Penn State has claimed Ethel Kochel as one of its own.
To honor Kochel’s support of Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and its students, faculty and staff over 50-plus years, she has been named an Honorary Alumna of Penn State. The designation is given to an average of four or fewer people a year to recognize individuals who are not graduates of the university but have made significant contributions to Penn State’s welfare, reputation and prestige.
In 1954, Ethel Kochel ʼ13H and her husband, Irvin ’47, ’48g, moved to Erie so that he could become administrative head of what was then The Behrend Center of Pennsylvania State College. Founded just six years before, the center offered only first-year courses at that time. “The chem lab was in the garage, and we had dirt roads,” Kochel recalls. “When you saw what had to be done to make it grow, it seemed impossible.”
During her husband’s 26 years as Penn State Behrend’s leader, Kochel was widely recognized as the campus’ First Lady, partnering with Irvin as he spearheaded the transformation of the center into a comprehensive, degree-granting college. Today, Penn State Behrend offers more than 40 academic degrees to 4,350 graduate and undergraduate students on an 854-acre campus.
The Kochels resided on campus, and campus became the focal point of their lives, she said. They attended every function as a couple as they raised their three children. “Even our dog was involved on campus. He used to follow the students around, and I had to put a tag on him that said, ‘Please do not feed me.’” While Irv attended to official duties, Ethel worked behind the scenes, hosting student and faculty teas and helping to found the Faculty Women and Wives Club. “It was very rewarding and exciting and fun to be part of every one of those 26 years,” she said.
After Irv finished his career at Penn State’s University Park campus, the couple retired to Erie, purchasing a home two blocks from Behrend. They have endowed three scholarships—the Irvin Kochel Leadership Scholarship, the Irvin and Ethel Kochel Trustee Scholarship and the Ethel and Irvin Kochel Scholarship for International Study. They also endowed the Irvin H. Kochel Lion Ambassador Fund at Behrend to support the student organization he founded.
Although Irvin passed away in 2003 (three months shy of the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary), Kochel remains—at age 88—a strong and active presence on campus. She served on the committee for the year-long celebration of Behrend’s 60th anniversary in 2008–09, helped unveil the Penn State Behrend Archives in 2008, and co-chairs the Glenhill Society Appreciation Dinner held every five years to thank Behrend alumni, donors and friends. The Ethel Kochel Garden (commissioned by the couple’s oldest son, Jeffrey Kochel ’71) stands in tribute to her outside the Irvin Kochel Center, home of the college’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences.