Recalling 60 Years As A Campus Of Temple

The front entrance to The Ambler Campus of Temple University

The year 1958 is vitally important to the history of the Ambler Campus.

In June of that year, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women formally merged with Temple University and the Ambler Junior College of Temple University was formed. On June 18, 2018, Temple Ambler celebrated its diamond anniversary in the Women’s National Farm and Garden Visitor’s Center! The event included a fascinating look at campus history and a few words from alumni who were present when the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women became the Ambler Campus of Temple University, including Mary Anne Fry and Priscilla Shaffer, who has been an adjunct instructor at Temple Ambler for several decades.

Fry, co-author of the book A Century of Cultivation 1911 to 2011 — 100 Years from the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women to Temple University Ambler, certainly remembers 1958 quite clearly — it was the year she graduated.

Fry has a nearly unique distinction at Temple University. She is one of just eight people to ever graduate from Temple with a degree in Agriculture.

As a member of the Class of 1958, she attended the Temple University Ambler Campus at a time of great transition. When she began her classes, she was attending the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women. When she graduated, however, her degree read “Ambler Junior College,” which soon after became the “Ambler Campus of Temple University.”

“I always felt I was in the middle of the seesaw,” she said with a laugh. “I was among the last of the ‘Aggies,’ and being an Aggie, I was assistant to the herdswoman. The campus was a very different place then; we had a herd of Jersey cows, hogs, chickens, sheep, and horses. We tended to the peach and apple orchards and field crops such as corn and wheat with the horticulture students. It was a fully working farm — we worked hard throughout the day and we loved every moment of it.”

According to Fry, collecting memories is an essential part of preserving campus history.

“I have been ‘attached’ to this campus for more than 60 of its 100 years; intrigued and amazed by the stories of the lives and careers of my fellow graduates. Oral tradition is great, but our history was in danger of being lost as our older graduates were no longer with us and without a written record their stories would be forgotten,” she wrote in the foreword for A Century of Cultivation. “Using the inspiration from Temple University’s founder, Dr. Russell Conwell, and his book Acres of Diamond, I gathered stories of outstanding graduates — our gems. The more I read and researched, the more difficult it became to choose the ‘Diamonds of the Decades,’ for we have so many that could be recognized.”

A Time of Change

In 1957, change was in the air at the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women.

The Pennsylvania States Council on Education gave the Horticulture School permission to change its name to Ambler Junior College and to grant the Associate of Science degree. The school had received provisional accreditation as a junior college in 1952.

A 1957 edition of the Pen and Trowel, the alumni newsletter, called this “a tremendous step forward, reflecting the many changes over the past few years in curriculum improvement, building expansion, and other fulfillments aimed toward a recognized standing among other educators.”

At the time, the subtitle “A School of Horticulture for Women” was featured prominently on all letterhead, catalogues, and other publications.

“Eventual accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools will be the open door to full recognition and acceptance in the educational field,” the Pen and Trowel editorial continued. “But before we come to that, we must build to freshman classes of at least 40. First, last, and always, our plans must be centered on the 17-year-old girl of today.”

Of course, even the best laid plans often fall short of fruition. It may be that the school’s financial bottom line precluded the visions of the alumni from becoming a reality.

It was at about that time, depending on which historical account you read, that either the Horticulture School first approached Temple University or Temple University first approached the Horticulture School.

According to “The People’s University,” an unpublished account of the history of Temple, it was the Horticulture School that made the first move.

“For 45 years, it had served with distinction a small but influential clientele. Then the school let it be known that it was interested in affiliation with Temple University,” the historical piece states. “Temple’s board of trustees appreciated the honor but felt, because of other commitments, it could not accept at this time. Not so easily put off, the Ambler institution waited three years, then renewed its proposal for togetherness. Its enrollment by that time had dropped to 39 girls, but it still had 150 acres that were appreciating in value every year.”

In 1958, the horticulture school’s already established Ambler Junior College began its relationship with Temple University. It was also the first year programs were made available to men — all of two applied that first year. The name would soon transition to The Ambler Campus of Temple University.

“Ambler Junior College was a self-limiting title. True, the school began its Temple history with only a two-year program, but the hope was always that young people introduced to college life in Ambler’s idyllic environment would find it easy and natural to move to the main campus to complete the work for a four-year degree or, as thoughtful observers pointed out, the transfer might be in reverse,” the historical account states. “The day would come when enough advanced courses would be established on the Ambler campus…to enable students there to meet all requirements for graduation without so much as stepping across the line between Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. These were among the possibilities written into the broad and simple title, Ambler Campus of Temple University.”

In 1960, Bright Hall opened and was dedicated to Jane Linn Erwin Bright, a supporter of the school for many years. The building provided additional classroom space, laboratories, and a library wing. What is now campus lounge was used as a dining hall.

In 1961, sophomores at Ambler were taking courses in the liberal arts and the student population was almost evenly split between male and female. 

Baptism By Fire

When Jonathan French retired as school director in 1963, Dr. Eugene Udell became the first official dean of the campus. He had been working for Temple since 1950, teaching in the College of Education. He had also founded Temple’s audiovisual center. After his five-year stint as dean, he would continue working for Temple until 1985.

Udell, in an interview in 2001, said that first year was a true baptism by fire.

“Within the first week, the dormitory burned to the ground,” he said. “We built small buildings to house the residence students at the time. Those buildings eventually became Cottage Hall.”

“The People’s History,” called the incident “an administrator’s nightmare — days and nights of working around the clock, cutting red tape to be sure that what had to be done would be done, enlisting help from the community, building temporary structures, renting mobile all-purpose campers and wheeling them into place on campus.”

