With the two-year renovation of Stell Dormitory complete, the dormitory, renamed the James R. Clemens 3W4 Dormitory, was officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 5.
President Michael Rounds said, “Five years ago, we started an ambitious 5-year comprehensive capital campaign, Building for the Future. It was about ensuring that Williamson will be here for another century. Part of the campaign was about renovating the current dormitories so our students will have a comfortable and safe place to live.”
Rounds said the project was made possible due to the generous support of long-term trustee Richard Clemens. In recognition of this and the outstanding service to Williamson of his father, James Clemens 3W4, the school’s longest serving president, the board of trustees voted to rename the dorm Clemens Dormitory in his honor.
He also thanked the other donors who helped make this project possible: the Crystal Trust, the George I. Alden Trust, the Walter Miller Trust, and Shelley Coolidge, granddaughter of James Clemens.
James Clemens served as Williamson’s president from 1958-79 and was a member of the board of trustees from 1949-1981. His presidency was full of accomplishments. Recognizing the importance of fundraising, he established the Office of Institutional Advancement. He gained the approval of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to grant associate degrees in specialized technology. He significantly increased the student enrollment. He established the school’s accreditation with the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools. And, he established the board’s Isaiah Vansant Williamson Award to recognize those who typify the founder’s ideals.
Assuming the presidency at a time Williamson was in a difficult financial situation, he steered the school to financial solvency. He also helped the school recover from the tragic fire of February 25, 1957, by working with the Wanamaker trustees to establish the John Wanamaker Free School of Artisans, leading to the construction of four new shop buildings and a classroom building.
As a student, he studied power plant operations, was at the top of his class, played on the football, baseball, and basketball teams, and was the business manager of the yearbook.
After graduating, he worked for the Link-Belt Co. in Chicago, Illinois, and Philadelphia. He grew within the company, serving in several capacities, and left the company in 1958 as production superintendent of Assembly, Stores, and Shipping.
In 1942, he graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and from 1942-44, taught at the DePaul University of Chicago.
He also served Williamson as an active member of the Alumni Association, serving as chairman of the Industrial and Business Committee and raising money for Williamson.
In 1979, he received the board’s award that he had established, the Isaiah Vansant Williamson Award. He also received the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1979 and Alumnus of the Year Award in 1980.
He and his wife, Jeanette Clemens, had three children. A well-loved figure on campus, Jeanette was a true asset to her husband’s presidency.
Rounds said, “You can clearly see, James Clemens was a Williamson Man in every way and did so much to ensure the school’s vitality and future. The school would certainly be less than what it is today if not for his efforts. This one man had more impact on Williamson than any other person in our entire history.”
Richard Clemens, a retired partner of the prestigious law firm Sidley Austin LLP, said, “Upon the passing of my father, my mother told me she thought the school should name a dormitory after him. It’s a little late, but it’s getting done. Thank you all for keeping Williamson alive.”
He said when his father attended Williamson it made him the only person in his family to have gone to college, and it opened up a great career for him. “Because my father was a Williamson graduate and got a good job, I was able to go to college and law school. I realize I would not be in the position I am in with financial success except for the fact my father went to Williamson. Just like trustee Bill Strine, our fathers obtained the financial resources to enable us to expand our financial resources and ultimately get to this stage where I can support the renovation of a dormitory and Bill can support the building of a new dormitory.”
William Bonenberger 7W9, board chairman, who graduated the last year of James Clemens tenure as president, said “Guys like Dick Clemens and Bill Strine are living proof that Williamson not only effects the man who graduates, but it has a cascading effect down through the generations of a family.
“On behalf of the entire Williamson family, I thank Dick Clemens for his leadership and financial support of our new completely renovated Clemens Dormitory and I’d like to thank the other generous donors who supported this project with their time, talent, and treasure.”
He also gave recognition to Williamson students, shop instructors, and alumni who worked alongside contractors, in difficult times during the COVID pandemic to make the renovation a reality.
“This building, built in the late 1800s, designed by the famous architect Frank Furness, was over the last two years completely deconstructed down to its bare shell and totally reconstructed to the point it is a far superior building than it was when it was first built. It’s more energy efficient, it’s got better windows, it’s got a better cooling system, and although it looks like wood, there is not a single piece of wood on this entire building that is exposed to the elements, it is actually composite and will never rot. It will easily be around for another 100 plus years.”
He pointed out that carpentry, masonry, painting, power plant, and horticulture students put in over 10,000 hours of work completing the dormitory, providing them with valuable hands-on experience. “I am amazed at the high quality work these students did.”
He also recognized the efforts of John Capuzzi 0W2, assistant carpentry instructor, who was in charge of directing the students working on the renovation and making it a learning experience together with the shop instructors.
The ceremony opened and closed with a prayer from Sean Howat, assistant chaplain.