Natalie Dell: What it Took to Become Penn State’s First Olympian in Rowing

by Amy Nedrow, volunteer journalist with the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

On Tuesday, March 19th, Natalie Dell, 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist in rowing, spoke to a crowd (including many members of Penn State’s men’s and women’s rowing club) about her Olympic experience and the events that led her to it.

photo by Sophie Wyke

photo by Sophie Wyke

Dell, a 2007 Penn State graduate, arrived in Penn State her freshman year as a non-athlete.  This quickly changed when she was introduced to rowing. Undaunted by the fact she had no experience in rowing, she joined the team.  At Penn State, rowing is a club sport and like all club sports, it is financially self-sustaining and student run. Participants pay their own way each year (often working 1-2 part-time jobs), use older equipment and squeeze in gym time around the varsity sports. Once per season, Dell and about 50 others, would clean Beaver Stadium after a football game as a way to earn money from the university for their club.   She recalled that it took about six hours to clean the mess left by 100,000 jubilant fans.  She called this work an honor because it would help pay the salary for their coach.

photo by Sophie Wyke

photo by Sophie Wyke

Despite the extra work that goes into being an athlete in a club sport (or perhaps because of it) Dell felt honored to represent the university at competitions.  Many of the schools they competed against were varsity supported.  “Beating varsity programs was such a thrill,” recalled Dell.  And they did beat them.  Often enough that Natalie was offered scholarships from other schools, but leaving Penn State was never an option for Dell.  Penn State was Natalie’s dream university and her parents did what all loving families would want to do—supported her dreams.  For them, working class parents like so many others, that meant giving up their savings.  Years later, hearing Natalie speak, you know she hasn’t forgotten that.

After graduation, Dell decided her goals for rowing were not complete.  She would give herself three years to focus and chip away at those goals.  It was never about winning titles or earning a place at the Olympics exactly, but just that she wanted to continually be better. Faster.  With that dedication came the benefits of winning. And Dell found herself one of the 40 women invited to train in New Jersey to be selected for the 2012 Olympic Games.  It was there that Dell would be put to the test.  She didn’t have the pedigree that perhaps others had, but she did have the heart and determination.  As the group of 40 was slowly whittled away, Dell continued to prove to herself and others her worth in the program.  Finally the final selection process began and after a grueling five days, Natalie earned a spot on the four-woman team racing the Quadruple Sculls.  She confided that it wasn’t a sense of jubilation in that moment, but exhaustion, confusion and even sadness in thinking of the women who didn’t make the team despite being amazing athletes.

photo by Sophie Wyke

photo by Sophie Wyke

Four weeks later, Dell and her three teammates would be in London.  They had never competed together as a team and as she tells it, “No one expected much from us.”  The United States had never medaled in the quad.  The women lost to the Ukraine in the first heat, lost to Australia next and were ranked fourth going into the final race.  The highlight of her  presentation Tuesday night was when Natalie walked the audience through that final race where her team would win the Bronze.  She offered a fascinating personal perspective that most of us would never be privy to.  From the extravagant swag and gear to the exhaustion and pain, Dell detailed her Olympic experience in a frank and often humorous manner.

photo by Marjorie Reeder

photo by Marjorie Reeder

Natalie Dell used the word “honor” often in her presentation.  It was an honor to clean Beaver Stadium, it was an honor to represent Penn State, it was an honor to represent the United States; it would be easy to dismiss these as obligatory claims, but there is such a humble, warm-hearted sincerity to Dell’s words that you just can’t doubt her loyalty.  It was with such conviction that Natalie Dell stated, “I bleed the colors of this university,” you can’t help but be proud to know she is from the Penn State family.

photo by Sophie Wyke

photo by Sophie Wyke

To view Dell’s full presentation visit

Karen Schuckman – Penn State’s first female All-American

by Amy Nedrow, volunteer journalist with the Penn State All-Sports Museum.


On Wednesday, March 13, the All-Sports museum welcomed Karen Schuckman, Penn State’s first female All-American, in celebration of women’s history month.  Speaking to an intimate crowd including friends from her undergraduate years at Penn State in attendance, Karen recalled her childhood beginnings in gymnastics & the often serendipitous events that led her full circle back to Penn State.

In 1966 at the age of 10, Karen began competing in gymnastics.  In only two years, she qualified for a regional junior competition and it was there she was invited to join a private club.  Success followed quickly and in 1972 when she made a serious bid for the Olympics that year in Munich, Germany.  Schuckman qualified as an alternate and traveled to Munich as part of the women’s gymnastics team.  Following her experience with the Olympics, Karen decided she was finished with gymnastics and returned to her home to finish high school, which she did in the January of her senior year.  Penn State was the first and last stop on her college tour and she started classes in the spring term that same year.Schuckman5

In the early 1970’s, women’s gymnastics did exist at a collegiate level, but the athletes participating were not considered the elite of the sport.  Karen walked into White Building in the fall of 1973 during a practice and asked if she could join the team.  She didn’t mention her recent Olympic past.  Tired of being excessive coached (and limited in her creativity) over the years, Schuckman wanted the freedom to explore her artistic ideas in conjunction with her gymnastic talents.  Penn State, without the overriding need to excel at that time, provided the perfect opportunity.  Karen spent that time doing the gymnastics that she wanted to do.  Quite unexpectedly, at the regional competition that year, Karen placed third, earning her a place at Nationals in CA.  Her head coach was getting married that weekend, and opted not to go, so an assistant coach Judi Avener and two friends accompanied her to Nationals.  It was there that Karen Schuckman won the all-around, making her Penn State’s first national champion in women’s gymnastics.  (In a humorous aside, Schuckman confided that her parents didn’t even know she was competing again, let alone across the country winning a national title.)

Following this win was the dawn of Title IX.  Schuckman was one of the first female athletes to receive a scholarship at Penn State.  And suddenly collegiate gymnastics for women was no longer a retirement home for athletes possibly considered past their prime.  Karen remained a vital part of the gymnastics team throughout her time at Penn State.  The 1977-78 team was the first in Penn State history to win a national title.  Reflecting on that time, Schuckman stated, “The lack of advantages of being a female athlete were offset by having the freedom to do what I wanted to.”  She went on to say that with the focus on winning that exists now, she wouldn’t have been able to do now what she did then.


Karen Schuckman ended her academic and gymnastic career with Penn State in the early 80’s and would spend the next few decades away from Happy Valley.  On her 50th birthday, Schuckman recalls thinking about where she’s been and where she’d like to be for the next 50 years.  “The answer that came to me was Penn State.”

The story for Schuckman is not just about being an athlete.  To hear her speak, her story is about people, places, luck and how it can all come together, “Gymnastics was more of a vehicle for my life journey—not the destination…I ended up driving that vehicle of gymnastics down the avenue of Penn State to the destiny that is the life I have now.”


Karen Schuckman is currently Senior Lecturer in geography, teaching remote sensing and geospatial technology in the online programs offered by the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute.

To view the video of Schuckman’s presentation visit

Be sure to join us on Tuesday, March 19 at 7pm to hear Natalie Dell talk about her 2012 London Olympic experience.

Dr Bob Allen presents: “The Souls of Black Baseball”

by Amy Nedrow, volunteer journalist with the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

On Monday, February 24, Dr. Bob Allen spoke at the All-Sports Museum.  His presentation “The Souls of Black Baseball: Barnstorming the Keystone State,” an oral history of black baseball in Pennsylvania, highlighted the trials and triumphs of multiple African American ball players during their time with the Negro Baseball League.

Dr. Allen, a freelance writer and researcher, received his Ph.D. from Penn State in 1983 and was an instructor with the university throughout the 80’s.  For Allen, this project isn’t about baseball in so much as it is about the sociology of America.  As he stated, “…This project will memorialize who they were so that we can better understand who we might be.  Hopefully, it will make a special contribution to the important history of sport and American society…” (

Allen travelled throughout the North East and Florida looking for every surviving player of the Negro Baseball League. By the completion of this project, Dr. Allen had hundreds of hours of film footage and interviews.   As part of his presentation, Dr. Allen showed a series of clips from these interviews featuring several members of the league spanning from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and finally Harrisburg; players at the heart of the leagues greatest teams—the Philadelphia Stars, the Harrisburg Giants, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, to name a few.   These men—Stanley  Glenn, Wilmer Harris, Bill “Ready” Cash and Harold Gould, among others—spoke about hardships on the road and racism they encountered on and off the field.  They also recounted the general politics of playing baseball at that time.   Among the humble reminiscing, comes a quiet sort of pride and a warm-hearted sense of camaraderie between these men regardless of who played on what team.

Through these interviews, Dr. Allen provides a rich and unique perspective to a time in history that many know little about. Given that the history is reported by the men who lived it, with so much understatement about their own impact on society at that time, makes it a warm and humbling experience for the viewer. “These guys integrated the country before it was integrated,” Dr. Allen pointed out in his conclusion.  At a time when segregation was prevalent, these baseball players (along with other African American athletes) played an integral role in changing perspectives.  The Negro Baseball League officially ended in 1961, but thanks in large part to the work of Dr. Bob Allen, the men behind the league will live in baseball & societal history forever.

Penn State alumnus, Cumberland Posey, Jr. was enrolled as the school’s first African American student athlete in 1909.  He would go on to play for, then own, the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh. To find more information on Posey, visit

For more information on Dr. Allen’s oral history project, visit

Check for future guest speakers.

Deryck Toles: Anything’s Possible

by Amy Nedrow, volunteer journalist with the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

Deryck Toles

Deryck Toles

On February 6th, the All-Sports museum hosted Deryck Toles, former Penn State linebacker, as he highlighted his achievements through adversity, including the establishment of his non-profit organization, Inspiring Minds, in a presentation entitled “Anything’s Possible.”