“Despite the stress and strain, Udell and his staff survived, and instruction at Ambler began according to schedule,” the historical account states.

From 60 To 600

Both East and West Hall and the former Dining Hall opened in 1965. In the following year, the campus stable closed and the last horse was sold.

“As for horse husbandry, the university tried to justify its continuance, but announced in 1965 that it was being ‘regretfully terminated.’ Readers will be pleased to learn that only the program was terminated, not the horses,” according to the unpublished history. “These fine animals, some now past their prime, were sold with the greatest of ease to women who had fond recollection of those days when they, too, were just a bit younger and were part of Ambler.”

There were about 60 students at Ambler when Udell arrived as dean, he said, “and about 600 when I left.”

“Students were able to start the first two years of their four-year programs,” he said. “You couldn’t complete your degree at Ambler at the time.”

In 1968, performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Van Cliburn marked the debut season of the Temple Music Festival and Institute, ushering in a time of expansion and growth on campus.

“I thought it was a wonderful thing,” Udell said. “There were opera singers, plays, musicals, it was just superb. It was a very high-class, cultural addition to the community.”

In 1971, Dr. Sidney Halpern started his 11-year tenure as dean. Junior- and senior-level courses were offered at Ambler for the first time in 1972 in areas including: humanities, business administration, teacher education, the social sciences, and journalism. The current Library and Computer Services building opened as a “general use” building in 1973.

“(Halpern) was a driving force. He drove and drove to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish for this campus,” said Bonnie Frumer, former Assistant Dean for Curriculum and Planning who began teaching mathematics courses at Temple in 1968. “All registrations were done manually at the time. There were no computer systems to help the process along.”

New facilities came in 1978 with the addition of Widener Hall. Dixon Hall followed in 1983 with new science labs and classrooms on the site of the original dormitory.

Strengthening Campus Roots

In 1984, James Blackhurst took the mantle of Ambler’s dean, a position he would hold until his retirement in October 1995.

“I think one of the things that we were able to do was greatly increase the migration between the Ambler campus and the Main Campus,” he said in an interview in 2001. “We wanted students to experience the vitality of the city and have the Main Campus experience as well as experiencing the suburban population of Ambler. It gave students exposure to the pastoral and the urban and an appreciation for both.”

In 1987, Temple approved the formation of bachelor’s degree programs in Landscape Architecture and Horticulture — Ambler remains the official home to both programs. Two years later, the Landscape Architecture program received accreditation from the American Society of Landscape Architects. In 1988, John Collins came to Temple Ambler to help steer the fledgling four-year programs as a professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture.

The emergence of the four-year degree programs in the two disciplines in 1987 was something that Blackhurst was most proud.

“The Horticulture and Landscape Architecture programs were developed into strong programs that were appropriate for an urban university. They started focusing on urban environmental planning, which was something that hadn’t been done before,” he said. “One thing that I always liked about Ambler was that an individual’s job description might be at the center of what they did, but it wasn’t a boundary. No one was inclined to say ‘that’s not my job.’ They were people that if something needed to be done, they did it.”

Toward The Future

In March 2000, the campus was officially designated an arboretum by the University Board of Trustees. The Center for Sustainable Communities was established shortly thereafter in July 2000 and awarded a $1.5 million federal grant.

In 2002, the Temple University Board of Trustees approved bachelor's and master's degrees in planning. In September 2002, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated an historical marker commemorating the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women at Ambler. The marker is located near the campus entrance on Meetinghouse Road.

On April 22, 2003, Temple University Ambler held its first "EarthFest" event, an outdoor educational celebration of Earth Day that has welcomed well over 100,000 guests to campus since its inception. Temple provides a full day of interactive events and exhibits promoting environmental awareness and the use of sustainable concepts, methods, and practices to protect and preserve our environment.

In Spring 2004, NCAA sports came to campus for the first time. New fields, part of a $4.5 million project, were opened to serve as the full-time home for the Temple University men's soccer, women's soccer, baseball, and softball teams. In September 2004, Ambler broke ground on a new Intercollegiate Athletics Field House, which was officially opened in October 2005.

In November 2004, Temple University Ambler broke ground on a new Learning Center. The Ambler Learning Center remains the focal point for state-of-the-art teaching technology and provides instructional space for use by many academic departments. Construction on the 72,000-square-foot Learning Center, began in May 2005. The doors officially opened in October 2006.

Temple University Ambler Today

In 2008, the Ambler Arboretum formally dedicated the Philip and Barbara Albright Winter Garden followed by the Arboretum's most recent additions, the Ernesta Ballard Healing Garden and the Colibraro Conifer Garden.

In June 2009, the Temple University Board of Trustees formally approved the School of Environmental Design in the College of Liberal Arts. The programs that comprised the schools — horticulture, landscape architecture and planning — are now an integral part of the Division of Architecture and Environmental Design in the Tyler School of Art.

In Fall 2010, Temple University Ambler began offering a Master of Landscape Architecture degree for the first time.

In January 2014, Dr. Vicki Lewis McGarvey, Vice Provost for University College, was appointed acting Director of Temple University Ambler to guide the campus into the next phase of its history.

Today, the Ambler Campus provides the foundation to begin almost any Temple degree. The campus is also able to offer several opportunities and experiences for students, faculty and researchers that are special to the campus — an annual celebration of Earth Day and environmental education that welcomes 6,000 visitors each year, a fully accredited Aquaponics Lab and hands-on research in the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University among them.