Two longtime Berks business leaders gave $3 million to Penn State Berks for a new scholarship program, Penn State officials announced today.
The gift, one of the largest given to the branch campus in Spring Township, outside Reading, is from Victor and Dena Hammel of Wyomissing and Irvin and Lois Cohen of Reading, who are all Penn State alumni.
Victor Hammel is chairman of Rentokil Pest Control, North America, and the retired co-owner and CEO of Ehrlich Pest Control.
The Cohens are the retired owners of Construction Fasteners Inc. in Wyomissing.
The couples’ gift will create the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program for outstanding Penn State Berks undergraduates. In addition to providing significant scholarships, the program will prepare students for leadership in the Reading community and beyond.
Each year, a group of selected students across all disciplines will receive a combination of scholarship support, mentoring from faculty and community leaders and educational opportunities such as research, travel and service in the Reading community. The fellows will continue in the program until they graduate.
Penn State University will provide $1.25 million in matching funds to the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program.
“Penn State is an integral part of our lives. We learned what a true education was and we matured,” the Cohens said in a statement.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us, as well as Dena and Vic Hammel, to express our appreciation,” they said.
In a statement, the Hammels said they were “extraordinarily impressed with the quality education and experience that Penn State Berks provides, and we believe that the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program will make that even more accessible to some of our area’s brightest students.”
Penn State Berks Chancellor R. Keith Hillkirk said the program will enhance the school’s ability to recruit and retain outstanding students to the campus, “which will in turn elevate the climate of our entire campus.”
Hillkirk said the Cohens’ and Hammels’ gift and support “elevates our understanding of what is possible through private philanthropy.”
Both couples are longtime supporters of Penn State.
The Hammels are co-chairs of Penn State Berks’ current fundraising campaign. The couple has made major gifts to support Penn State Hillel, the Beaver Community Center at Penn State Berks and need-based scholarships for students at the Berks campus.
The Hammels met more than 50 years ago as undergraduates at Penn State’s main campus in State College. Victor Hammel, who studied accounting, graduated in 1967, and Dena, who studied speech pathology and audiology, graduated in 1968.
Victor Hammel is a past chairman of the board at Reading Health System and a past president of the Jewish Federation of Reading. Dena Hammel is a retired dialysis social worker and an active volunteer in the Reading community. She has served on the board of GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading since its inception.
The Cohens, who earned their degrees from Penn State in 1949 and 1950, have endowed scholarships for students in the School of Theatre at Penn State University Park and at Penn State Berks, and provided funding for the Cohen Lounge in the Thun Library at Penn State Berks, among other gifts. They have each served several terms on the Penn State Berks Advisory Board.