Eagles' former owner has ties to Penn College forerunner

Published 02.09.2023


As you tune in the Super Bowl on Sunday to watch the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Kansas City Chiefs (or to catch some of the best commercials of the year), enjoy this fun fact: A former Eagles owner once took classes at a Pennsylvania College of Technology forerunner, according to news accounts at the time.

Jerry Wolman, who died in 2013 at age 86, owned the Eagles from 1963-69.

Jerry WolmanHe grew up in the small town of Shenandoah in Schuylkill County, where his father, Sol, owned a produce business. Wolman began working for his father when he was 5, eventually driving a truck route from Shenandoah to Philadelphia.

“As a young kid in Shenandoah, PA, we only knew one sport: It was football. And we all rooted for the Philadelphia Eagles,” he said in a 2010 interview on “It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle,” a Philadelphia-area cable show.

Shenandoah Sentinel reporter Kaylee Lindemuth recently researched the hometown’s hero, and found a Feb. 27, 1945, newspaper clip that links Wolman with Williamsport Technical Institute, a predecessor of today’s Penn College.

The brief Shenandoah Evening Herald article stated: “Jerry Wolman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Sol Wolman, is Shenandoah’s most recent Merchant Marine radio officer. He plans to go to sea immediately.

“He qualified for the duties of a ship’s radio officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine by passing the test for a radio-telegraph license before the Federal Communications Commission at Philadelphia. He studied for the examination in the Merchant Marine Radio Officers’ Course conducted by the Radio Communications Department of the Williamsport Technical Institute.”

The article lists three more “Shenandoah boys” who were enrolled in the course at WTI, and four others who were previously registered.

Nicole S. Warner, Penn College’s librarian for archives and special collections, checked the 1945-46 “Courses of Study” pamphlet for the Williamsport Senior High School and Williamsport Technical Institute, which were then linked.

Radio and Communications was a new offering, preparing its graduates to become radio officers on ships or with airlines, or radio repairers. Modern communications experts were integral to the then-ongoing World War II.

“The Navy, the Armored Force, and the Air Force all hold excellent opportunities for communications men,” the catalog noted. “The merchant marine is taking most of the communications graduates at present, and this work is regarded as so important that the Selective Service System does not draft merchant marine men. The communications man in the merchant marine is a licensed officer, and he is paid an excellent salary.”

A second Shenandoah Evening Herald article, published Sept. 17, 1947, to announce Wolman’s engagement, stated that he left his high school to attend WTI, then served for two years with the merchant marine.

Wolman and his wife, Anne, moved from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., where he worked in a paint store. As he visited worksites, he was impressed by the structures rising before his eyes.

“It just gave me a charge that it’s something I wanted to be able to create,” Wolman told Doyle.

He went into real estate and development and earned his fortune.

When Wolman purchased the Eagles in December 1963 for $5.5 million, he became the youngest NFL owner up to that time. He was 36.

But when the foundation to one of his prized projects, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, failed due to inadequately cured concrete caissons and had to be redone, Wolman faced bankruptcy and reluctantly sold his beloved team.

During his tenure as Eagles president, Wolman founded the Philadelphia Flyers NHL franchise and built its home, the Spectrum. He also owned Connie Mack Stadium. He was a catalyst for the launch of NFL Films, recognized today as the most honored filmmaker in sports. When the young company needed more space, he provided it on Philadelphia’s 13th Street.

Wolman shared his life story in the book, “Jerry Wolman: The World’s Richest Man,” published in 2010.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: There is no definitive college record of Wolman’s WTI attendance, but that is not unusual, due to record-keeping gaps for that era.)