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College President Receives Distinguished Citizen Award

Posted February 23, 2018 at 9:10 am

By Randy Griffith
Source: Content pulled directly from The Tribune Democrat.

Boy Scouting played only a minor role in Walter Asonevich’s childhood in Vermont.

But scouting’s values of leadership and mentoring that give young people direction and purpose in life are values that Asonevich says have defined his life. It led him to expand and refine Pennsylvania Highlands Community College during his 11 years as college president.

Asonevich was presented Thursday with Boy Scouts of America Laurel Highlands Council 2018 Distinguished Citizen Award for his role in developing the college and taking leadership in other areas of the community. 

In presenting the award, 2017 Distinguished Citizen Robert Eyer recounted Asonevich’s accomplishments, taking Penn Highlands from a struggling community college with two campuses to a recognized school of five campuses in four counties. 

Under Asonevich’s leadership, Penn Highlands developed a dual enrollment programs allowing thousands of students in more than 50 high schools to earn college credits before graduation, Eyer noted.

“I think it is really one of the true gems in our area,” Eyer said.

In preparing his acceptance speech, Asonevich said he thought about Boy Scouts values.

“As scouting is about leadership and mentors, I considered those that mentored me over the years and noted that my heroes – those that inspired my life – were people I never met personally,” Asonevich said. “Most had died before I was born.”

It was then that his thoughts turned to his grandfather, who emigrated from Poland to the United States at the age of 18 to take a dangerous job in a Vermont factory. Although his grandfather died before Asonevich was born, he grew up hearing about how the immigrant fearlessly faced new, unknown challenges.

“I always held him in awe for his courage, his bravery,” Asonevich said, noting the spirit of courage was carried on by his own Navy-veteran father, who piloted Marines to enemy-held beaches.

“My father, an immigrant’s son, was a true American hero,” Asonevich said.

Carrying that spirit of courage has directed his own life, he said, recalling how he left a well-paying factory job to pursue higher education.

It led to a career in academia, first as an English professor in West Virginia, then as a dean and then college vice president.

“It was my grandfather’s spirit in me that brought me to Johnstown to take on the presidency of a young struggling college,” Asonevich said.

“I think it is a fitting tribute to the memory of my grandfather that I am here today serving the educational needs of a city that was built upon the work ethic of so many eastern European immigrants, who came to Johnstown with the same dreams as my grandfather.”

He recognized his late grandfather in accepting the Distinguished Citizen award.

“I humbly accept this award, not so much because it marks the culmination of my own career, but the culmination of my grandfather’s dream for his family: A citizens’ award to the son of an immigrant’s son,” Asonevich said. “God bless America.”