UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A new scholarship created by an alumnus of Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and his wife will benefit students in the college with demonstrated financial need, with first preference going to those from the northwestern Pennsylvania counties of Crawford, Erie, Mercer and Warren.
With a $50,000 gift, Les and Elaine Firth, of Mercer, established the Firth Family Trustee Scholarship. Les Firth, a long-time educator and administrator for Penn State Extension, earned bachelor's and master's degrees in animal industry and agricultural economics at Penn State in 1958 and 1961, respectively.
The Trustee Matching Scholarship Program maximizes the impact of private giving while directing funds to students as quickly as possible, meeting the urgent need for scholarship support. For Trustee Scholarships created through the end of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students on June 30, 2014, Penn State will provide an annual 10 percent match of the total pledge or gift.
This level is an increase from the program's original match of 5 percent, and it is available only for new endowments of $50,000 or more. The University match, which is approximately double the endowment's annual spendable income, continues in perpetuity, multiplying the support available for students with financial need.
"County extension work was an exciting job that I loved," said Les. "I really appreciated the opportunity to help people help themselves. So it is with this scholarship -- to enable deserving students to help themselves to a world class education at Penn State."
Les Firth's father, Neil, began the family's Penn State tradition, earning a two-year degree in ag business in 1920. Neil became a dairy farmer in Warren County, where he lived with his wife, who was a schoolteacher.
After the death of his mother in 1947 and his father in 1953, Les lived with Don and Eleanor Ludwick on their family's neighboring dairy farm. He was the first member of the Ludwick family to attend college.
During his undergraduate years, Les was active in Delta Theta Sigma fraternity and various animal science student activities. He was named Mr. Agriculture during his senior year.
In 1957, Les served as an extension summer assistant in Erie County. With that experience, he set a goal to work as a county extension agent upon graduation. Thus began a career of 38-plus years working in extension, first in Erie County and later as county extension director in Mercer County from 1965 until his retirement in 1996. The Mercer County office of Penn State Extension is named for him.
Les has been active in several College of Agricultural Sciences programs and development efforts. He was a member of the board of the College of Agricultural Sciences Alumni Society, for which he also served as president. He was elected twice to the Penn State Alumni Association executive committee and served all six years as chair of the association's Grass Roots Committee.
In 2003, Les received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the college, which also inducted him into its Armsby Honor Society.
After receiving her bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Elaine Firth worked as an educator for Penn State Extension in Butler County until she married Les in 1960. While a full-time mother, Elaine also served as a 4-H leader, church board member and foods judge at several county fairs. She later became a home economics teacher and is now retired.
The Firths have three daughters, all graduates of Penn State.
The Firths' gift will help the College of Agricultural Sciences to achieve the goals of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. This University-wide effort is directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America.
The University is engaging Penn State's alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University's tradition of quality. The campaign's top priority is keeping a Penn State degree affordable for students and families. The For the Future campaign is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State's history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by 2014.