Penn State often is thrust into the national spotlight because of faculty and student accomplishments, but visits from a number of U.S. presidents in recent decades also has focused national media attention on the University.
Nearly every president from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush, as well as some presidential family members, have turned up on campus for commencement, speeches, campaign stops, fly-fishing, and to visit family members.
Dwight Eisenhower visited the Penn State University Park campus four times during his presidency (1953-1961) and was the only president to stay overnight. All four visits came while his brother Milton was serving as Penn State's president (1950-56). At the 1955 commencement, held at Beaver Field, "Ike" gave a major policy address-his famous "Atoms for Peace" speech, in which he committed the nation to finding nonmilitary uses for atomic energy. Penn State awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the commencement.
Eisenhower first visited as president in May 1953. He arrived by special train over the Bellefonte Central Railroad. His wife, Mamie, presided over opening ceremonies of "Spring Week" on campus. Ike also went fishing.
In July 1954 he attended the funeral of Milton's wife, Helen. In September 1956 he attended the dedication of Helen Eakin Eisenhower Chapel, named in her honor.
Richard Nixon visited State College on March 6, 1969, to attend the funeral of his uncle, Ernest L. Nixon. Ernest Nixon was a member of Penn State's agricultural faculty for 37 years and nationally recognized for his potato research. Richard Nixon knew "Uncle Ernest" well and often spoke about how his uncle's example had inspired him to work his way through college and launch a professional career.
Although President Nixon's appearance was a brief family-related event, his four-car motorcade attracted thousands of spectators along its route from near Beaver Stadium (where his helicopter landed) to the Koch Funeral Home on South Burrowes Street in State College. His limousine had been driven to State College the night before and parked in the Alpha Fire Co. garage. Emergency surgery teams were on standby in both the hospital (then in Bellefonte) and the University infirmary. Just before leaving for his return to Washington, D.C., he took a few moments at the stadium to thank and shake hands with local police and fire crews who also were called out for his visit.
Former President Gerald R. Ford spoke in the HUB on Sept. 26, 1978, while campaigning for local Republican Congressional candidates and also attended a fund-raising lunch at Gatsby's in downtown State College.
Jimmy Carter visited Spruce Creek, a nationally known trout stream a few miles from the University Park campus, several times during his presidency (1977-81) and later. When in the Spruce Creek area, Carter-an avid fisherman—usually stayed at the home of his friend Wayne Harpster, a dairy farmer and, according to Carter, "the best trout fisherman I've ever known."
George H.W. Bush was campaigning for a second term in the White House when he addressed a crowd of 20,000 people on Old Main lawn on Sept. 23, 1992. He arrived and departed the same day by plane. It was his second visit to University Park; the first came in April 1980-just before the Pennsylvania primary election-when he spoke in the HUB as part of what proved to be an unsuccessful bid for the presidency.
Bill Clinton delivered The Graduate School commencement address on May 10, 1996, to more than 12,000 people at The Bryce Jordan Center in the second time that a standing U.S. president gave the commencement address at Penn State. He challenged the audience-including the more than 500 doctoral and master's degree candidates-to help solve America's problems and become involved in community service. Clinton also was honored with a University Scholars Medal, becoming the third person who was not a University scholar to be given the medal.
The White House advance team were in State College a week before Clinton's arrival to prepare for his six-hour visit. Clinton flew in and out of University Park airport directly on Air Force One. After speaking, he stopped by the University Creamery, where he enjoyed a uniquely Penn State ice cream cone of Cherry Quist and Peachy Paterno.
Clinton returned to the Penn State University Park campus to address the nation's governors at the annual National Governors' Association meeting, which was held at the campus July 8-11, 2000.
Ten years after his father made a campaign stop on the University Park campus, President George W. Bush visited Penn State Delaware County on April 2, 2002. During his speech before a crowd of about 700, Bush outlined a bipartisan message for reforming and bolstering early childhood education.
George H.W. Bush made his third visit to Penn State University Park on Oct. 29, 2004. The visit to the HUB-Robeson Center by Bush, who served as the 41st U.S. president from 1989 to 1992, was a campaign visit for his son, current President George W. Bush. The former president was introduced on this visit by his granddaughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush.