Shawnee State University held its Founder’s Day celebration in September to honor those who played essential roles in its transition from Shawnee State Community College to Shawnee State University.
Welcome and opening remarks were given by SSU Assistant Professor Dr. Jason Lovins and President SSU Faculty Senate Dr. Kyle Vick before Shawnee State University President Dr. Jeff Bauer delivered his State of the University Address. Bauer stated in his address that he was pleased to be able to honor the founders of the institution while also sharing the progress that the University has made in recent years and plans for the University’s future.
The University paid homage to the late Vernal G. Riffe Jr., the longest serving speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives who introduced the bill to create Shawnee State University in 1986, by playing a video recording of the speech Riffe gave when the bill was signed.
Several members of the Riffe family were in attendance to the ceremony with Verna Riffe Biemel, daughter of speaker Riffe, providing a summary of the events which led to Shawnee State University being established before introducing the clip of her father.
SSU Provost/Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Becky Thiel recounted the moment she learned Shawnee was to become a University and the cheers of those around her before presenting the Vernal G. Riffe Jr. Founder’s Medal Award to Dr. Dave Todt.
Todt worked as Divisional Coordinator of Math/Science for Shawnee Community College and adjunct professor during the 1980s where he helped advance academic programs and assisted with a summer enrichment program for area youth. Todt was an Assistant Professor in 1986 when Shawnee became a university, and became the Chair of the Math & Science department in 1989. Dr. Todt served as Interim Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs from 2008 to 2011, then returning to teach. Todt retired this summer after 39 years of service to the institution. SSU Professor Dr. Andrew Feight then presented a second Vernal G. Riffe Jr. Founder’s Medal Award to Dr. George White. White was a member of the Board of Trustees of Shawnee State Community College and made the motion for Shawnee to become a four-year university. White was the last chairperson of the SSCC Board and was elected the first chairperson of the SSU Board of Trustees. White is the appointed liaison to the SSU Development Foundation Board, and along with his wife Sandy, has moved to advance education in the region with scholarships, and assistance in digital simulation program, and digital history preservation project.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Verna Riffe Biemel commented on the inclusion of her father’s speech. “It was very emotional. When the President called me and told me that after my remarks he wanted me to introduce my father I was shocked. He told me he they had found a video. Watching it was very emotional, I haven’t seen dad talk in a while. I cried of course. I have always been extremely proud of him and what he accomplished and especially for what he brought back home,” said Biemel. “He never forgot where he came and he instilled that in all of us. Biemel commented that seeing her father recognized as part of Founder’s Day in a world where people are so easily forgotten was a humbling and rewarding experience.
Nick Riffe, grandson of the speaker, stated that he too found the video very emotional. Riffe said that while remembering the great successes of his grandfather he also thinks of the sacrifices his grandmother, Thelma, made in order for her husband to be in Columbus. “Without her there would be no Vern Riffe,” said Riffe. “And as they’ve said here today, without him there would be no Shawnee State University.”
Shawnee State President Jeff Bauer said he was glad to be able to recognize the university’s history on Founder’s Day.“It’s a gorgeous day and we had a good group of people here today, especially the ones that were recognized. They are very special to the university and without them the university wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Bauer. Bauer stated he would like to see Founder’s Day become an annual celebration to reflect on the institution’s history and recognize those important people. Bauer said that being able to share with such an influential group of individuals the current success of the university was a wonderful feeling. “Just sitting there and watching speaker Riffe deliver that message to a group of people on this campus 33 years ago, that’s a special moment,” said Bauer. “Without the work of these people we would probably still be a community college and would not be able to the do the things we are doing today for our community and region.”
Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932