On his final official trip as a U.S. Senator, John D. Rockefeller IV is headed to Morgantown to donate his Senate papers to West Virginia University, the flagship research university of the state he has served for 50 years.
The public event will be held on Saturday, Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. in the Milano Reading Room at the Downtown Library. The following speakers will participate in the event.
Arrival in West Virginia
When his term as U.S. Senator for the state of West Virginia ends in January, Senator Rockefeller will have served in Congress a span of four decades.
But his story – his mission – of public service began years before he set foot inside the U.S. Capitol building.
In 1964, Rockefeller arrived in West Virginia after two years in the Peace Corps and two years working for the Department of State. He was a young man looking for what he called “a clear and powerful purpose.”
To his surprise he found it in the small mining community of Emmons, an unincorporated coal community in southern West Virginia.
As a Volunteers in Service of America worker (the precursor to AmeriCorps) Rockefeller realized that the difficult work he was sent to do would make significant impact on people’s lives – including his own.
Click below to hear the WVUToday radio spot on the Rockefeller papers.
He once said of the experience, “I found that the rewards of service motivated me in ways I had never known. It changed my life and I became entirely absorbed in working to really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Rockefeller decided to make a home in West Virginia and began a life of public service to the state and its citizens.
As a newcomer he was met with initial uncertainty, but within a short time he was welcomed into the community with enthusiasm. He was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1966. Two years later he was elected West Virginia secretary of state.
In 1973, Rockefeller became president of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Soon after, in 1976, he was elected governor of West Virginia, a position he would hold for two terms.
A life in the Senate
Rockefeller’s congressional journey began in 1984, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate to represent and fight for the people of West Virginia.
While in the Senate, Rockefeller championed accessible, quality health care, particularly for the citizens of West Virginia, children, working families, seniors, veterans, and retired coal miners and steel workers. He fought for health care reform to benefit the people of West Virginia.
He advocated for fair wages, safe places to work, educational opportunities and basic health care for working families with the goal of improving lives. He said, “Our country cannot be as great as it should be unless our workers’ voices are heard and respected by policymakers.”
Rockefeller’s dedication to the people of West Virginia and vision for the future included attracting unique overseas investment to the state to provide local jobs and investments while maintaining a focus on core industries such as steel, coal and chemicals.
He was instrumental in bringing a Toyota plant to Buffalo which has grown to be the second largest industrial development project in the state’s history. That investment was followed by 20 more international companies investing in the state and its people.
Rockefeller worked to establish policies that expanded opportunities for energy independence, drawing on West Virginia’s natural resources to produce clean and reliable fuels. He also maintained unwavering support for mine safety and development of transportation infrastructure to serve all parts of West Virginia.
Rockefeller was well known for his expertise in national security and intelligence programs, as well as the Internet and cybersecurity. He advocated for investment in education and research and development in science, technology, innovation and infrastructure.
While in the Senate, Rockefeller served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; chairman of the Health Care Subcommittee on Finance; and as chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He also twice served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Contributions to WVU
Senator Rockefeller has made a lasting impact on WVU, championing the institution’s mission of teaching, research, outreach and service through his dedication to and support of University initiatives.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and throughout his Senate career, Rockefeller has been a leading advocate of the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The program provides far-reaching support for scientific research and cyberinfrastructure for universities.
Through the largest-ever single National Science Foundation grant awarded to the state of West Virginia, WVU researchers are working in the field of bio-nanotechnology to remotely identify environmental pollutants and diseases.
Rockefeller has long been a supporter of science and technology education, particularly for students in the highest-need school districts. To that end, he led the effort to create the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which supports science, math and engineering students who want to become K-12 teachers. As a recipient of a Noyce Scholarship grant, WVU is able to offer TEACH-WV awards to help meet the shortage of STEM teachers in West Virginia.
He was instrumental in securing a partnership between WVU and the Green Bank Telescope in Pocahontas County, which was in danger of losing its federal funding. As part of the agreement, the University is providing $2 million over the span of two years to support operations in exchange for additional hours of research time on the telescope for faculty and students.
Senator Rockefeller and his sisters also established the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute to do groundbreaking work on Alzheimer’s disease. The institute helps physicians across West Virginia improve diagnosis and ensure their access to the latest treatments. The program also makes certain that physicians and providers know how to connect families and caregivers to vital support networks in communities across the state.
A deeply personal cause for Rockefeller and his family, their mission is to provide resources for West Virginians who have Alzheimer’s and the caregivers who work tirelessly to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating disease.
Because of these – and many more – contributions to the University, Rockefeller was inducted into WVU’s Order of Vandalia to honor his long-term commitment years of service to the school.
A lifetime of public service
Rockefeller was born in New York on June 18, 1937, great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the famous industrialist and philanthropist. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Far Eastern Languages and History from Harvard University in 1961. He has been married to Sharon Percy Rockefeller since 1967. They have four children and six grandchildren.
For five terms in Congress and for years before that, Rockefeller has fought for the needs and causes of the people of West Virginia.
His beginnings as a social worker in the state led him on a life journey of public service that took him from a small coal mining town to the steps of the nation’s capitol.
He made the people of West Virginia his life’s work with the goal of “leveraging the best of government to help people and solve problems, always keeping at the forefront what it really means here at home in West Virginia.”
Now the story of his tireless battle for the people of West Virginia will permanently reside at WVU.
By Marissa Sura
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