It’s natural to support the next generation.
But there comes a time when supporters merit special recognition for the breadth of their contributions. At West Virginia University, the highest honor awarded for extraordinary service to the University is called the Order of Vandalia. This is the 50th anniversary of the award.
In 1961, President Elvis J. Stahr instituted the honor as a way to recognize those who have given outstanding and distinguished support over many years to the University.
This year’s Vandalia recipients include a senator, banker, cable television entrepreneur and information systems founder. They are Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Douglas Leech, Charles Erickson and Verl Purdy.
They will be honored at a luncheon on May 14.
A native of Logan County, W.Va., Erickson attended WVU before joining the U.S. Army. Following his military service, he joined his father, C.O. Erickson in business where they brought cable television to the state. Together they grew the largest cable television operation in West Virginia, which was later sold to Tele-Communications, Inc.
Erickson later built cable systems in Virginia, Kentucky and Michigan and became president of various broadcast and cable associations.
Throughout their work, Erickson and his father had a vision for advancing higher education in West Virginia. In 1993, upon his father’s death, Erickson headed the Erickson Foundation, which he has used to found 13 Erickson Alumni.
Some of the most recent centers are those for WVU, Marshall University and Concord University. Aside from providing funding, Erickson uses his love of architecture to plan the buildings, making them both beautiful and functional.
Erickson believes that alumni are one of a university’s greatest assets. By supporting alumni at various colleges including WVU, he is assuring that the colleges continue to receive support throughout the years.
For his longtime support of WVU, Erickson received the University’s Most Loyal Alumni Mountaineer award in 2005. In 2008, Erickson donated a building to WVU at Parkersburg for its campus, and he has served as the WVU Alumni Association’s honorary campaign chair for its building campaign.
Nancy McCormick DiPaolo, a member of the WVU Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, said Erickson represents “the best of West Virginia University through his education, his success, his business ethics, his loyalty and his heart for service to others.”
Leech is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Centra Financial Holdings Inc. and Centra Bank Inc. in Morgantown, which he formed in 1999 as a community-centered banking company.
Both “Entrepreneur” and “Inc.” magazines have named Centra Bank as a top performer among the nation’s fastest growing companies.
Prior to his work with Centra, Leech was president and CEO of Huntington Banks West Virginia, and was president and CEO of One Valley Bank’s Northern Division. He began his career as a Certified Public Accountant after graduating with honors from Pennsylvania State University.
Since 1979, he has lived in Morgantown where he has made it his priority to better the community. He has served on WVU’s Board of Governors and has served as chairman of the board.
He also has served on the boards of Morgantown Health Right, Mylan Park and Schreyer Honors College of Penn State.
Leech is responsible for facilitating a major $20 million gift from Milan Puskar, which was WVU’s largest donation to that point. Leech has contributed more than $1 million through his companies to WVU. He was also instrumental in developing WVU’s 2010 strategic plan.
Leech has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the visiting committee of the College of Business and Economics and was inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
Fred R. Butcher, vice president of Planning and Operations for WVU’s Health Sciences Center, nominated Leech because of his extensive service over time to the University and the area.
“He has been recognized at the local, state and national level for his selfless dedication to the betterment of the community and its citizens,” Butcher said. “In particular, he has been a catalyst for change for the health of our citizens through his leadership with Morgantown Health Right, the West Virginia United Health System as well as in various community health support groups.”
Purdy, a native of Poca, W.Va., graduated from WVU in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering before going on to receive his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
His career led him to become the vice president and general manager of the Intermediate Chemicals Group at BASF and later the CEO for Rio Tinto Zinc Chemicals for North America.
Purdy founded a group of companies, the AGDATA Group, which would become a leading provider of agricultural information in the U.S. and Canada. His health care information subsidiary became one of the largest providers of eligibility verification in the country.
After selling both companies, Purdy continues to purchase and operate health care information and analytics companies in the U.S.
Purdy has been recognized at WVU with various honors, including as a member of the Academy of Distinguished Alumni at WVU, recipient of the Volunteer Philanthropist for the Year award, Most Loyal Alumni Mountaineer, member of the Academy of Distinguished Chemical Engineers, and recipient of an honorary doctorate in science. He is also a member of the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame.
Purdy is chairman of the board for the WVU Foundation.
College of Engineering and Mineral Resources Dean Gene Cilento nominated Purdy because of his dedication to the University at large and the college.
“He made a personal commitment to our college by establishing the Verl O. Purdy Faculty Chemical Engineering Fellowship,” Cilento said. “This fellowship allowed us to recruit a former WVU Foundation Scholar back to WVU after completing his Ph.D. at MIT in 2006.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller
A former governor of West Virginia, Rockefeller has served as the state’s U.S. Senator since 1984.
His first glimpse of the state came in 1964 when he arrived as a 27-year-old VISTA volunteer in Emmons, a small mining community. Since then, he has advocated for accessible healthcare, worked to expand economic opportunities in the state and worked for fair trade policies and targeted tax relief.
Rockefeller is currently the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and of the Health Care Subcommittee on Finance. He is also a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Rockefeller is a graduate of Harvard University. His political career began in 1966 when he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates and later as the West Virginia Secretary of State. He has served as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Rockefeller’s impact on WVU extends beyond his service to the state as a whole and is most notable in the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, a health research facility at WVU named for his mother, who died after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He launched the institute in 1999 and went on to support it with a $15 million gift, the largest single donation to the institute.
He continues to play a role in supporting research and economic development in the state. Last year Rockefeller announced that the National Science Foundation awarded the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission a grant of more than $1 million to enhance the cyber infrastructure of the state.
That grant will enable WVU to bring its cyber infrastructure to current research standards.
Rockefeller often visits WVU to sponsor and participate in educational programs. He also takes on WVU students as interns in his Washington, D.C. office.
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