WVU announces new school, gallery honoring Jay Rockefeller as his senatorial archives find 'forever home'
It began with a fight. A fight for a school bus, then a small library, a park and a baseball team.
Over two years, they didn’t win a single game.
But it didn’t matter to him or to the people of that small coal mining community in southern West Virginia. What mattered was the opening of opportunities for the people, the sense that they mattered and the feeling that they counted.
As U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV remembered his first experience in public service in West Virginia – an experience that would change his life forever – he described how everything he has done since has been grounded in his time in Emmons, located on the Boone and Kanawha County line. In those families. In those children. In the people that fed him in their homes and helped him fight to restore their community.
His story is forever intertwined with the stories of the people of West Virginia. And those stories will continue at West Virginia University, thanks to a historic gift.
Rockefeller and WVU today (Nov. 8) announced the naming of the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics at WVU. In addition to the landmark announcement, Rockefeller and WVU designated the WVU Libraries as the permanent home of the John D. Rockefeller IV Senatorial Archives and dedicated the John D. Rockefeller IV Gallery in the WVU Downtown Library in honor of the Democratic senator’s nearly 50 years of public service to the citizens of West Virginia.
“West Virginia is where I found my life’s purpose, my spiritual calling,” Rockefeller said. “My life’s journey led me to West Virginia, and it is in West Virginia that I hope my legacy will be remembered, and my journey as a public servant understood.”
“Senator Rockefeller is one of the most distinguished public servants in West Virginia’s history, so it is fitting that the senator’s legacy be forever preserved within the borders of the state he has served so well and faithfully for so long,” President Gordon Gee said.
“Some senators leave their mark on their state, some on their country and some on the world. Senator Rockefeller is leaving his mark on all three,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
About the school
The new John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences brings together WVU’s academic programs in political science, public administration, international studies and leadership studies—four areas in which Rockefeller has distinguished his career.
“My career in service to West Virginia and its people was undertaken with a singular recognition that none of us exist solely for ourselves, but for the sake of others,” Rockefeller said. “The goal of the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics is to instill that passion in others – and empower them to make the world a better place.
Click below to hear the WVUToday radio spot about Rockefeller's legacy.
“The school will be intensely focused on a deep academic study of ourselves, our world and its future,” he added. “Students will become tomorrow’s leaders and public servants. To do so, they will have to have a deep and abiding understanding that life is more meaningful if it is lived serving others. But they will also be thinkers, digging into a great range of issues with seriousness and a persistent pursuit of answers, solutions and bold new ideas.”
“Consistent with Rockefeller’s career in public service, the school will help fulfill our University’s land-grant mission,” Gee said. “It will capture the breadth and depth of our expertise and apply it to meet the needs of West Virginians.”
“The most lasting monument to Senator Rockefeller’s work will be the future leaders he inspires to dedicate their own lives to fulfilling that ‘common duty to mankind’ – service to others.”
The school will become a cornerstone for WVU, advancing public policy development and implementation at the local, state, national and international levels. It will also provide improved academic and experiential opportunities for students and faculty.
At the same time, the school will raise awareness of the vital role government plays in addressing society’s challenges.
Undergraduate and graduate students in the school account for multiple winners of the Order of Augusta – the highest university-level award for undergraduates – and for many other prestigious academic honors and awards, and are active in student government.
The school’s faculty also has an outstanding record of achievement. They have published in the highest-ranked journals in political science and public administration and have authored leading books on policy and politics. Their research has been funded by well-respected external sources including the National Science Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Many faculty members have worked with a wide variety of organizations to investigate pressing societal issues, from the Rockefeller Institute of Government of the State University of New York to the Brookings Institution to the Peace Research Institute Oslo, while others have served as Fulbright scholars abroad. Some faculty members are working directly with West Virginia towns to promote community and economic development.
As the school and its programs grow, WVU will continue to seek input, guidance and expertise from Rockefeller and his staff, ensuring that the school reflects the senator’s career, priorities and ideals.
About the archives and gallery
WVU’s Wise Library will house the complete collection of Rockefeller’s senatorial papers, which includes photographs, videos, speeches, recordings, reports, correspondence, electronic records, artifacts and memorabilia from his 30 years representing the state of West Virginia in the U.S. Senate.
The WVU Libraries’ West Virginia and Regional History Center will assume the responsibility of processing, preserving and housing the collection.
The collection represents the entirety of Rockefeller’s 30-year tenure as a U.S. senator, and at 2,000 linear feet is one of the largest WVU has ever received.
With the addition of the Rockefeller archives, the WVRHC runs the gamut of state history. It already houses important collections of approximately two dozen political leaders of the state, including governors and senators. Of particular note are the papers of West Virginia’s founding fathers – Francis H. Pierpont and Waitman T. Willey.
WVU will develop academic and outreach programs that will take full advantage of the immense educational and research value that Rockefeller’s papers hold for the history of public policy and the American political process.
Materials that are already in the public domain will be made available to the public in the near future.
The John D. Rockefeller IV Gallery will be the “front porch” of the Rockefeller collection. It will feature rotating exhibits and displays that reflect Rockefeller’s life and career, augmenting the archives and extending the reach of the collection to a wider audience.
“It is particularly appropriate that this gallery is in the heart of the WVU downtown campus because it physically signifies the central role that Senator Rockefeller has played in helping WVU to achieve its potential and realize its mission,” Gee said.
Born in New York in 1937 to an iconic American family, Rockefeller was exposed to philanthropy, foreign diplomacy and public service from the time he was a child.
His passion for and dedication to civic engagement began as a young man. Inspired and transformed by his experience working with Sargent Shriver, founding director of the Peace Corps, he has a long-held belief that government is an instrument of social change and has long extolled the virtues of public service.
His upbringing in Manhattan, time abroad in Japan and schooling at Harvard would seem a long road from West Virginia, but as a young man he started on a quest to learn more about his country and make a difference in the nation’s communities.
Rockefeller didn’t venture down that road alone.
Rockefeller has devoted his life to the people West Virginia with the full support and enthusiasm of his family. The call to service was not just answered by him.
On April 1, 1967, Sharon Percy married Rockefeller in Chicago. They have four children and six grandchildren, and after 50 years together are still known for the sense of humor and wit that keeps their relationship vibrant.
Together, the couple made West Virginia their home and fought for the causes that they both believed in.
They juggled careers and family, and Sharon fondly recalls changing her son’s diaper on a stage during a rally in Elkins.
She began Mountain Artisans, a quilting business for low-income artisans, served as a member of the board of directors of the Sunrise Museum and was a teacher’s assistant for the Head Start program in Coal Branch Heights. She served for 15 years on the board of the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority. She has been president and CEO of WETA, Washington, D.C.’s flagship public television and radio stations for 25 years.
A “forever home”
Rockefeller’s visionary leadership has benefited WVU, West Virginia and the nation. Although his work on the Senate floor is coming to an end, he still has a vision for West Virginia’s future and is a champion for its citizens.
WVU is honored and proud to provide a “forever home” for Rockefeller and his legacy of public service, which will be – forever – part of the University’s identity.
Rockefeller has proved himself to be a tenacious fighter, a compassionate listener, an unwavering optimist and a true West Virginian.
He began his life atop New York’s tallest buildings, but was truly born atop West Virginia’s tallest mountains. He said, “I found myself at her potlucks and in her hollows. I found my life’s passion, a call to public service, in her people. I found … my forever home.”
By Marissa Sura
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