings using run down facilities and equipment into what it is today makes me very proud. Who knew? It is a pride that is shared by all of those who were and are a part of the administrative transition, the curricular growth and the current campus facility. Just from the infrastructure and buildings standpoint alone, the College is a true state-of-the-art institution; yet, it has not lost its focus and mission, which will no doubt remain for the foreseeable future. Individual growth and success using hands-on training and education via highly qualified and experienced faculty – that says it all.