During the hour-long presentation, what becomes clear is that Toles has a passion for helping youth overcome adversity and reach their own potential.  He is all too familiar with it in his own life.  From growing up the oldest of a single mother with addiction issues, to the debilitating pain of a rare enzyme disorder that would ultimately cut his NFL career short, Deryck Toles is no stranger to obstacles and how to overcome them.

By the ninth grade Toles was on his way to a life on the streets; angry, often feeling alone, not concerned about his future and on the verge of throwing it away.  But then he discovered football.  And it changed his path.  He knew with the utmost conviction he would someday play for the NFL and with that conviction came the knowledge that everything had to change and that everything mattered.

For Deryck Toles football was the catalyst for change, the thing that gave him focus, proof that the world was bigger than what he thought he knew.  Even when Deryck was diagnosed with the enzyme disorder that would limit his playing time with Penn State, the football program remained his support system. He feared he would be sent home, but the Penn State program made it clear that there was still a place for Toles with the team.  When his professional football career ended due to a serious and extended injury, he admits this was a very low point for him.  During this time, Toles explained, he began thinking about his life, his adversities and his achievements–and what it would take for youth as troubled as he was to find their own catalyst. It was out of this train of thought that Inspiring Minds was created.

What started as an idea for scholarships grew into a program that since 2006 has served more than 500 youth living in inner-city Warren, OH.  Inspiring Minds strives to “engage, inspire and empower under-represented youth through education and exposure to life-changing experiences.”  Toles pointed out that it’s more than education;  the program focuses on respect for self and others, community, health and the potential to do or be anything—aspects of what Toles felt he was taught at Penn State, particularly with the football program. The kids involved in Inspiring Minds travel to see that the world is bigger than the city blocks they know.  Toles reminisced about visiting Penn State for the first time and never having seen anything like it.  He, perhaps better than most, knows what the kids in the program need to succeed in their goals.  But most important Deryck makes it clear that he knows that they can succeed. As he stated, “I know if I can make it, I know you can too.”

Toles gave an unabashed recount of the hardships he faced and the choices he’s made (both good and bad) because as he told the audience he feels that he needed his life’s adversities to prepare for what he does now.  He shared his motto “failure is when you quit,” as something he imparts on the youth of his program and his own personal motivation.  Deryck’s dream is to see an Inspiring Minds program in every state.  Perhaps a lofty goal, but Deryck Toles did not present himself as someone who does not succeed.

At times poignant and often inspiring, Deryck Toles, presentation “Anything’s possible” was not to be missed.  Check for future guest speakers.

To view Toles presentation in it’s entirety, visit

Governor’s Island Dig

This post has the “Matson Museum of Anthropology” category selected and “In the News” tagged.

From The Archaeological Dig:

Visit a fascinating archaeological dig. Step back in time and experience the history as you stroll through the partly excavated remains of a small hamlet, once evacuated in the early fifties. The oldest roots of the hamlet are some 400 years old and go back to the first settlements in Manhattan.

(Indent style was are selected from the post’s text editor).

Dig site

The Archaeological Team from Flanders at work on Governors Island, last spring.


Drawn to Paint: The Art of Jerome Witkin at the Palmer Museum of Art

This post uses the “Palmer Museum of Art” tag and “Exhibition” tag

Drawn to Paint: The Art of Jerome Witkin
February 26–May 5, 2013

Jerome WitkinThe Act of Judith

Jerome Witkin, The Act of Judith, 1979–80, oil on canvas. Gift of the National Academy of Design, Henry Ward Ranger Fund, 83.45.

Jerome Witkin, The Act of Judith, 1979–80, oil on canvas. Gift of the National Academy of Design, Henry Ward Ranger Fund, 83.45.

Inveterate visitors to the Palmer Museum are likely well familiar with the art of Jerome Witkin. The Palmer counts three important Witkin canvases among its holdings, including—much to the delight of thousands of schoolchildren who have roamed the galleries over the years—his portrait of the portly Jeff Davies, and the museum’s walls are seldom absent the artist’s presence. This spring, the museum is pleased to host a major retrospective of Witkin’s work, featuring nearly forty paintings and drawings that span more than four decades of his career.

Witkin has been widely acknowledged as one of the country’s leading figurative painters. His narrative canvases, often extending over multiple large panels, reference the grand European tradition of history painting while remaining relevant to their time through a penetrating examination of contemporary issues. With a concern for vulnerability as his basic theme, Witkin addresses the widest range of human anguish in his work, from the genocidal violence of the Holocaust, in paintings such as Entering Darkness and Beating Station, to the disintegration of personal relationships—Division Street, for example, records the dissolution of his parents’ marriage.

Although he has won praise for his superb drawing—the artist Mark Tansey has characterized him simply as the most skilled draftsman of the human figure he knows—Witkin is equally admired for his sense of color. Indeed, the expressionist flourish with which he applies his oils to the canvas often renders large passages in his compositions as deliciously daubed as a Willem de Kooning or a Lee Krasner.

Drawn to Paint, organized by the Syracuse University Art Galleries, celebrates a career that spans a half century. For more than forty of those years, since 1971, Witkin has been teaching painting at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.