With the retirement of Jim Tressel from the presidency of Youngstown State, my thoughts went back to the man who was president of Youngstown State when I enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 1972. He was Albert L. Pugsley and my one memory of him was his refusal to close Youngstown State during a snowstorm, saying, “This is northern country” or something to that effect. I don’t remember him as being particularly popular with students, but this was the Vietnam War era, and very few college presidents were popular with students. An article in The Vindicator in April of 1976, when Maag Library was dedicated, noted that “Dr. Pugsley kept the peace on campus here with a firm, but a fair policy, to maintain confidence without disrupting the educational process for the vast majority there to learn.” That may be a somewhat rosy assessment, but the truth is that while there were protests, no buildings were burned down and no students died.
What I didn’t realize was that Albert Pugsley played a key role in putting the “State” into Youngstown State University, and in beginning the building construction that transformed the campus. He was inaugurated in 1966, a year before Youngstown became a state university. An engineer and architect by training, he led the physical and academic expansion of the campus. Although Maag Library was dedicated after the end of his presidency in 1973, he was the one responsible for the plans that led to its construction as well as other campus buildings built in the 1970’s including the Kilcawley expansion, Cushwa Hall, Beeghly Center and other buildings. His planning was why I spent most of the time at Youngstown avoiding muddy construction areas.
What most of us didn’t realize was the successful career he had before coming to Youngstown. He was born in 1909 in Woodbine Nebraska, the son of Charles and Lillian Pugsley. He grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and Brookings, South Dakota. He graduated from South Dakota State University in 1930 with an engineering degree. He went on to Harvard, where he was awarded a Masters degree in Architecture and a one year University Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to study abroad.
He returned to Nebraska to teach architecture at the University of Nebraska as well as engaging in private practice as an engineering and architecture consultant, designing a number of buildings in Lincoln, Nebraska during this time. During World War II, he served as assistant director of Engineering, Science and Management of the War Training Program in Washington, DC. After the war, he went to Kansas State as a professor of structural engineering and Assistant Director of Engineering for the Experiment Station. He was appointed dean of administration in 1950 by Milton Eisenhower, then president of the university and brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1963, he became an administrative Vice President of the university. He also held several top positions with college accrediting associations. He also held honorary doctoral degrees from South Dakota State University and Kansas Wesleyan University.
He was a vice president at Kansas State when the opportunity called to become president at Youngstown, succeeding President Howard W. Jones, Youngstown’s first president. Dr. Eisenhower came to speak at his inauguration. He led Youngstown through the crucial transition years to a state university amid tumultuous times and exploding enrollments. He may not have been popular, but I think it can be argued that he left the university a much better place than when he came there. He strikes me that he was one of those people who wasn’t flashy but got things done.
After his retirement in 1973, he moved to Atlantis, Florida. He passed away October 16, 1977 while fishing on the banks of a lake near his condominium, of an apparent heart attack. He was buried in Woodbine, Nebraska, the town of his birth, in Woodbine Cemetery.
Albert L. Pugsley is remembered today at Youngstown State in the President’s Suite in Kilcawley Center, which may be divided into three smaller rooms named after President Pugsley and two of his successors, Presidents Coffelt and Humphrey. He should also be remembered as the man who led the university through a crucial and challenging time of transition.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!