Imagining and Believing



Of the seven years he spent as president and CEO of the new National Constitution Center, Joseph Torsella C’86 says, “I definitely discovered something about belief and persuasion. The crucial step is imagining and believing the possibility. Once you commit to that, other people commit, too.”

In “The House that Joe Built,” freelancer Kathryn Levy Feldman profiles Torsella from his days as an aspiring magician in rural Berwick, Pennsylvania, through his ultimately successful effort to reanimate the Constitution Center project, originally launched in 1988, but essentially stalled until he took the reins in 1997.

Besides managing the Center’s development, Torsella is also credited with helping shape its visitor-friendly, interactive approach. “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” he says. “The story is about you.” Accompanying the text are a number of lively and dramatic images of the building and its exhibits by frequent Gazette contributor Candace diCarlo—who also got Torsella to pose with some tools of the magician’s trade.

I confess I hadn’t noticed the alumni notes that Les Salwen C’74 M’80 and Ruth Spector W’82 had sent in over the years. That’s not too surprising for the first two—a summary of their new jobs, family status, and recent move, and then a birth announcement for their third child—but the next was something different. It began:

Dr. Les Salwen C’74 M’80 e-mails, “We’ve recently been in touch with University President Dr. Judith Rodin, the editors of The Daily Pennsylvanian, and members of Penn’s Hillel where a bone marrow drive was conducted for my wife, Dr. Ruth Spector W’82 … who is suffering from acute myeloblastic leukemia.”

I found the notes when I did a search of our archives after Les contacted me directly about their story. In the interim, Ruth had found a donor through one of several drives organized on her behalf that registered more than 30,000 people. With the help of an experimental treatment that lessened the likelihood of rejection, she had received a successful bone-marrow transplant.

In “The Kindness of Strangers,” Kristine Conner C’90, a writer who specializes in health-related subjects, describes their personal struggle and courage, but also covers the medical and scientific issues involved, and provides valuable information on bone-marrow donation.

It’s been more than a year now since the transplant; after five years, the disease is considered cured. As the article notes, that milestone will coincide with Ruth’s 25th Reunion, where she “fully intends to join her classmates.”

The changes to the campus that confront returning alumni is a perennial subject of comment, and it’s only getting worse—that is, better—as Penn continues to add new buildings and refurbish existing structures. The Engineering School’s new Levine Hall is one striking addition to the campus, and the first Penn building to be designed by alumni Stephen Kieran GAr’76 and James Timberlake GAr’77, who are featured in this issue. It may be especially appropriate that an engineering building should be the work of these architects, who have, as the title of our article puts it, “A Passion for Putting Things Together.”

Confused alumni of today will have nothing on those of 2017 or so, by which time the University will be well on the way to developing the “postal lands” between campus and the Schuylkill River. See page 23 in “Gazetteer” for the details on the University’s purchase of this long-coveted 24-acre parcel from the U.S. Post Office, as well as a roundup of current and planned construction.

Finally, we also offer an update on the presidential search process. The consultative committee was named in early September, and at the end of the month members held three “town hall” meetings to solicit advice from faculty, staff, and students. To learn what they heard, turn to page 25.

—John Prendergast C’80

2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 11/04/03

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